Christmas can be a scary time for pets, especially pets that can’t resist the tree and other holiday plants, many of which are poisonous. Toxicity of holiday plants varies from mild to extreme. The level of illness is also related to amount of the plant ingested.
Christmas trees are considered to be mildly toxic. The fir tree oils can irritate the mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling or vomiting. The tree needles are not easily digested; possibly causing GI irritation, vomiting, gastrointestinal obstruction or puncture.
Even though we’ve been referring to “live” trees, artificial trees are also dangerous when eaten. The principal things to worry about are toxin release from the artificial material and intestinal obstruction, and many trees come with lights already attached.
The amount of trouble depends on how much is consumed. Many times, pets don’t consume mass quantities of tree material.
We recommend confining your pets away from the tree when you are not home. This will allow you to be able to witness any tree or plant eating activity. Other plants, such as Mistletoe and Holly are also poisonous.
What to look for
If your pet has chewed on the Christmas tree or other plants, monitor for any changes of behavior (excessive licking, salivating), appetite, activity, water consumption, vomiting and diarrhea. Contact your veterinarian with any concerns.
Additional tree safety concerns
While we are on the subject of Christmas trees, don’t forget the tree water. Preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents, such as aspirin are commonly used in the tree water to keep the tree fresh. These may have harmful or deadly consequences for cats and dogs (and children) that drink the water! A covered tree water dish is the safest.
Christmas lights, on the tree and elsewhere in the home also pose a hazard to curious pets. Chewing on cords and lights will cause electric shocks and burns in the mouth. Check cords regularly for signs of chewing and general wear and tear. If you notice that your pet is reluctant to eat, drooling or showing signs of a painful mouth (i.e. not wanting to play with regular toys) you need to be sure to rule out electrical burns in addition to dental and other diseases.
Holiday ornaments and tinsel also pose a risk. Ingestion can cause gastrointestinal blockage or rupture. Depending on what materials were used, toxicity may result if ingested.
Christmas lights should be positioned away from the very bottom of the tree unless you are sure that your pet has been successfully trained not to chew on the cords. Electric cord injuries can cause very serious damage to the mouth tissue and can lead to long term problems or possible death. Check the electric light cords frequently for signs of chew
The 12 Days of Christmas: Pet Hazards Series
1st Day of Christmas — Tinsel
Very common cause of digestive obstruction this time of year, especially in cats. Should be kept out of homes with cats. Not worth the risk. Read more.
2nd Day of Christmas — Fruitcake
Between the yeast used in the cooking, the raisins and currants commonly included, and the alcohol that’s sometimes involved (either in cooking or in drinking to stomach the taste), these “gifts” can prove quite dangerous for your cats and dogs. Read more.
3rd Day of Christmas — Mistletoe
Ingestion of small quantities can lead to excessive drooling and digestive upset, while larger quantities can lead to heart rate and rhythm problems (arrhythmias) or neurologic issues. Hang it high and remove the berries to improve safety. Read more.
4th Day of Christmas — Batteries
Batteries are everywhere at Christmas time – from the presents to people’s keychains and cell phones, and much more. While alkaline batteries can cause burns (if chewed) and obstruction even if swallowed whole, it’s the smaller “button” or “disc” type batteries that easily cause more severe, more-likely-to-be-fatal burns in a cat’s or dog’s esophagus. Read more.
5th Day of Christmas — Lilies
hough lilies are primarily a very significant concern for cats, this is a hazard that everybody should be aware of and cautious with. After all, it’s not just cat owners who are likely to bring or send you flowers at the holidays. True lilies cause kidney failure in cats, and it’s not just the flower, but also its the pollen and the vase water that are dangerous. Read more.
6th Day of Christmas — Ornaments
Broken glass, swallowed ornaments, and the ornament “hangers” can all wreak havoc for a cat or dog’s digestive tract. And the broken glass isn’t fun for their delicate paws, either. Read more.
7th Day of Christmas — Light Strands
Positively shocking! Not only can a pet’s bite into a stand of lights cause an uncomfortable burn in their mouth, it can also cause seizures and a dangerous build-up of fluid in their lungs. And, as if that wouldn’t be bad enough, such bites have also lead to house fires. Read more.
8th Day of Christmas — Chocolate
Sure, you’ve heard of the dangers of chocolate for dogs and cats, but do you know which types of chocolate are the worst? Have you thought of all the ways in which chocolate makes it into your home this time of year? There’s likely still plenty you’re not yet aware of regarding the dangers that chocolate poses to your pets. Read more.
8th Day of Christmas — Wrapping Bows & Ribbons
Like tinsel, wrapping bows and ribbons are a very common and dangerous cause of digestive obstruction in pets this time of year. Given their innate curiosity, cats are typically at higher risk, but plenty a dog has had this unfortunate experience, too. Be sure to properly and promptly dispose of all wrapping. Read more.
10th Day of Christmas — Liquid Potpourri
The detergents in most liquid potpourri can cause significant digestive or breathing problems for the pet unfortunate enough to lick any of it up. And you also need to be careful with the candles that are usually used to warm these liquids. Read more.
11th Day of Christmas — Cyclamen
Commonly sold at grocery stores and garden centers, these beautiful plants can cause excessive drooling, digestive upset, and heart problems for pets that decide to take a taste. See… far more dangerous than singing hipsters on bikes.
12th Day of Christmas — Houseguests
Because of all the things they bring into your home at the holidays, houseguests earn the distinction of being the 12th Day of Christmas pet hazard. You can lessen the danger by ensuring that people hang all their coats and purses well out of reach of the pets, keep their bedroom and bathroom doors closed, and asking them not to feed your pets anything from the table (or anything in general). All easier to do, and less awkward, than asking them to pay the bill at the Animal ER when they don’t. Right? Read more.
And finally, about those “evil” Poinsettias… While they can cause some mild digestive upset for the cat or dog that nibbles them, they’re not nearly as deadly as you’ve likely read or been lead to believe. The fear all stems from an unsubstantiated suspicion from the early 1900s that a small child died from eating a Poinsettia leaf. So these staples of Christmas decorations need not be banished entirely from your holiday table.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year!