Cold Weather & Holiday Pet Hazards

Keep your furry friends safe this Holiday season by reading our list of potential toxins.

Winter Hazards:

  1. Antifreeze
    1. Antifreeze is attractive to pets due to its sweet taste. Unfortunately, very small amounts can be lethal. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can be deadly to a cat and less than four teaspoons can be dangerous to a 10-pound dog. Antifreeze toxicity can cause irreversible kidney failure. Thoroughly clean up any spills, store antifreeze in tightly closed containers and store in secured cabinets. Automotive products such as gasoline, oil and antifreeze should be stored in areas that are inaccessible to your pets. Propylene glycol is a safer form of antifreeze and is recommended to use in pet households.
  1. Ice melting products
    1. The most common ingredients in these ice melts are sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium carbonate, and calcium magnesium acetate. A few ice melts contain urea. Pets may be exposed by walking on the ice melts themselves or by ingesting granules brought inside on the shoes of the owner’s. Ingestion of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium salts can lead to vomiting and severe electrolyte abnormalities. In mild cases these products can be irritating to skin and mouth.
  1. Rat and Mouse Bait
    1. These products are used more commonly during colder weather when rodents seek refuge inside. Most bait products contain an anticoagulant such as warfarin. These products, when ingested, cause consumption of clotting factors within 24-72 hours causing the animal to bleed out and die. Prompt medical attention is needed.

Christmas for Max & Jolie

Holiday Food Items that are Hazardous:

  1. Alcoholic beverages
    1. Cats and dogs are far more sensitive to ethanol than humans are. Even ingesting a small amount of a product containing alcohol can cause significant intoxication. Pets are attracted to mixed drinks that contain milk, cream or ice cream (e.g. White Russian, alcoholic eggnog, Brandy Alexander). Ethanol is rapidly absorbed orally and signs can develop within 30-60 minutes. Alcohol intoxication commonly causes vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation and stupor. In severe cases, coma, seizures and death may occur.
  2. Chocolate (baker’s, semi-sweet, milk chocolate)
    1. Chocolate is directly toxic because of the theobromine it contains. The more chocolate liquor there is in a product, the more theobromine there is. This makes baking chocolate the worst for pets, followed by semisweet and dark chocolate, followed by milk chocolate, followed by chocolate flavored cakes or cookies. Theobromine ingestion causes: vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, racing heart rhythm progressing to abnormal rhythms and even death in severe cases.  Also beware of using artificial sweeteners in holiday baking.  XYLITOL is extremely toxic and can cause life threateningly low blood sugar and death, without prompt treatment.
  3. Coffee (grounds, beans, chocolate covered espresso beans)
    1. Coffee is a source of caffeine, which acts like a stimulant when ingested. Clinical signs include, vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, abnormal heartbeats and even death.
  4. Moldy or spoiled foods
    1. Moldy/Spoiled foods can cause gastrointestinal upset or gastrointestinal obstruction. Additionally some moldy food may contain mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are metabolites produced by fungi growing on a variety of foodstuffs. These mycotoxins can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from neurological dysfunction to liver failure and death.
  5. Onions, onion powder, garlic
    1. Onions and garlic contain Sulfoxides, when ingested these sulfoxides can cause a life-threatening anemia called Heinz body anemia.  Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure.  While the exact source of the toxin in the grape/raisin is unknown it is highly recommended that dogs be discouraged from consuming them.
  6. Fatty foods
    1. Foods that are high in fat can lead to gastrointestinal upset (vomiting/diarrhea) and in severe cases can cause life-threatening pancreatitis. It is important NOT to feed your pet table scraps, especially if they are high in fat.
  7. Bread dough
    1. Ingestion of fermented raw bread dough can be fatal. The yeast added to bread dough converts carbohydrates to alcohol and in the process, carbon dioxide is released which makes the dough rise. This same reaction occurs in the stomach once the bread dough is swallowed. The ingestion of bread dough causes alcohol poisoning (depression, weakness, drunkenness, hypothermia, respiratory depression, stupor and coma) as well as marked distension of the stomach leading to cardiovascular and respiratory compromise/collapse.
  8. Bones
    1. Bones can cause gastrointestinal upset as well more commonly gastrointestinal obstruction and possibly perforation of the gastrointestinal tract. This is potentially fatal and requires emergency surgery. Never feed your dog bones.

Holiday Plants that are Hazardous:

  1. Lilies
    1. Often found in holiday flower arrangements and are fatal to cats. Many types of lily, such as Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Easter, Stargazer, and the Casa Blanca, can cause kidney failure in cats. If you have cats do not allow lilies in the house!
  2. Poinsettias
    1. Generally over rated in toxicity. If ingested, poinsettias can be irritating to the mouth and stomach. May cause gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea).
  3. Mistletoe
    1. Has the potential to cause cardiovascular problems when ingested in large quantities. However, mistletoe ingestion usually only causes gastrointestinal upset.
  4. Holly
    1. Ingestion can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and lethargy.
  5. Christmas Cactus
    1. Typically causes mild gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting or diarrhea.

Miscellaneous Christmas Hazards:

  1. Electric cords
    1. Avoid animal exposure to electric cords. If they were chewed, they could electrocute your pet. Cover up or hide electric cords, never let your pet chew on them.
  2. Ribbons or Tinsel
    1. These are extremely hazardous. If ingested these decorative items can become caught up in the intestines and cause intestinal obstruction. This could require emergency surgery.
  3. Batteries
    1. Batteries contain corrosive agents. If ingested they can cause ulceration to the mouth, tongue, and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.
  4. Glass ornaments
    1. If ingested these ornaments can cut the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract, necessitating emergency surgery.
  5. Potpourris
    1. Pets are often exposed to liquid potpourri by direct ingestion, or from spilling the containers upon themselves.
    2. Oral exposures result following grooming. Exposure of pets to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe oral, dermal, and ocular damage. Dry potpourri generally doesn’t cause these issues, but there may be problems due to foreign body and (possibly) toxic plant ingestion.
    3. It is best to avoid potpourris.
  6. Human Medications
    1. Because winter is the season for colds and influenza, pet owners may have more medications in their homes. These medications should be kept out of reach of pets, preferably in closed cabinets. It is also important to remind holiday visitors to secure their prescription medications in a location that cannot be accessed by your pet.

More information on potentially toxic items at The Pet Poison Helpline.

We hope you enjoy a wonderful and safe Holiday season with your families!


The Doctors and Staff of the Interior Pet Health Group

(Fairfield Animal Hospital, Westbank Animal Care Hospital & Central Valley Vet Hospital)


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