Holiday Hazards…So Many More Than You Think!

Thanks to Dr. Wendy Zawoysky for this latest blog addition! We at Fairhaven Veterinary Hospital want to be sure that you and all of your pets have a wonderful holiday season. Here is great advice, courtesy of Pet Poison Helpline.

The holidays bring a large amount of hazards for pets, in addition to those that are always present in their environment. So here are some things to be sure to keep away from your pets while you are enjoying yourselves at this time of year!


  • HOLLY: English Holly or Christmas Holly can result in severe GI upset thanks to the spiny leaves and some potentially toxic substances. Symptoms of ingestion could include drooling, lip-smacking, head shaking.
  • MISTLETOE: Mild gastro-intestinal upset or irritation is typical. In very large amounts, could cause low blood pressure, stumbling / acting drunk, seizures, collapse or death. Our American mistletoe is less toxic than the European varieties luckily!
  • POINSIETTAS: These are only very mildly toxic, despite all of the myths about them being so awful for pets! Minor gastro-intestinal upset could be seen.
  • FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS CONTAINING LILIES: Lilies are the #1 flower often used by florists, and one of the most toxic to your pets that you would have in the house. Just one or two bites from a lily can result in severe kidney failure in cats – even the pollen or water in the vase is thought to be poisonous. I always throw out these bouquets immediately if someone brings one to me!
  • JAPENESE YEW: A newer favorite of florists for wreath making. The seed inside their berries contain TAXINES. This can results in dizziness, heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure and even death. Horses are very susceptible to this, but cats and dogs can also be affected.


  • TINSEL: Ribbon, string, yarn and tinsel pose a large threat to cats (less commonly to dogs) who may find it fun to play with. They will swallow it – leading to a “linear foreign body” in the intestines. They can get it wrapped around the base of their tongues or have it get anchored in the stomach, rendering it unable to pass through the intestines normally. The linear structure slowly saws through the intestinal tissues, resulting in a perforation and potential sepsis. Sign can include pawing at the mouth soon after ingestion, not eating, vomiting, lethargy, abdominal pain. Do NOT cut the string if you see one in the mouth! See your vet immediately for care.
  • ORNAMENTS: Most holiday ornaments pose only a glass hazard when broken or chewed, which can cause oral injury. But some old-fashioned ornaments like “bubble lights” may contain methylene chloride. When ingested, this chemical can result in depression, aspiration pneumonia, and ocular, skin or gastrointestinal irritation.
  • LIQUID POTPOURRI: Even a few licks of these cationic detergents and essential oils can results in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, trouble breathing, tremor and rarely liver damage. Cats are much more sensitive to liquid potpourri than dogs are. Cats lac an enzyme that would make the phenolic compounds less toxic to them. Also cats are such self-groomers, that if some gets on their fur, it leads to an oral ingestion of the compound as well.


Most are not due to giving alcoholic drinks to pets. Rather they get exposed in other ways:


  • UNBAKED BREAD DOUGH: This not only could lead to intoxication from the alcohol produced by the yeast, but also can lead to GDV in some dogs (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) – otherwise knows as “BLOAT”. GDV signs include non-productive retching (attempting to vomit without anything being produced), a distended stomach, weakness and collapse. This is an absolute emergency, see a veterinarian immediately!


  • CHOCOLATE and COCOA: The number one holiday toxicity! These contain theobromine. Small amounts ingested can lead to upset stomach, and agitation. More severe clinical signs are seen with larger ingestions, such as heart toxicity, neurologic toxicity, seizures. If you suspect that your pet ate chocolate, call IMMEDIATELY for advice. Don’t wait.
  • SUGARLESS GUM and CANDIES: Some varieties are toxic because they contain xylitol. This sweetener is toxic to dogs, and results is very low blood sugar and potentially liver damage. Low blood sugar can lead to seizures, coma and death.
  • MEAT SCRAPS/LEFT OVERS: The fatty food can produce severe gastro-intestinal signs, or pancreatitis, leading to abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
  • GRAPES, RAISINS, CURRANTS: Fruitcakes or the actual fruit themselves can results in kidney failure in dogs.


When you have visitors or gatherings, always be aware that many people will have marijuana with them (or other medications or drugs). Even the smallest amount of marijuana (a lick of an ash tray, for instance) could be a toxic dose to a smaller dog. Dogs are exposed in many ways to this popular drug. By eating treats made with marijuana, the THC in medications, the end left in the ash tray or thrown on the ground, or the oil spill from a butter. It does not take much. Symptoms include lethargy, depression, being hypersensitive to sounds and movement or touch (flinching), and sometimes dribbling urine without knowing it. The body temperature and heart rates also fall.


RESOURCES If you suspect your pet may have come into contact with or ingested any toxin. Or just would like information about what IS toxic, here are some ways to get help.

  1. Call Fairhaven Veterinary Hospital 360-671-3903
  2. If it is not during normal business hours call Animal Emergency Care at 758-2200
  3. Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680,

Pet Poison Helpline (PPH) is an animal poison control that provides treatment advice and recommendations relating to exposures to potential dangerous plants, products, medications, and substances, to veterinarians, veterinary staff and pet owners 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please be aware there is a per case consultation fee. Pet Poison Helpline is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.