Things that can ruin your pet’s holiday season

In an effort to save Maine pet owners extra stress this holiday season, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry recently issued a press release that includes a number of helpful pet safety tips.

oreoholiday1113-3You might be surprised at some of the typical holiday items and foods that can be hazardous to your pets.

For example, did you know that pets shouldn’t be fed turkey or turkey skin? Even a small amount can cause a life-threatening condition in pets known as pancreatitis, according to American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Healthy pets make happy owners. We want all Mainers and their pets to have a positive experience this holiday season,” said Maine State Veterinarian, Dr. Michele Walsh, in the press release. “A little bit of forethought can go a long way toward avoiding stressful, expensive, possibly fatal trips to a veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations offer tips on how to help ensure that your pets make it through the holidays safely.”

I’ve written about this before. In fact, I wrote about it extensively in the blog “Holiday Foods and Decor That Can Harm Your Dog.”

Some of the top “people foods” that harm pets during the holidays are:

  • Chocolate. Most people know that chocolate is toxic to dogs, but did you know it’s also toxic to cats? If your pet does manage to snag a chocolate Santa from a stocking, you should call your veterinarian, and you can also get a good idea of the severity of the issue by using the PetMD online Chocolate Toxicity Meter, which calculates toxicity based on the type of chocolate, amount consumed and size of your pet.
  • Other sweets and baked goods. These foods are often too rich for pets. Plus, an artificial sweetener often found in baked goods, candy and chewing gum has been linked to liver failure and death in dogs. It’s called “xylitol.”
  • Onions, raisins and grapes are poisonous to pets. Just a few raisins can be life threatening to a small dog.
  • Fatty table scraps. Things like gravy and meat fat can be hard for animals to digest and can cause pancreatitis.

If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. You may also want to call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 1-888-426-4435. Signs of pet distress include sudden changes in behavior such as acting lethargic or manic, pain, vomiting or diarrhea.

While human food is the cause of many pet emergencies, holiday decorations have also caused problems. Many pets are curious by nature, and when something new pops into their environment — such as a Christmas tree — they have to check it out.

Here are a few safety tips concerning decorations, courtesy of American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • Oreo playing with Christmas decorations.

    Oreo playing with Christmas decorations.

    Christmas trees can tip over if pets climb on them or try to play with the lights and ornaments. Consider tying your tree to the ceiling or a door frame using fishing line to secure it.

  • Ornaments. Broken ornaments can cause injuries, and ingested ornaments can cause intestinal blockage or even toxicity. Keep any homemade ornaments, particularly those made from salt-dough or other food-based materials, out of reach of pets.
  • Tinsel, taffeta, ribbon and other holiday decorations and wrapping materials can be tempting for pets to eat. Consuming them can cause intestinal blockages, sometimes requiring surgery.
  • Flowers and festive plants can result in an emergency veterinary visit if your pet gets hold of them. Amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar, and holly are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets who decide to eat them. Poinsettias can be troublesome as well. The ASPCA offers lists of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats.
  • Candles. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle; it could result in a fire.
  • Potpourris should be kept out of reach of pets. Liquid potpourris pose risks because they contain essential oils and cationic detergents that can severely damage your pet’s mouth, eyes and skin. Solid potpourris could cause problems if eaten.

Also during the holidays, it’s important to keep in mind that your pet may not be accustomed to so many visitors. All pets should have access to a comfortable, quiet place if they want to retreat from the crowd, according to ASPCA. And you’ll need to watch the exits when guests come and go. It would be a shame if your pet ran out the door and became lost during the holidays. As a precaution, make sure your pet is wearing identification tags before the party gets started.

It’s also considerate to inform your guests ahead of time that you have pets or that other guests may be bringing pets to your house. Some people are afraid of certain pets, and other may be allergic.

And lastly, if you’re headed out to a holiday gathering rather than hosting one, be sure to unplug decorations before you leave the house. Also, take out the trash, especially if it contains any food scraps.


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