Holiday Hazards for Pets

Article excerpt

Give your pet (and your vet) a break this Christmas season by taking simple precautions to prevent holiday-related injuries.

Playful puppies romping in the snow with bundled-up children, wide-eyed kittens mesmerized by flashing Christmas lights--these are the happy images we conjure up when we associate our pets with the holidays. But beware! Behind many of our cherished yuletide traditions lurk potential disasters.

Every Christmas season, veterinarians treat numerous pets for serious conditions directly related to holiday celebrations. In my practice alone, I see dozens of these cases each year. Awareness of the following common holiday hazards, and appropriate precautions, can help you prevent tragedy in this season of joy.


Several years ago during the week preceding Christmas, a woman presented the limp body of a young kitten to my office. She reported the kitten had been healthy until that morning, when she found it unconscious in her living room. At that point, she rushed her pet to my veterinary clinic, where he was dead on arrival. I performed a necropsy and found mistletoe leaves and berries in the stomach.

Poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe are beautiful but poisonous decorative plants. Mistletoe and holly, in particular, are often deadly if ingested by curious pets. Keeping pets away from these plants is imperative, and substituting artificials may be the safest solution.

Decorative plants are not the only seasonal poisoning culprits. Antifreeze dripping from car radiators has a sweet taste that attracts pets.

Animals that lick up the solution often suffer permanent kidney damage before symptoms appear. As little as one tablespoonful can be lethal to a 20-pound dog. Immediate cleanup of spilled antifreeze is a must.

Human medications inadvertently left out by houseguests are another common source of holiday toxicities. Dogs often chew through plastic childproof containers, and guests should be advised to keep their prescriptions where pets can't get at them.


Lighted candles, hot electrical decorations, open fireplace screens, and bubbling fondue pots make up part of the holiday scene in many households. All have the potential to produce burns in romping household pets. Veterinarians see burn cases ranging from lethal scalds to minor singeing of foot pads. When pets are in the house, you must consider every possible scenario for contact with fire and heat. I treated a severely burned cat several Christmases ago after it jumped into a fireplace to escape pursuit by another family pet.

Electrical Shock

Working late at my clinic on a December evening about ten years ago, I was startled to see a man stumble through the door carrying a limp bundle of white fur. I immediately pulled him into an exam room. "What have we got?" I asked, as I began examining his unconscious pet.

He told me he had found his three-month-old samoyed puppy comatose under the Christmas tree. "He was just fine when I left to go shopping, Doc, and when I got back, he was just laying there completely out of it."

A quick exam confirmed my suspicions. Small burn marks were visible on the muzzle and tongue. The puppy had been shocked by biting an electric cord. I began an IV drip and administered dexamethasone and antibiotics.

The puppy eventually recovered from the electrical shock, but it required a prolonged course of antibiotICS to conquer a secondary pneumonia resulting from electrical current tracking into the lungs.

The potential for electrical shock in pets is greatly increased during the holidays due to the numerous electric cords used for lighted decorations. Cords should be hidden where possible, or guarded with pet-proof conduit to prevent tragedy.

Ingested Foreign Bodies

Another of my clients was sitting in her living room watching a Christmas special on television when she noticed "Fletcher," her two-year-old male Siamese, hunched under a chair across the room. …