Keeping Pets Safe During the Holidays

lola and menorah.jpg Montclair veterinarian George Cameron warns that the holidays have some inherent risks for pets, and over the years he has seen the gamut of injuries. He’s treated, and sometimes operated on, cats who have eaten tinsel. Christmas trees have toppled over onto some patients, and others have cut their paws on broken ornaments. Dr. Cameron said guests at Christmas parties have unwittingly released indoor cats, or let dogs escape.
He has treated dogs and cats with diarrhea and vomiting from eating turkey skin or turkey fat. Harried hosts sometimes leave chocolate accessible to pets, which can become seriously ill if they eat it. He warned that guests should never feed raisins to a pet — they are highly toxic.
So how can you keep pets safe this holiday? Here are some tips:

  • Make sure to securely anchor your Christmas tree. If it tips over, the tree water may spill, and pose a danger to pets who might drink it. The water may contain fertilizers and bacteria. Also, refrain from adding tree preservatives, aspirin, or Tylenol to tree water.
  • Try to place your tree away from furniture that cats can jump onto the tree from. Hang your most fragile ornaments on higher branches, away from probing paws and wagging tails.
  • The Humane Society of Hawaii suggests hanging citrus scented dryer sheets or air fresheners from low branches. Most cats dislike the smell of oranges and lemons.
  • Electric lights pose a hazard for pets who like to chew. Remember to unplug any lights before leaving home.
  • Holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, as well as many lilies, are poisonous to pets.
  • If pets won’t leave the tree alone, it is probably best to confine them in a room with clean water and a comfortable place to sleep. Don’t forget to include a litter box for your cats.
  • Avoid decorating the tree with tinsel, which can be deadly, especially to cats, who are drawn to chew on it. Likewise, keep ribbons out of pets’ reach. If you have house guests, make sure that they know that dental floss and elastic bands can pose a serious danger to pets.
  • When entertaining, monitor the door so that pets don’t escape, or confine them. Be aware that unattended alcoholic beverages or chocolate are a serious risk to pets.
  • Be very careful with a lighted menorah or other candles. Pets can burn themselves or knock over the candles and start a fire. If you have a cat, and are going out or leaving the room, put the menorah on the stove or in the sink, where it is unlikely to start a fire if disturbed.
  • We at Baristanet wish you and your pets a happy, safe holiday season!

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    1. Great advice, but with one caveat. I recently checked with NJPIES, New Jersey Poison & Information Education Service in Newark (1-800-222-1222) and they said that it’s a myth that poinsettias are poisonous to pets. Those sweet lilies are harmful. Not sure and didn’t ask about mistletoe. Of course, best to double check with the experts yourself, but they are a credible source for these types of questions.

    2. Poinsettias are not in the same league as lillies, which can cause kidney failure, but they can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

    3. American mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant that lives off a variety of different tree species. If ingested in large enough quantities, mistletoe can potentially produce gastrointestinal irritation in pets, excessive thirst and urination, a drop in blood pressure and heart rate, seizures, coma and even death. According to our experts at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), however, most animal ingestions involve small quantities—not more than the amount found in a sprig or two—and typically result in mild stomach upset that resolves with little or no treatment.
      Here’s a list of common plants and whether or not they are toxic to kids (if toxic to kids you can rest assured that they are toxic to your pet)
      An evergreen shrub that can grow to be a tree. The leaves are stiff with sharp points and may be edged with white. The berries are hard and bright red. Eating more than 3 holly berries can cause severe and prolonged nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as drowsiness.
      An evergreen shrub with soft bright green needles similar to the “Christmas tree.” The berries are soft red capsules with a hard green stone in the center. Eating more than three yew berries can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, and changes in your child’s heart rate.
      This weed can grow up to five feet tall and has thick green-purple stems similar to rhubarb. Pokeweed berries (also known as ink berries) grow in clusters, like grapes, and ripen from white to green to rose and finally purple. Ripe berries stain the hands purple when crushed. Eating over 10 berries may cause headache, abdominal pain, and severe diarrhea. The leaves and the roots have been used in herbal preparations to induce vomiting.
      An evergreen herb with white to pink berries used to decorate for the holidays. Mistletoe berries are considered relatively non-toxic in small quantities. Large amounts of the berries can cause stomach upset. Other parts of the plant can also cause visual disturbances and convulsions. Such complications have been associated with ingesting extracts of the plant (e.g., tea).
      American Bittersweet
      A woody vine often used in fall wreaths and dried flower arrangements. Its orange-yellow berries are three-part capsules with a seed in each part. They grow at the point where the leaves join the stems. Eating American Bittersweet berries can cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
      An evergreen tree often used in holiday decorations. Its blue-purple berries have been used in recipes for flavoring. The safety of juniper berries as a food item is questionable since abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported when large amounts were eaten.
      Dogwood Tree
      A spring flowering tree which bears pink or white flowers. In the fall, bright red berries appear at the point where the leaves meet the branches. Dogwood berries are not toxic when eaten, but there have been reports of rashes after skin contact with the tree.
      A woody climbing vine that produces sweetly fragrant white or yellow flowers. Children often like to suck the honey from the flowers in the spring. In the fall, the vine produces red or orange berries. Neither the flowers nor the berries are reported to be poisonous
      Also known as “Fire Thorn” because the thorns can cause an irritating rash. An evergreen shrub with orange-red and yellow berries which grow in clusters. The bright colored berries make it a popular landscaping choice. Pyracantha berries are not considered poisonous unless large amounts are eaten; some sources even report them to be edible
      An evergreen shrub that tends to grow upright with long branches rather than as a bush. Its bright orange berries grow in clusters so thick that the branches cannot be seen.
      Wild strawberries
      A wild version of the edible strawberry. It looks exactly like the strawberry you may find in a grocery store, but the taste is not as sweet. Wild strawberries are not poisonous. They grow in the spring, summer and fall.

    4. Thanks for the botany lesson on this early Sunday morning.
      I’ve heard that both poinsettias and mistletoe are poisonous to pets (esp. smaller animals) but why even take a chance? Even if you’re unsure, just keep them away from your critters.

    5. I had a cat who every year would strip a pointsetta bare no matter where we put them. She lived to be 19 – go figure.

    6. Our cat loves to chew on ribbon — it’s probably his ideal dental floss — along with string and twine. As long as it’s tied down or held up, it’s probably fine. Just DON’T leave it around loose.

    7. ingesting dental floss will kill a pet by cutting his/her insides as it travels though the body. Very bad news.

    8. ingesting dental floss will kill a pet by cutting his/her insides as it travels though the body.
      Maybe I won’t eat this donut after all…

    9. Mrs Martta –
      Poinsettia is not poisonous–check it out on snopes–but this belief persists year after year. Of course most plants eaten in large quantities will make a pet barf but that does not mean it’s poisonous, just means you have a mess to clean up.

    10. Years ago we had a cat who ate the insides from a cassette tape. I came home to find her dragging her posterior all over the rug, attempting to dislodge the tape. Emergency trip to vet followed…she was ok (apparently didn’t ingest much of the tape, fortunately), but we had to monitor her. This incident spawned many jokes about cat being a big music fan, etc.

    11. One of my dogs ingested the rubber insides of a golf ball (at least she had the sense to pull off the cover before she ate it) and was found with blue rubber string hanging from her mouth.
      Resist the temptation to try and pull anything like this back out of the animal.
      I called animal emergency and they talked my through putting 3oz of hydrogen peroxide into a turkey baster and giving her a dose. Up came the whole golf ball insides- boy were we relieved. We followed with a light lunch for the pooch- at the behest of the animal emergency center.

    12. The one and only time Kelly ever ingested anything bad was a few months after we got her. She was angry with my husband because he couldn’t play with her RIGHT THIS MINUTE as he had things to do upstairs. He was gone upstairs for about 10 minutes and when he came down Kelly had eaten about 6 tassels off one of our rugs! Fortunately, they “didn’t stay with her” but I will spare you the gross details. She was fine in the end but if she was a smaller breed, she might have had major problems.
      I know that rope toys are popular but our vet says “no” to them. They can get mangled up in the dog’s intestines.

    13. These stories are funny. My roommate right out of college had a dog that ate everything. You lovely Baristanet reader don’t know who I am so I can share this story with the comfort of anonymity. This dog for some reason loved to go into my bedroom and grab my previously worn panties out of my hamper. Unbeknownst to me, my roommate would grab them out of her dog’s mouth (probably with rubber gloves on) and put them back in my hamper. I remember once using the restroom at work and seeing two holes about the size of a dog’s teeth in my underpants–“How curious,” I thought to meself. Another time my panties ripped apart as I was putting them on because her dog just really went to town on them. Kinda weird. But this dog also ate a sock one evening. The next morning, my friend came running back into the apartment all in a tizzy because she had just pulled a fully intact sock out of her dog’s ass. I love dogs but that was one dumbass canine.

    14. I had a veterinarian as a client a few years back. You would not believe some of the things that dogs swallow.

    15. Hi. Unfortunately, we do not have a photo of darling, little Heather, a mature bulldog we found, and then named on the way to what was PAWS; she was wandering on Alexander and Grove on Saturday.
      As I mentioned in my blog entry (, “…she has a cinnamon-bun-curly tail and a husky/muscle-bound frame in addition to her pushed-in nose, impressive jowls and the bit of tongue that hangs out of her mouth at all times.” Also, she is mostly white with an orange-tan splotch across her back and she’s got a sweet disposition from what we could tell.
      It would be so great if Baristanet could be an agent of her family finding her.

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