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Keep your pet safe this holiday

December 24, 2007 - Amy Jo Hanna-Eckenrode
Tis the season…
…to review some holiday items that could be potentially hazardous to your pets:

Awwww, MISTLETOE – the romance. Sorry to go right for the jugular and suck all the fun out of this romantic notion but this holiday love lure is actually a poisonous plant. It’s debatable how the ‘kissing under the mistletoe’ tradition started (in England) but all 900 of its various species are actually parasitic plants that host on a variety of tree species – sucking the life right out of each and every one. Now that’s romance.

Though some species of mistletoe are actually used in treating several human medical conditions (love not being one of them), do not try concocting any home remedies yourself since the fruits of many mistletoe plants are toxic to humans if ingested. As importantly, this traditional holiday plant can also be potentially toxic to our animal companions, according to the ASPCA (go here).

SYMPTOMS: If ingested in large enough quantities, mistletoe can potentially produce gastrointestinal irritation, excessive thirst and urination, a drop in blood pressure and heart rate, seizures, coma and even death in pets. According to the 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.

Remember, if you suspect that your pet has ingested a potentially toxic substance contact your local veterinarian or APCC at (888) 426-4435. For more pet poison prevention tips, visit

More items....
I thought all cats were finicky with a capital F. I was shocked to actually watch a friend’s cat scavenge the kitchen floor and put a stray food object in his mouth. I never thought cats did that but I’m not experienced with felines. Now, my Jesse is a high-powered canine Hoover vacuum. She’ll eat or taste any object she comes across on the floor. Mazey is more particular and is satisfied to sniff only.

Thanks to Cat Fanciers Association website you can peruse an extensive list of items to keep away from Fido and FeFe (courtesy of Jill A. Richardson, DVM and Veterinary Poison Information Specialist for the ASPCA/Animal Poison Control Center):

Not for pets.
NOTE: In general, the less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it could be. In fact, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine as milk chocolate.
SYMPTOMS: Vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate can be seen with the ingestion of as little as 1/4 ounce of baking chocolate by a 10-pound dog.

ITEM: LEFTOVERS.  Don't give pets holiday leftovers and keep pets out of the garbage.
SYMPTOMS: Poultry bones can splinter and cause fatal blockages. Greasy, spicy and fatty for spoiled foods can cause stomach upset and moldy foods could cause tremors or seizures.

ITEM: ALCOHOL and pets do NOT mix. Neither does alcohol and people but we’re not that smart. Do your pets a favor and place unattended alcoholic drinks where pets cannot reach them. You are more deserving of a hangover than they are.
SYMPTOMS: If ingested, the animal could become very sick and weak and may go into a coma. (sounds vaguely familiar for humans, too)

SYMPTOMS: Vomiting and intestinal blockage. Blockages can be fatal, can require serious and expensive surgery.

Be careful. Lilies are commonly used and many varieties including Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Stargazer and Casa Blanca can cause kidney failure in cats. NOTE: Safe alternatives can include artificial flowers made from silk or plastic. Unless of course your canine eating machines would ingest a faux variety. In that case I again mention, fatal flaw or expensive surgery to remove blockage.

ITEM: As with MISTLETOE, HOLLY BERRIES can be toxic to pets.
SYMPTOM: Should a cat or dog eat mistletoe, they could suffer gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. Holly can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and lethargy if ingested.

ITEM: POINSETTIAS are over rated in toxicity.
SYMTOMS: Even if they are considered to be very low in toxicity why take the chance. They can still cause mild vomiting or nausea if ingested by your pet.

can contain dangerous fertilizers.
SYMPTOM: If ingested, can cause stomach upset. Stagnant tree water can also act as a breeding ground for bacteria and if ingested a pet could end up with nausea and diarrhea.

ITEM: TREE DECORATIONS. Decorate your tree with animal safe ornaments such as dried non-toxic flowers, wood, fabric or pine cones. (do yourself an even bigger favor and place the majority of decorations above the height and swag of the tail).
SYMPTOMS: If ingested, ribbons or tinsel can become lodged in the intestines and cause intestinal obstruction. This is a very common problem with kittens.


SYMPTOMS:  Uncooked yeast dough, if ingested (most cases are with dogs) can rise in the stomach and cause severe pain. Pets who have eaten bread dough may experience abdominal pain, bloat, vomiting, disorientation and depression. BLOAT CAN KILL. Since the breakdown product of rising dough is alcohol, it can cause an alcohol poisoning. Many cases like this require surgical removal of the dough. Even small amounts can be dangerous.

ITEM: CHOCOLATE. (bakers, semi sweet, milk and dark):
SYMPTOMS: Vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate. CAn be seen with the ingestion of as little as 1/4 ounce of baking chocolate by a 10-pound dog. Chocolate poisoning does not seem to be a problem in cats, although it is possible if enough would be ingested.

SYMPTOMS: Can be fatal to dogs and cats. Signs of nicotine poisonings often develop within 15 45 minutes. Include excitation, salivation, panting, vomiting and diarrhea. Muscle weakness, twitching, depression, coma, increased heart rate and cardiac arrest can follow.

ITEM:  COFFEE. (ground, beans, chocolate covered espresso beans): Contain caffeine which is a stimulant.
SYMPTOMS: Depending on the dose ingested, stimulation, restlessness, increased heart rate, tremors, or seizures.

SYMPTOMS: Can cause muscular weakness, depression, vomiting, disorientation, tremors, abdominal pain and muscle stiffness in dogs. The effects can last 1-3 days.

SYMPTOMS: The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is aware of recent reports of dogs alleged to have developed kidney failure following ingestion of large amounts of grapes or raisins. There has also been one case of renal failure occurring in a cat who ate raisins. Veterinary toxicologists at the APCC are currently investigating these cases in an attempt to determine the causative agents or disease processes. At this time the exact role of grapes or raisins in these cases is unclear.

Any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe indigestion and diarrhea. This is particularly true for older animals that have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. Boiled or grilled meats and fresh vegetables can be offered as a healthy alternative.

Play it safe. Keep your pet on a normal diet with an occasional dog or cat treat and plenty of love and attention (it is the holidays, scrooge) and you'll keep your pet happy and healthy and your wallet and heart intact.

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