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22 Dec Ask The Vet – Holiday Poisons

Question: I know holidays are a tough time for pets, but what do I really need to be concerned about?

Dr. Lisa Johnson from Pittsfield Veterinary Clinic responds:

“This is the hardest time of year for pet owners. Between decorating your house and cooking large meals, dogs and cats come in contact with many health hazards. Every pet owner should be aware of pet dangers, but I am going to discuss the major concerns I’ve dealt with over the years.

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener often used in sugar-free foods or drinks. Although a natural sweetener, this can be dangerous to your dog or cat. Xylitol can lead to low blood sugar, possible liver necrosis or liver failure. Depending on the amount of xylitol consumed, dogs or cats may experience weakness, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, collapse, tremoring, black-tarry stool, coma or even death.

Poinsettias, lilies, holly and mistletoe are very common, beautiful holiday plants. The milky white sap from Poinsettias may cause irritation to the mouth and stomach, sometimes resulting in vomiting. Generally, poinsettias are over-rated in toxicity.

Lilies are commonly used by florists. Just two bites from this plant can result in severe acute kidney failure in cats. Even lily pollen is thought to be poisonous!

Holly berries and mistletoe are another concern. The spiny leaves can lead to severe gastrointestinal upset, but toxins are also present in these plants. If ingested, your dog or cat may drool, lip smack, or head shake due to injury from the spiny leaves.

American mistletoe is less toxic than European varieties, but may still lead to gastrointestinal upset, collapse, hypotension, or seizures. So leave your mistletoe (securely!) hanging high where you pets can’t get it!

Chocolate may be a holiday treat for you, but it can be deadly to your pet! The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous. Chocolate contains theobromine. Dogs are not able to easily metabolize theobromine.

A small amount of theobromine may lead to upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting. But large consumption of chocolate or cocoa powder can produce muscle tremors, seizures, irregular heartbeat, or heart attack. Usually severe hyperactivity is commonly a sign of theobromine poisoning.

Oh what fun decorating your house with tinsel and ribbons can be! But the fun stops as soon as your pet ingests these dangers! Although tinsel and ribbons do not contain toxins, if your pet (usually a curious cat) ingests either, you should be highly concerned! Ingestion can result in a ‘linear foreign body.’ Sometimes, surgery is required to safely remove the material from your pet’s stomach before a deadly blockage forms.

If your pet has ingested tinsel, ribbons or any stringy, shiny item, you may see them pawing at the mouth, vomiting, not eating or having abdominal pain or diarrhea.

One danger often not listed is purchasing special treats for our pets. Many of these products are not manufactured in the USA, or made with US ingredients. With the rise in scares and recalls over the past several years, I recommend purchasing name brand products labeled with the source of their ingredients.

Last, but not least are Macadamia Nuts. Dogs are the ones generally harmed by macadamia nuts. The mechanism of toxicity is not known, but may lead to a nonfatal syndrome characterized by vomiting, ataxia, weakness, hyperthermia, and depression. Tremors may be secondary to muscle weakness. Depending on the amount ingested, your dog may be able to recover without supportive veterinary care.

The holidays are a time to enjoy with your family, friends and pets. Don’t let your time with loved ones be interrupted if your pet has contact with any of these holiday treats or décor. Keep your pets safe, and don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian any questions or discuss concerns you may have in regard to your pet’s health or holiday hazards.”

**If you suspect your cat or dog has ingested any of these holiday hazards, you should call your veterinarian immediately or the Pet Poison Hotline at 1-855-289-0358.**

About the Doctor: Dr. Lisa Johnson graduated from the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. It is there that she met and married her husband, Dr. William Johnson, also a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Lisa has owned the Pittsfield Veterinary Clinic outside of Edmeston, NY since 1989.

Do you have a question for Dr. Lisa Johnson? E-mail your questions to Please title the e-mail, “Ask the Vet!”

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