Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Owners

Most pet owners recognize common sense no-no’s for pets: rodent poisons, alcohol, nicotine, illicit drugs, prescription human medications, paints, varnishes, household cleaners, and uncooked, moldy, or spoiled food. However, many seemingly harmless substances can actually be deadly for our pets.

Especially during the hectic holiday season – when homes are filled with commotion, unusual foods, and gifts – knowledge and a little extra care can help ensure your pets stay safe and healthy.

Garret Pachtinger, VMD of Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center spoke on Fox29 about dangers like tinsel, noisemakers, and more:

Caleb S. Frankel, VMD of Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, offers this list of foods and other common items that can cause illness, needless suffering, and even death for our beloved pets. All the animals pictured were rescued by PAWS and are safe in their new homes! 

893932_10202666039752540_1591808554_o 1. Grapes, Raisins, Currants

While no research explains why, grapes, raisins, and products that contains them (grape juice, raisin bread, trail mix, etc.) cause kidney failure in dogs.

Mysteriously, only half of all dogs who eat these are affected. In those that are, even one grape or raisin can be deadly. Because the incidence is unpredictable, any pet that ingests these should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Holiday alert: fruitcake with raisins is a common culprit in this toxicity. If that fruitcake is soaked in rum – it is doubly toxic!

2. Ribbons and Tinsel

Cats love playing with them, and we love to watch, but ingesting ribbon and tinsel can cause serious intestinal damage or even death. One end can get stuck while the rest is pulled into the intestine as it contracts; the contractions may cause the ribbon or tinsel to saw through the intestine. If not caught in time, infection can develop and the prognosis for recovery becomes poor. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, abdominal pain, and fever.

3. Sugary, Greasy, and High Fat Foods

Poultry skin, bacon, meat drippings, sausage, chocolate, and deep-fried foods all contain high amounts of fat that human beings have evolved to digest. But in pets, these “snacks” often cause severe vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood) and ultimately pancreatitis. Even a small amount of these foods can trigger severe signs, so don’t take the risk. Holiday alert: this is the number one problem emergency room veterinarians see during the holidays.


4. Lily Plants

Lilies are among the most deadly toxins for cats, so veterinarians recommend avoiding these plants in homes with cats. Ingestion of any part of the plant (including pollen) can cause fatal kidney failure. Not all lilies are poisonous, but some dangerous varieties include: Easter lily, Tiger lily, Stargazer lily, and Japanese lily.

5. Chewing Gum and Xylitol Sweeteners

One of the newer toxins on the list, xylitol is a natural chemical found in chewing gum, gelatin, toothpaste, and other sugar-free products. It brings about a drop in your pet’s blood sugar within minutes, and in some cases, liver failure and death can occur. Holiday alert: keep purses up and away from pets while you host visiting family and friends.

6. Antifreeze and Window Washer Fluid

These are extremely dangerous to dogs and cats. The culprit is ethylene glycol, a chemical also found in brake fluid, motor oils, paint removers, photography solutions, and other solvents. It has a bright color and sweet taste, making it attractive to pets. Holiday alert: do not lock a pet in a garage unless you know these products are safely away from them.

The good news? Starting in January 2013, all U.S. manufacturers of antifreeze agreed to include a bitter flavoring in their formulations.


7. Macadamia Nuts

This is another curious pet poison where the cause is unknown, and not all dogs appear to be susceptible. Affected dogs exhibit signs of lethargy, muscle tremors, weakness, and inability to walk. The good news is that, with immediate medical attention, time and supportive care, the prognosis is good.

8. Onions, Garlic, Chives, Leeks

These products, including powder versions, contain a chemical that causes destruction of red blood cells in pets, leading to anemia and intestinal inflammation. Very small quantities are unlikely to result in problems. Even so, do not take the chance; keep these items out of your pet’s diet.

9. Jerky Treats made in China

Since 2006, the FDA has investigated thousands of complaints of dogs (and two cats) developing a kidney disease called Fanconi Syndrome after eating chicken, duck, and other jerky treats. The cases all share one factor: the treats were manufactured in China. The specific cause remains unknown but these products are still sold in stores around the country. Experts recommend avoiding all treats or toys made in China until more is known.


10. Bread Dough

Bakers beware: unbaked dough poses a big risk to pets that eat it in large amounts. Once eaten, the warm, moist environment in the stomach causes activation of the fermenting yeast, resulting in expanding dough, carbon dioxide, and alcohol.

Alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream and can result in alcohol poisoning. The carbon dioxide causes a bloated stomach and can lead to condition where the stomach twists, requiring emergency surgery. Common signs are vomiting, abdominal pain and distention, collapse, lethargy, shock, seizures, and even death. Holiday alert: keep all dough out of reach of pets while cooking for holiday meals!

11. Hops

Did your wife get you that home brewing kit you asked for over the holidays? Hops or Humulus lupulus is a plant used in home beer brewing kits. If ingested by pets, severe and uncontrolled “malignant” hyperthermia (high body temperatures), heart arrhythmias, blood clotting problems, vomiting, and deaths have been reported. The toxic principle is still unknown.

12. Aspirin, Advil, Motrin, Tylenol, and Similar Human Pain Killers

Don’t give ANY of these to your pet without talking to a veterinarian. They belong to a family of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Pets cannot metabolize them well. Symptoms include including swollen face and paws, breathing problems, bleeding disorders, liver and kidney failure, and gastrointestinal ulcers. In some circumstances, veterinarians may prescribe these medications in very tiny doses. But when it comes to their use as painkillers, avoid them unless prescribed directly by your veterinarian.

13. Mothballs

Who would eat a mothball!? Your pet would! Mothballs have a sweet taste that attracts pets, but they are pesticides that slowly release a gas vapor to kill and repel insects. In dogs and cats, they cause anemia, vomiting, lethargy, cataracts, liver and kidney failure, as well as tremors, weakness and other neurologic effects.

A favorite at kids’ parties and weddings, glow sticks contain a bitter-tasting oily liquid. One bite into the glow stick can cause drooling, gagging, and vomiting. As pets try to clean it off their fur, they end up ingesting more and more. The oil itself is considered only a local irritant to pets, not likely to cause other serious problems. Even so, the signs can be dramatic, especially in cats.14. Glow Sticks

11453328685_13ed3e30ce_b14. Glow Sticks

A favorite at kids’ parties and weddings, glow sticks contain a bitter-tasting oily liquid. One bite into the glow stick can cause drooling, gagging, and vomiting. As pets try to clean it off their fur, they end up ingesting more and more. The oil itself is considered only a local irritant to pets, not likely to cause other serious problems. Even so, the signs can be dramatic, especially in cats.

15. Paintballs

Recreational paintballs contain a number of active ingredients that can cause life-threatening electrolyte imbalances and vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, and seizures.

16. Coins, Metal, and Diaper Rash Creams

Zinc is an ingredient in certain coins (U.S. pennies minted after 1982), ointments (diaper rash creams), batteries, and nuts, bolts, and other hardware. When pets eat coins, their stomach acid dissolves them, releasing zinc into their bloodstream. If enough is absorbed, symptoms include life-threatening anemia as well as upset stomach and organ damage.

17. Gorilla Glue® and other High Strength Glue

While any glue can result in gastrointestinal irritation if eaten, popular high strength glues pose a particular risk to dogs and cats. After ingestion, these glues mix with stomach fluid, causing rapid expansion and hardening that usually requires emergency surgery.


18. Play Doughs

A favorite of children and parents, commercial and homemade play doughs contain a high amount of salt. If ingested, dogs and cats can suffer from severe signs of salt poisoning which causes vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, disorientation, and even seizures.

19. Bones, Compressed Rawhide, and Corn Cobs

While not technically toxic, these are all too common causes of choking, intestinal blockages, and broken teeth. Some meat bones can also break apart and act as sharp hazards as they move through the intestines. Use caution if you give these to your pets, especially those that are aggressive chewers and swallowers.

20. Chocolate and Caffeine

You probably already know that chocolate is toxic to dogs. Did you know that it is even more toxic to cats? Thankfully, most cats don’t like the taste. The main culprit is theobromine, a chemical in the same family as caffeine.

Not all chocolate is created equal: cocoa powder, baking, dark, and semi-sweet chocolate contain more theobromine, making them more deadly. The result is stomach upset, hyperactivity, heart arrhythmias, seizures, and if left untreated, death.

Another important chocolate fact? It also contains toxic amounts of fat, which can lead to a life-threatening condition called pancreatitis.


21. Dog Medications Given to Cats

As the saying goes, dogs are not small humans. Likewise, cats are not small dogs. This applies to many aspects of their existence but most importantly to medications. The most common offenders are flea/tick medications designed for dogs, which can cause tremors and death in cats. Be very cautious when applying any product or medication to your cat.

For your pet’s safety, seek early treatment at an emergency room in case of ingestion and always consult a veterinarian before administering foods or medications.


Dr. Frankel is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with advanced training in emergency room and specialty dog and cat medicine. He works at the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, a 24-hour emergency and specialty hospital with locations in Levittown, PA and Philadelphia, PA. You can contact him at 215-750-7884. To learn more about the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center and the services they offer, visit

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