Pet Toxins to Avoid This Holiday Season

Along with the many joys of the holidays, comes the added risk of toxin exposure for our furry friends.

This blog will cover some of the toxins which may be more commonly found around your home this time of year, as well as clinical signs and treatment options. If you suspect that your pet has ingested any of these toxins, please call your veterinarian immediately.

Poinsettias – ingestion of poinsettias can cause gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea) for usually 1-2 days. Although the toxic effects are not life-threatening, pets can become dehydrated quickly, and you should still seek the advice of your veterinarian if you suspect they ingested a poinsettia.

Lilies – this flower is commonly seen in Christmas arrangements and is one of the most fatal toxins in cats. Ingesting just a small amount of the plant, pollen or water can result in acute kidney failure and death.

Holly – the toxins of this plant are found in the spiny leaves and can result in severe gastrointestinal upset. Some signs include lip smacking, drooling and head shaking (pain from swallowing spiny leaves).

Mistletoe – mild signs from small ingestion of mistletoe include gastrointestinal upset. If large amounts are ingested, it may result in collapse, hypotension (low blood pressure), ataxia (difficulty walking), seizures and even death.

Christmas decorations – tinsel can result in a linear foreign body which often requires surgery to remove. Other tree decorations can also cause a foreign body (blockage) in the intestinal tract, requiring surgery. Tree lights can cause electrical burns if chewed by a pet. It is important to keep your pets away from the Christmas tree if they are known to eat/chew things they find.

Potpourri – dried potpourri can cause chemical burns to your pet’s mouth and large amounts can result in gastrointestinal upset or an intestinal blockage. Scented oils can also cause chemical burns, fever, difficulty breathing and tremors. Cats are much more sensitive than dogs, but it should be kept far out of reach from both species.

Christmas dinner:

  • Cakes, bread or cookies containing grapes/raisins or currants can cause kidney failure in dogs.
  • Chocolate and cocoa contain a chemical called theobromine which is similar to caffeine and is toxic to dogs and cats. Just a small amount can result in vomiting and diarrhea. Larger amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.
  • Sugarless gum/candy may contain a sweetener called xylitol which is very toxic to dogs. It can cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
  • Leftovers (fatty meat scraps) can cause severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) which causes abdominal pain, vomiting and sometimes bloody diarrhea.

Ice melt – exposure to small amounts of ice melt can cause stomach upset and dermal/paw pad irritation. Many formulations contain salt (sodium) and if ingested in large amounts can result in abnormalities to a pet’s electrolytes, possibly leading to seizures and brain damage.

Antifreeze – otherwise known as ethylene glycol, is an extremely toxic chemical. As little as one teaspoon ingested by a cat or 1-2 tablespoons ingested by a dog (depending on their weight) can be fatal. Early signs of toxicity are incoordination, excessive thirst and lethargy. These signs may seem to improve after 8-12 hours of ingestion; however, internal organ damage is actually worsening, as crystals form in the kidneys causing acute kidney failure. Immediate treatment is vital for the pets survival, in which a blood test can be run and an antidote given within the first 3 hours for cats and 8-12 hours for dogs.

If you think your pet may have ingested any of these toxins, please call your veterinarian immediately. You may also call Pet Poison Helpline which is a 24-hour animal poison control centre, which provides treatment advice for all species. Your veterinarian may ask you to call the helpline as well since they can provide very important information about these toxins, which are not as readily available to your veterinarian.

For more information, please visit or call at 1-800-213-6680 (a consultation fee will apply).

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year from everyone at Briarwood Animal Hospital!

Resource: Life-Learn “Holiday Toxins for Pets”

Written by: Briarwood Animal Hospital