Be Safe Over the Holidays! Tips to Help You and Your Pets Enjoy a Safe Holiday!

Jennifer Stokes, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)


Be safe over the holidays! Here are some tips to help you AND your pets enjoy a safe holiday.

We want you and your pets to enjoy the holidays. There are a few tips that can help prevent your holiday involving a pet medical emergency and a trip to an Emergency Service.

Although most of us enjoy sharing the yummy treats we make and receive during the holidays, avoid sharing with your cats and dogs. There are plenty of safe pet-targeted treats they can enjoy. If your pet is on a special diet/food prescribed by a veterinarian, please consult them prior to feeding a new food (even in small amounts).

Please avoid*:

  • Bones: they can easily splinter and perforate the GI tract or get stuck and need removal via surgery or endoscopy.
  • High fat foods: in general as they may cause pancreatitis in predisposed dogs.
  • Candy and nuts:
    • chocolate, in particular, is toxic to most pets and may cause hyperactivity, muscle tremors, increased heart rate, heart arrhythmias, seizures and death
    • chocolate-covered coffee beans is a DOUBLE whammy as the caffeine in the coffee can compound the negative effects of the chocolate
    • xylitol, which is used as a sweetener due to its low glycemic index, is toxic and may result in low blood sugar and/or liver damage; both can be fatal
    • macadamia nuts are toxic and may cause weakness and GI signs; the high fat content could also cause pancreatitis
    • Grapes, raisins: are toxic to dogs and in addition to GI upset can cause fatal kidney failure
    • Chives, onions, garlic: in high enough quantities can cause severe anemia in both dogs and cats

    *Additional resources

    ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435. Note that a consultation fee may apply.


Please keep in mind that those beautiful decorations and natural greenery may be tempting to both cats and dogs!

  • Christmas trees and their decorations may be very intriguing to your pets, whether to climb, pull down or play with. It is recommended that pets always be monitored when in a room with a Christmas tree so they do not injure themselves or others, or damage the tree and breakable decorations.
  • Ingestion of pine needles as well as the water in the Christmas tree stand may cause GI upset. Pine needles could cause a GI obstruction or perforation.
  • Tinsel, ribbons and string may cause a GI foreign body in both dogs and cats, requiring surgical removal.
  • FIRE! Never leave pets unattended with candles or fires (inside or out). And firestarter logs often contain chemicals that can cause GI upset.
  • Many seasonal plants are poisonous to pets if ingested, including ivy, holly, mistletoe and poinsettias. (Although not typically found in seasonal arrangements, lilies often cause fatal kidney failure in cats).


Travel and housing

Many of us like to travel with our pets when possible. Although we enjoy having our furry companions with us, for some pets it is much less stressful for them to stay home (or even be boarded/kenneled). Here are some things to consider and suggestions that may be helpful.

  • Travel
    • Are you staying in a pet friendly environment? This includes staying with family and friends who will welcome your pets, do not have pet allergies or household members with special needs. Youngsters, seniors, etc., may LOVE animals but it may be unsafe for them to be around dogs and cats that may jump on people, accidentally scratch, or be a source of zoonotic disease to immunocompromised people.
    • Are there resident animals that might resent or even be aggressive to a visiting pet? Also, do not underestimate the potential risk of a size difference; a sweet and playful large breed dog can easily and accidentally injure a smaller dog or cat.
    • Even the most PERFECT pet may be protective of food/treats and demonstrate aggressive behavior if food is presented with visiting animals present.

  • Is your pet anxious in the car or have motion sickness? There are multiple medications that can help dogs and cats with anxiety as well as a medication labeled for use in pets with motion sickness (Cerenia). It is very important that you communicate with your veterinarian well in advance of your travel date. Every pet has a different response to anti-anxiety drugs and it is very helpful to do trial dosing in advance to help find the most effective amount of medication to help your pet have minimal anxiety with minimal sedation (or other side effects).

  • For many pet people and pets, it is better for the animals to stay in their home and have a pet sitter. The Humane Society of the United State has some recommendations for choosing a reliable pet sitter.
    • Ask your local friends, family, and neighbors as well as your primary care veterinarian for recommendations.
    • Provide your pet sitter with contact information for your primary care veterinarian as well as the local ER clinic. Be sure they also have your contact information so they can reach you with questions or in case of an emergency.