The holidays are fast approaching, and with them come loads of foods, decorations, and plants new to our homes. The problem is, that while we may love all that the holidays may have to offer, some of these can cause serious illness or even death in our pets. To prevent the heartbreak of losing a pet or a costly visit to the emergency room, it’s important to know that there are more than just the usual suspects when it comes to pet holiday dangers.

Most may be aware by now that certain holiday food including meat bones, nuts, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, and sugar free candies and other foods containing xylitol are toxic to pets. You know that decorative ornaments, ribbons, and tinsel, if eaten, can all cause serious and potentially deadly intestinal damage in cats in particular. Candles can burn your pet and potentially set your house on fire. Plants such as Mistletoe, Holly, Amaryllis, Poinsettias, and Lilies can all be toxic. What you may not know is that there are several other, very common, often overlooked holiday dangers.

Cleaning up the house getting ready for company? Know that a common toxicity in cats is exposure to cleaners like kitchen, bath, carpet, and toilet cleaners. While most of the surface cleaners only result in mild GI signs, others such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners, laundry detergent, and toilet bowl cleaners can be potentially corrosive and result in severe injury. Wipe any excess liquid or residue after cleaning and stow cleaning products safely out of reach. Don’t let the pets back into the cleaned areas until the products have completely dried, so they don’t try to groom the liquid off their feet/fur.

For those of us feeling blue this time of year and are on anti-depressants, it’s important to know that they are one of the most common toxins in dogs and cats. While it’s true that veterinarians use some of these drugs to treat disorders in pets, higher doses or the wrong medication can be toxic. So, make sure you store them away from your pets, up high. Surprisingly, the number one human medication that cats ingest (and become very ill from) is amphetamines!

Your in-laws are coming to visit, you fell off the ladder putting up the Christmas Lights, you slipped on the ice: Time for some pain killers! But, be careful because this is an extremely common toxin in dogs and cats. Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, Aleve, and Tylenol and many of the NSAIDS that are approved for use in dogs are a common cause of overdose. Overdose with these drugs can range from stomach upset to kidney disease and death.

In fact, there are a number of human medications that can cause serious illness in pets including asthma inhalers, heart medications, and decongestants. Even though your pet has never gotten into these medications, there is a first time for everything! A word about medical cannabis and recreational foodstuffs made from it: If you think that your pet may have ingested some, please be honest with your vet. We are not going to report you! We just want to save your animal.

Before you start your fire up to roast some chestnuts over the open flame, be aware that one of the top ten things that dogs get into are fire starter logs. These aren’t a toxin per say, but they definitely have the potential to cause an intestinal blockage if your dog eats one. Most are made of are made of compressed sawdust and wax, and do not break down readily in the stomach and can result in an intestinal blockage. Rarer types of fire starter logs may contain heavy metals to provide a “color sparkle” to the fireplace and are quite toxic.

Each year, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) manages hundreds of thousands of poisoning calls, the vast majority of which are preventable, with some house-proofing. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A consultation fee may apply, but it is well worth it to potentially save your pet’s life and for your peace of mind. For more information on toxic plants, people food, household products in pets you can go to

M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM, is part of the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association.


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