Holiday food and decor that can harm your dog

One sure way of putting a damper on the holidays is an emergency trip to the veterinarian for a sick dog. Yet this time of year is full of dangers for pets. While some accidents are unavoidable, there are a few things you can do to make your home safer for your pup during the fall and winter festivities.

More than 100,000 pets are poisoned in the United States each year, according to PetMD, and many of these cases are caused by household items, human foods and common plants. It seems like even more of these hazardous items pop up during the holidays.

For example, did you know that dogs can be poisoned from eating mistletoe? And the beautiful red poinsettia, a popular Christmas plant, is also toxic to dogs, according to Pet Poison Helpline, where there’s an alphabetical list of several items poisonous to dogs and cats.

Oreo playing with Christmas decorations.

Oreo playing with Christmas decorations.

Dogs are naturally curious about change to their home, so when you pull out holiday decorations, watch out. Tinsel is particularly tempting for dogs and cats alike, and believe it or not, this cheerful little adornment can cause big problems if your pets ingest it, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. As your pet’s intestines contract and move, the tinsel (and the same goes for string) can slowly saw through the tissue. Needless to say, if you think your pet has gotten into the tinsel, call your veterinarian.

If you’re having guests over, you’ll likely go on a cleaning spree beforehand. I know that’s what happens at my house. I’m usually quite frantic. Nevertheless, don’t forget to put away household cleaners afterward. Many cleaners are toxic to pets, and in that vein, so is hand sanitizer.

Also, tobacco is a major toxic hazard to dogs. This may seem like a strange thing to worry about, but if you’re having guests over that smoke, they may leave behind tobacco and your dog may become curious. Nicotine can damage your dog’s digestive and nervous systems, increase their heart rate, make them pass out and ultimately result in death, according to Pet Poison Helpline.

Oreo checks out food that would make him sick in November 2014. He gets a healthy treat for being a good model.

Oreo checks out food that would make him sick in November 2014. He gets a healthy treat for being a good model.

One of the biggest things to consider during the holiday season is table scraps. Since table scraps aren’t nutritionally balanced, they shouldn’t be more than 10 percent of a dog’s diet, as a general rule. And many dog trainers will discourage people from ever feeding their dogs scraps.

However, it’s understandable that you want to include your pet in the holiday meal. Just do a little research before tossing any leftovers under the table. Just because you can eat it doesn’t mean your dog can.

Does your holiday stuffing typically include onions? What about raisins? Well, if it contains either, you probably shouldn’t feed it to your dog. Onions and raisins can poison dogs, and that’s not all. There’s a long list of human eatables that dogs simply can’t enjoy.

Chocolate is one of the most common dog poisoners, and a lot of it comes out around the holidays. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which cause problems for dogs. The rule of thumb is: the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. For a list of side effects and a handy chocolate toxicity calculator, visit PetMD’s page on chocolate.

Raw bread dough made with live yeast can be hazardous if eaten by dogs, according to ASPCA. Crazily enough, the dough may expand in the dog’s stomach. Affected dogs have distended abdomens and show signs of disorientation, stupor and vomiting. Extreme cases could lead to death. Learn more.

Drinking alcohol, even a small amount, can cause significant intoxication in dogs, which can result in vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation and stupor. Extreme cases could lead to death. Keep the egg nog to yourself.  Learn more.

-Grapes and raisins have been associated with development of kidney failure in dogs, according to ASPCA. It’s also a mystery why some dogs can eat grapes with no ill effects, while others become ill. Dogs experiencing grape or raisin poisoning may display the following symptoms: vomiting, lethargy or diarrhea. Learn more.

Oreo checks out food that would make him sick in November 2014. He gets a healthy treat for being a good model.

Oreo checks out food that would make him sick in November 2014. He gets a healthy treat for being a good model.

Salt, a cooking staple, is actually poisonous to dogs (and other pets), according to the Pet Poison Helpline. Salt poisoning in dogs can result in vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, lethargy, walking drunk, abnormal fluid accumulation within the body, excessive thirst or urination, potential injury to the kidneys, tremors, seizures, coma, and even death when untreated. Learn more.

Hops. Both fresh and cooked cultivated hops used for brewing beer have poisoned dogs, according to ASPCA. Affected dogs can develop an extremely high body temperature, which results to failure of multiple organs. Symptoms include panting, restlessness, muscle tremors and seizures. Learn more.

Rhubarb contains soluble calcium oxalates, salts that can cause a drop in calcium that can be problematic for dogs. Symptoms of this type of poisoning includes drooling, inappetence, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, tremors, bloody urine and changes in thirst and urination, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. Learn more.

Macadamia nuts, one of the typical nuts found in holiday nut bowls, can cause dogs to become extremely uncomfortable. According to ASPCA, dogs that have ingested macadamia nuts can develop weakness in their rear legs and may have tremors and a low-grade fever. Learn more.

Onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and scallions, all close members of the onion family contain compounds that can damage dogs’ red blood cells, according to the ASPCA, and the problem usually doesn’t become apparent until 3-5 days after the dog ingests the food. Symptoms are weakness and reluctance to move and orange or red urine. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be needed. Keep in mind that many foods, including chips, include onion and garlic powder. Learn more.

The non-caloric sweetener Xylitol is often used in sugar-free gum and sugar-free baked products. In dogs, ingestion of this sweetener can lead to a rapid drop in blood sugar levels that may cause disorientation and seizures, according to ASPCA. Some dogs who ingest large amounts can develop liver failure, which can be fatal. Learn more.

-The seeds of persimmons, as well as the pits of peaches and plums, can cause intestinal obstruction and inflammation or infection of the small intestine, according to Dr. Race Foster and Dr. Marty Smith at

Other foods that you should think twice before offering to your dog:

Fat trimmings and other fatty foods can cause pancreatitis, according to the Canine Health Foundation. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that causes the pancreas to “digest itself.” Pancreatitis can be acute (sudden) or chronic (happening over a course of time.) Both forms can be life-threatening.

-Cooked bones from fish, poultry and other meat sources easily splinter when chewed by your dog and can cause obstructions or lacerations in the digestive system, according to

Corn on the cob can get stuck in your dog’s small intestine, and if it’s not removed surgically, it can prove fatal, according to veterinarian Janet Tobiassen Crosby at

Milk and other dairy products, if given in large amounts, can cause some adult dogs and cats to develop diarrhea, according to

Sugary foods and drinks can lead to dental issues, obesity and diabetes, according to PetMD, which features a slideshow of 26 dangerous foods for dogs.

And to wrap everything up, if you can’t keep an eye on your pet during a holiday gathering, consider boarding him or her at a reputable nearby kennel. You can also separate your pets in a room with a bed, toys, food and water. Just make sure to let them outside to do their business!

If you have any other suggestions for pet owners to keep their animals safe and healthy this holiday season, please add them in the comment section at the bottom of the page or email me at

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at