Pet Safety During the Holiday Season

Enjoy The Season With Safety First

Autumn is perhaps the most beautiful season in Western North Carolina. We celebrate with pumpkins and fall festivals, music and good cheer. And yes, we watch the tourists come and go. We are proud of our local culture and the unsurpassed beauty of our mountains.

The season brings with it, however, dangers to ourselves and especially our companion animals. While we’re taking in the fall foliage and sipping cider, we may not notice the antifreeze in the driveway or the turkey our family members keep slipping under the table to the dog. During the holiday season, we take many things for granted, such as mistletoe and tree trimmings, but may not realize that holiday traditions hold potential danger for our companion animals. Everything from the beautiful poinsettias to the tinsel on the tree can pose serious health hazards if ingested by your pets.

Before this holiday season arrives, pet-proof your house and reduce household risks for your pets. Automobile maintenance, fire hazards, toxic household chemicals, and poisonous houseplants are all areas to pay special attention. Holiday garbage is another danger, especially to stray animals looking for a meal. Never leave holiday trash where any outside animal could tear into it.

The articles below will discuss common problems animals face during the holiday season. These include toxins, foreign body ingestion, pancreatitis, exposure, and many more. Please take the time to read carefully and be prepared, so that you and your furry friends can have a safe, fun-filled holiday!

Beware Of The Holiday Feast

Great food is synonymous with the holidays. In celebration, we indulge in the savory honey-glazed hams and slow-roasted turkeys, pumpkin pies and decadent desserts of all kinds, and of course, potatoes, stuffing, corn on the cob, and a dozen other delicious dishes. Many of us are compelled to give our companion animals a little taste of the holiday and spread the good cheer. However, in reality, we may be giving them nothing more than a few moments of tastebud heaven and several days of gastrointestinal calamity.

Holiday Fare May Send Fido To The Emergency Room

Holiday food presents more than one potential problem for your pets, especially your dogs. Turkey and other bones can splinter, cause intestinal blockages, and cause gastrointestinal upset. Giving your dog rich foods s/he is not used to eating, such as ham, stuffing, and any other holiday leftovers, can cause nausea and vomiting and may lead to more serious conditions. The safest way to show your dog love is by giving him or her more quality time, not your food.


While it may seem loving to give your dog a little turkey here and a little stuffing there – it is actually more loving not to share your holiday meal with your dog. Often, nausea and vomiting may occur, but it may lead to more serious problems. Consistent feeding of table scraps may lead to an overweight and unhealthy dog. A diet high in fat and being overweight is just as unhealthy for them as it is for us.

Pancreatitis may also result from feeding your dog too many rich foods from the dinner table. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that break down food so the body can digest it more easily. These enzymes are handled with care by the pancreas to prevent them from damaging the pancreas itself or surrounding tissues. If they break down for any reason, the result is leakage of enzymes into the body, which results in damage to the pancreas and its surrounding tissues. This breakdown is called pancreatitis.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, severe and frequent vomiting, diarrhea that may contain blood, reluctance to walk, weakness and pain, crying and restlessness, and irritability. Many people recognize when their dog is sick but may not realize the severity of these vague symptoms. If your dog exhibits any of these signs and eats table food, see your veterinarian.

The “typical” pancreatitis victim is middle aged or older and overweight. It’s common in both males and females and very often follows a big party or holiday meal. Pancreatitis may occur only once in your pet’s life, or it may become a chronic condition. It can quickly become fatal or cause serious side effects, such as shock, blood clotting disorders, heart arrhythmias, and liver or kidney damage.

”High fat, unhealthy diets lead to many problems, including pancreatitis. The safest thing is to avoid giving your dog fatty foods.”

Be safe and prevent your dog from “counter surfing” and grabbing a mouthful himself, and keep family members from feeding him under the table.

If your pet exhibits any of the signs above, no matter how mild, seek medical attention. And remember – on holidays, your regular vet may be closed.

Chocolate Toxicity

Many dogs love chocolate and it often seems cute that they try to grab your Snickers bar from your fingertips, but chocolate is a potential poison for both your dogs and cats.

Chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine. It is safe for humans but poisonous to our pets. Unsweetened chocolate is the most harmful. A dog weighing 5-20 pounds can die from eating just .5-2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate. The same dog can be poisoned from ingesting 4-16 ounces of milk chocolate. Lesser amounts can cause problems as well, such as serious gastrointestinal upset.

The signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, heavy breathing, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, loss of bladder control, coma, and possibly death.

If you know your dog ingested chocolate within two hours, induce vomiting. This will help prevent further absorption of the chocolate from the digestive tract. Then see your veterinarian.

Bloat or Gastric Torsion and Volvulus

Bloat constitutes a real medical emergency as it is a gastric condition that can be deadly. It is most commonly caused by too much gas or fluid in the stomach. The excess gas can extend the stomach causing gastric dilation. If the stomach partially rotates, it is called gastric torsion. If it fully rotates, it is called gastric volvulus. When this condition occurs, materials are blocked from entering or leaving the stomach. As the digestive process continues, the stomach swells, putting added pressure on blood vessels and decreasing circulation. This can result in death to the tissues in the stomach walls. If left untreated, circulation and breathing problems caused by bloat can cause infections, bleeding disorders, heart failure, and sudden death.

This condition usually occurs in larger dogs with deep chests, but it can also occur in smaller dogs. Puppies that have been allowed to eat too fast are susceptible as well. Gulping of food and water and then exercising may bring on bloat. Hyperexcitability during the holidays when pets are given treats and lots of attention may add to excessive eating, drinking, and other activity, which increase the risk of bloat.

“Bloat is a life threatening condition and requires immediate action.”

The most obvious sign of bloat is a distended, swollen looking belly, particularly one that appears quickly. Other symptoms include repeated attempts to vomit or belch but your animal isn’t able to; they will retch and seem restless and nauseated.

They may also become short of breath as their abdomens become compressed. Some animals may act depressed or show signs or pain. In severe cases, the pressure the stomach places on blood vessels can cause irregular blood flow, abnormal hearth rhythms, and shock, which can cause animals to collapse and can lead to rapid death.

If your dog presents with any of the above mentioned symptoms, and you suspect your dog may have bloat, seek veterinary care immediately.

Poisonous Houseplants

As the weather gets colder, many people bring their plants indoors. Plants add so much to our interior spaces, cheering us in winter’s gloom. However, your pets may find them as interesting as you do and may even decide to take a nibble or two!

There are many poisonous houseplants, some causing only mild gastrointestinal upset, others causing kidney damage and eventual death. The ingestion of azalea, oleander, mistletoe, sago palm, Easter lily, or yew plant material by an animal could be fatal. Other poisonous houseplants that are relatively common include dieffenbachia, caladiums, hedera (ivy), and philodendrons.

Signs that your pet may have ingested poisonous plant material include nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulties, disorientation, or any changes in behavior. See your veterinarian immediately if you suspect a toxic plant ingestion.

My Dog Ate What?! Preventing Foreign Body Ingestion

Ingestion of foreign objects is unfortunately a common occurrence in dogs. During the holidays, Christmas ornaments, turkey bones, and other small items may very well become lodged when your dog finds them irresistible as chew toys or snacks and swallows them. There are holiday dangers for cats as well – tinsel from trees, bones, and small ornaments can be problematic. Pet-proof your house during the holidays to avoid these dangers, especially if your dog is prone to chewing.

How do you know if your pet may have a foreign object lodged? Persistent vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, or any other unusual behavior could signify a problem. Seek help immediately.

Keep an eye on your pets and have a safe holiday!