5 Ways the Holidays Could Kill Your House Pets

Courtesy of Realtor.com

The holidays are a happy time you spend with family—and that usually includes furry, four-legged members, too! But get ready for a Yuletide bummer: You might not realize that many of your most cherished holiday traditions could actually harm, even kill, your pets. Yikes!

If you have a cat or dog and want to keep your babies safe this holiday season, heed this list of items that could pose problems for them. Act wisely: This can be a scary time of year for those family members with wet noses or covered with hair. And for your dogs, too!

Holiday houseplants
Poinsettias and lilies are some of the most common holiday housewarming gifts, but if you have cats or dogs who love to munch on houseplants, beware.

“The acrid milky sap inside the leaves of poinsettias could upset your pet’s stomach, inducing nausea or vomiting,” says Dr. Justine Lee, an emergency critical care veterinary specialist. Worse yet, “lilies are deadly to cats. Even if they eat two or three leaves or drink the water from the vase, lilies could cause your cat to suffer kidney injury that could land them in the hospital or worse.”

The plant hazards don’t end there, either. Mistletoe is also poisonous, although only in large amounts. Holly and pine needles, while not poisonous, are sharp enough to cause a different kind of damage.

“They can irritate your pet’s tongues, paws, and intestines,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian.

Sure, if you’re downing spiked eggnog by the half-gallon or multiple glasses of cabernet at your holiday gathering, why deprive your cat or dog of a sip?

Here’s why: As amusing as it might be to see Nacho Dog or Lady Fluffington tipsy, they could end up with a serious case of alcohol poisoning. Their kidneys—which are unaccustomed to alcohol—can’t easily filter the stuff; the consequences can range from weakened motor functions to more dangerous effects like kidney failure, heart failure, or coma.

So if you’re hosting a holiday party, try to keep your pets away from the punch bowl, and make sure no glasses or even a rum cake are left unattended.

Cats are easily distracted by anything shiny, which is why vets agree that tinsel on your tree is a no-no. Your cat fumbling with a ball of tinsel might sound cute, but if it’s swallowed it can get wrapped in your cat’s intestines and obstruct the digestive tract, which could lead to severe vomiting, dehydration, or even abdominal surgery.

“The same goes for ribbon and yarn,” says Lee. To avoid a trip to the veterinary ER, skip the stringy decorations this year. Instead, opt for silver ornaments or else hang tinsel only on the high boughs your cat can’t reach.

Toppling Christmas trees
It’s fun to yell “timber!” when you chop down your Christmas tree, but once it’s inside your home, you want it to stay upright—which can be challenging if your cats take a crack at climbing it or your dog is just a klutz. A tree placed within paw’s reach has the potential to tip and fall, causing possible injury to your pet, not to mention a huge mess.

Make sure your tree is securely anchored in a stand that doesn’t wobble. For households with particularly energetic pets, Osborne suggests using clear fishing line to keep the tree upright by connecting it from the trunk to a hook in your wall or ceiling. It’s also wise to sweep or vacuum around the perimeter to get rid of pine needles and any additional bugs that might have hitched a ride in on your tree.

The No. 1 reason Lee sees dogs in the ER during the holidays is chocolate poisoning. And the more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it can be.

“Anything from chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to chocolate from an advent calendar can be harmful,” Lee warns. “But if your dog ingests unsweetened or semisweet baker’s chocolate or dark chocolate, there could be deadly consequences.”

We guess the good news is it’s toxic only in huge amounts. A dog would have to eat about a tray of brownies to actually endanger its life. The chemical toxicity is due to methylxanthines (a relative of caffeine) and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and possibly death.

When baking with chocolate this winter, it’s a good idea to crate your dog until everything is cleaned up. And in the event that your pooch has eaten too much chocolate, even if you suspect it, call the ASPCA’s animal poison control hotline at (888) 426-4435 and staff can walk you through getting your dog to vomit the toxic stuff, or provide you with further instructions if that doesn’t work.

“You might have to pay a $65 consultation fee, but they’re the only nonprofit animal poison control in the world,” says Lee. It sounds like a small price to pay to keep your four-legged family member alive.