What’s your favorite part of the holiday season? The delicious food? The decorations? Gathering with friends and family?  

Celebrating the holidays can bring a lot of joy, but it can also endanger the health of your furry companions. It’s important to be aware of pet health hazards — especially around the holidays, when the home is filled with new sights and smells like decorations and holiday meals. 

To keep your pets safe this holiday season, here are some things to keep in mind.  

Holiday foods

You might want to think twice about leaving milk and cookies out for Santa Claus. Many holiday foods are dangerous for pets. Here are a couple you should watch out for: 

  • Bones. You may be tempted to throw your pet a bone from the holiday ham or turkey, but they pose a choking hazard. Additionally, bones can easily break and cause damage to the digestive system.

  • Candy. Xylitol is a sugar substitute found in chewing gums, candies, and some kinds of peanut butter. Xylitol causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar when ingested in small amounts, and in larger amounts it can cause liver failure. 

  • Chocolate. Simply put, chocolate is poisonous to dogs because they cannot metabolize theobromine and caffeine, which is also present in chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of theobromine.

  • Fruits. Grapes and raisins can lead to kidney problems, and citrus fruits can cause stomach upset. Fruit pits, like cherry or peach pits, contain cyanogenic glycosides, which interfere with oxygen transport in your pet’s blood.  

Remember that pets can get into the trash can or “counter surf” — make sure that all food and food waste is secured properly. Additionally, make sure that your houseguests aren’t sneaking table scraps to your pets! 

Dog with a red bow on their head.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Watch out for decorations

You see a beautifully decorated home; cats see a million new toys to play with. Keep your pet healthy this holiday season by making sure that your holiday decor isn’t dangerous.  

  • Ornaments made of glass, ceramic, or other breakable materials can be easily knocked over by a tail or paw, and broken shards can cut pets’ paws. 

  • Tinsel, ribbons, and other similar decorations can easily be swallowed, creating intestinal blockages and other problems that may mean a hefty vet bill. Keep an eye out for loose ribbons left on the ground after presents have been unwrapped!

  • Some handmade ornaments are made of salt dough. Even when these ornaments are hardened, they pose a danger to pet health: too much salt leads to salt toxicosis, which affects the brain and nervous tissue.  

Shining a light on pet health 

We’re drawing close to the night with the longest-lasting darkness of the year, and many households decorate and celebrate with candles and electric lights. However, these illuminations can pose a danger to pets.  

  • It’s very easy for a pet to knock over a candle, which can lead to burns and maybe even a fire! Make sure not to leave candles unattended. 

  • Many pets love to gnaw on cords. Chewing on cords, like tree light cords, can cause oral burns and electrical shocks. Bitter, anti-chew sprays and cord organizers can help deter your pet from chewing on cords.  

Cat poking their head out from a lighted Christmas tree.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Lewis, Unsplash.

Christmas trees and other festive greenery

People bring plants into their homes because the greenery brings holiday cheer, but pets may see them as new, leafy snacks. 

  • Christmas trees pose a variety of pet safety hazards. Many cats love to climb Christmas trees, but an unsecured tree can tip over. Pets often like to drink the water at the base of the tree, so if you’re using a fertilizer or other product that makes the tree last longer, make sure it’s pet-safe. 

  • Mistletoe and holly may look pretty, but eating them can lead to diarrhea and vomiting. 

  • Poinsettias and lilies are poisonous. While poinsettias are mildly toxic to pets, several types of lily are deadly to cats, and many are toxic to both cats and dogs.  

‘Tis the season to be stressed out

Just as the holidays can stress people out, pets can be affected by the change of routine as well as exposure to new people and pets. 

  • Visitors can be scary for pets. Make sure that your pet has their own quiet space where they can escape from strangers. 

  • Some people like to bring their dogs when visiting friends or family for the holidays. Be aware that your pet could react negatively to having a new animal in the house, and exercise caution. Plan some time for the pets to get to know each other and adjust.

  • Remember that party poppers and fireworks create loud noises that can scare pets.  

Have a plan in case of an emergency 

In a worst-case scenario, you want to act fast and get your pet medical attention. 

  • Keep the phone number of your veterinarian and emergency veterinarian in an easy-to-see place, like on the refrigerator.

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing