‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… spent in the Emergency Veterinary Hospital

Dr. David Lavernoich

The weather is getting below 80 degrees here in the Classic City, and that means autumn has arrived and the holidays are around the corner. Major box stores have had holiday decorations and winter weather preparations out since September. With the holidays approaching faster each year comes with it festive fiascos and hazards for our pets. No one wants an emergency visit to the veterinarian during a Thanksgiving tryptophan slumber. Here are a few considerations to keep our pets safe prior to our busy holiday season.  

Holiday meals are the best—they are full of great-tasting, nap-inducing food. As wonderful as these meals are for humans, our pets can have a hard time with some of them. Some people feed their animals the main course from their holiday meal because they feel bad or find it cute. These meals are often very fatty, heavy in calories and rich in taste, which may upset your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. 

Inevitably, most of us veterinarians will see multiple patients with diarrhea, vomiting or pancreatitis the day after any given holiday. Our pets are used to a very regimented diet, and giving them such a rich obscured meal very well may throw off their system. If you are considering giving them a holiday meal, it is best to avoid human food. 

The following are some other aspects of holiday meals that our pets need to avoid: 

  • Chocolate: Can cause panting, tremors, increased drinking and peeing, heart abnormalities, seizures or even death. 
  • Onions, Garlic, Chives: These can cause red blood cell damage and GI upset. Cats are more sensitive than dogs to them.
  • Macadamia Nuts: Can cause serious symptoms such as tremors, weakness, fever, depression and GI upset.
  • Xylitol: An artificial sweetener used in some baked goods, chewing gums, toothpastes, etc. that can cause severe drops in blood sugars leading to seizures, disorientation and other severe symptoms.  
  • Alcohol: Alcohol that is added to eggnog or other milky, sweet cocktails might be enticing for some animals. Alcohol can cause inebriation like in humans, but is much more serious due to their small body size and severity of symptoms.  
  • Grapes or Raisins: Can cause kidney failure in some dogs.  

Some holiday plants, albeit beautiful and festive, can also be toxic for your pets:

  • Lilies: The lily flower is dangerous for your feline companion. If ingested by a cat, it can cause renal failure.
  • Poinsettias: Can cause irritation in the mouth and stomach and can cause vomiting and diarrhea.  
  • Mistletoe: Can cause vomiting and diarrhea in most cases. This plant has the potential to cause heart issues.  
  • Holly: Can cause mild vomiting or diarrhea.  
  • Water with Tree Preservative: Many Christmas tree water additives/preservatives have fertilizers and other sugars, and generally they will cause GI upset.

Go to any large box store and see the numerous types of decorations. Here are some decoration considerations when monitoring your pets around the holidays:

  • Some cats and dogs like to chew on plastic, so keep track of any loose strings on lights or wires. There are many times that veterinarians see electrical burns from a dog or cat chewing on decorative lights.
  • Cats have a tendency to play with and chew on string-like objects. Cats will sometimes chew the tinsel off Christmas trees and ingest it. Tinsel has the potential to cause something called a linear foreign body, causing serious injury to the intestines.  
  • Sometimes glass holiday ornaments get broken, and an animal can ingest the shards. DO NOT make them vomit, but visit a veterinarian.  
  • Sometimes smaller tree ornaments that smell good or look like stuffed animals may be ingested.  

This is not an exhaustive list of concerns for keeping your pets safe during the holidays. If you have any concerns, do not hesitate to call your veterinarian. They will be able to help you decipher if there is an urgent situation. With a little due diligence and care, you and your pet can have a happy safe, emergency-free holiday.