Common Holiday Household Dangers for Dogs
Few people consider that Christmas is a time of elevated danger for our dogs, and with so much preparation and distraction around this time of year, pet owners often forget about the risks effecting their pets. The festive season presents a host of hidden dangers, as our four-legged friend’s usual environment is turned upside-down with trees, lights, decorations, flowers, and tempting toxic foods. Veterinary emergency cases increase by 40% over the festive season, but with some additional information, dog owners can rest easier knowing their pup is in a safe environment where they can let their personality shine.
Dangerous Foods and Drinks
Just like humans, our four-legged friends love chocolate, but unfortunately chocolate contains a dangerous stimulant called theobromine, which is similar to caffeine and poisonous to dogs. This includes every food that contains coco. Even minor amounts of chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, problems with the heart and even death in severe cases.
It's important to keep all nuts away from your dog for their risk of becoming a choking hazard, but there is one type of nut that is especially dangerous, Macadamia Nuts. These nuts can cause tremors, high fever, and a temporary loss of use of the back legs in dogs. Macadamia nuts can also cause pancreatitis when ingested by dogs, which is caused in part from the high fat content and risk of intestinal obstruction.
Garlic, Chives, & Onion
Allium species refer to chives, cultivated onion, shallot, garlic, scallion, and leeks, and are all poisonous to dogs. These ingredients are found in many festive foods such as gravy, stuffing, and sausages. Allium species destroy the red blood cells in dogs in a condition referred to as hemolytic anemia. Early symptoms may include vomiting and diarrhea, but as the problem progresses, dogs often exhibit rapid, shallow breathing, increased heart rate, weakness, and a lightening of the gums. Hemolytic anemia is a serious medical emergency.
Grapes, Currants, & Raisins
Grapes and their dried counterparts (currants and raisins) are found in many holiday foods such as Christmas pudding, cookies, & mince pie, but are toxic to dogs and can lead to kidney failure, even when ingested in small amounts.
Xylitol is a natural artificial sweetener that is completely ok for people, but highly poisonous to dogs. It’s found in hundreds of foods and poisons thousands of dogs each year by triggering the release of insulin, which can lead to low blood sugar and liver damage. It takes a very little dose of xylitol to poison a dog. Symptoms can be immediate or delayed and include vomiting, lethargy or weakness, seizures or convulsions, a lack of coordination, coma, and even death.
Whether it’s a few licks from a drink on a coffee table or a bite of a dessert containing alcohol, it doesn’t take much for a dog to be negatively impacted. Alcohol can lead metabolic and neurologic problems in dogs. Symptoms include vomiting, breathing problems, coma, and even death.
Unbaked Bread Dough
While not so appealing to humans, raw dough is a tasty treat for a dog. However, yeast dough can actually rise inside a dog’s digestive tract and block or rupture their organs and lead to seizures and respiratory failure.
It’s important to be very careful when feeding our dogs leftovers without thoroughly checking for bones. The majority of raw bones are completely safe to feed dogs, but when cooked they become very brittle and pose a serious risk when chewed. Bones broken into small sharp pieces can pierce a dog’s stomach and cause gastrointestinal tract issues.
The only unsafe cheese for dogs to eat is blue cheese, which contains a substance called roquefortine C that dogs are extremely sensitive to. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, high temperatures and even seizures.
Safe Christmas Leftovers and Treats
As long as your dog is healthy and doesn’t have any allergies to the following foods, these foods can be safely fed to your dog. Of course, remember that any change in your dog’s diet can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, so it’s best that their holiday treats be portioned in moderation:
Turkey meat (no skin or bones), salmon (fillets or cooked in spring water are preferable to smoked salmon), scrambled egg, green beans, brussel sprouts, parsnips, carrot, peas, mash potato (best without additional butter), sweet potatoes, yogurt (but check the ingredients and don’t feed if xylitol is listed as this is toxic to dogs)
Poisonous Plants for Dogs
Christmas plants can be poisonous for dogs, poinsettia, holly, mistletoe, are the most common harmful holiday plants, as well as amaryllis, azaleas, chrysanthemums, evergreens, ivy, juniper, & lily. If your dogs have free roam of the house, you may want to consider decorating with fake plants this holiday season.
The toxicity of the poinsettia is often exaggerated, luckily medical intervention is rarely required when ingested by dogs. Mild symptoms include vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, irritated skin, causing redness, swelling and itchiness.
Cyclamen has toxins that can be harmful to dogs when ingested. Symptoms include excessive salivation, digestive issues, upset stomach, seizures, and heart rhythm abnormalities. When small amounts are ingested, dogs will generally experience nothing more than an upset stomach, but high levels of ingestion can lead to serious issues and should be treated as an emergency.
It takes just a few small nibbles of a leaf or stem to lead to serious kidney issues that require immediate medical assistance. These kidney issues lead to aggressive IV fluid treatments, injectable medications, nutritional support, and very close monitoring.
The leaves and branches of a holly plant are not highly toxic, the berries are poisonous to dogs. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. It is also worth noting that dried berries can fall off these plants, so even if placed out of reach, the holly plant can still pose a risk to your dog.
Small quantities of mistletoe can lead to the following symptoms, excessive drooling, digestive issues, and upset stomach. Ingesting mistletoe in large amounts can lead to heart problems, neurologic problems, abnormal heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and a staggered walk. If a dog exposed to mistletoe poisoning is left without treatment, symptoms include collapsing, seizures, coma, and even death.
Christmas Tree Dangers for Dogs
Trees and decorations are central to holiday cheer, but can pose a risk as your dog may be attracted to the limbs, lights, or decorations. Oils from fir trees can irritate the inside of a dog’s mouth, evergreen needles can get stuck in your dog’s intestines, and stagnant Christmas tree water can cause an upset stomach and lead to vomiting or diarrhea. Also make sure to secure and stabilize the tree to the ground so that it won’t fall and injure your pet.
Plastic, paper, or foil decorations are not toxic, but can obstruct the stomach when ingested, while glass or breakable ornaments should be avoided as they may cause severe injuries to your pet’s mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Baked salt dough ornaments also contain ingredients than are dangerous or potentially even fatal for dogs.
Chewing on an electrical cord can result in electrocution, oral burns, and may even accumulate a buildup of fluid within a dog's lungs called non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, which is dangerous and sometimes fatal. Use electrical cord covers and cord organizers to hide cords out of reach. Symptoms that your dog has suffered an electrical shock include excessive drooling, loss of appetite, abnormal urination or defecation. If you see these symptoms in your dog, give the house a thorough inspection for evidence of chewed electrical cord.
Tinsel & Ribbons
Dogs find these festive decorations to be attractive fun toys. However, Tinsel’s is made of sparkling plastic, which can lead to upset stomach, vomiting, and even obstructed digestive tracts when ingested in large quantities.
Other Holiday Hazards for Dogs
When unwrapping gifts be sure to dispose of silica gel, which come in small packets and are included with many new consumer packages. These small packages could be mistaken as toys, treats, or chews by a dog. Although silica gel is labelled “Do not Eat” it is considered to be of low toxicity.
Most candles, even scented candles, are generally considered to be of low toxicity, but can lead to burns to the nose and paws. A happy dog’s tail also poses a risk of knocking lit candles over and starting a fire. Despite their low toxicity, ingestion could potentially block the intestine or cause choking.
Despite the low toxicity of most wrapping paper, large amounts ingested can lead to staining of the mouth and may block the intestine or cause choking.
When ingested, potpourri can lead to gastrointestinal issues in dogs that can last several days, even after the ingested potpourri has passed.
If knocked over and broken, the contents of a snow globe can be fatal, even in small doses. Snow globes may contain antifreeze, and just a few licks can be enough to poison a dog.
Anti-freeze and Ice Melt
Anti-freeze and rock salt are commonly used on sidewalks and driveways and contain chemicals that can be problematic for dogs. Some anti-freeze contains a deadly chemical called ethylene glycol, while rock salt can irritate paw pads and be swallowed by a dog as they try to lick the uncomfortable feeling away. Look for pet friendly ice melts with a propylene glycol base rather than ethylene glycol base.