15 Dangerous Holiday Toxins For Pets This Winter

by Richard Walther, DVM
Pawlicy Advisor
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15 Dangerous Holiday Toxins For Pets This Winter
Watch out for these common pet health hazards in the house around the holidays. These dangerous items include poisonous plants, holiday decor, winter chemicals, and more.

The holidays are an extra busy and exciting time of the year. Many of us look forward to the season with all of the great food, fun decorations, and festive parties it has in store. Of course, we want our pets to enjoy all the festivities, too! Between the adorable winter apparel and cuddles by the fireside, pets make those special holiday moments all the sweeter.

However, as responsible pet parents, it’s crucial to take precautions against new risks the winter presents for dogs and cats. This time of year brings an influx of poisonous household plants, hazardous holiday decorations, and toxic winter chemicals that can be very dangerous to pets.

Today, we’re going over 15 of the most common winter toxins and holiday hazards for dogs and cats, with advice on how you can help protect your pet from Thanksgiving to Christmas, through the New Year and beyond.

Click on the links below to learn more about each holiday toxin for pets this winter:

Holiday Plants Poisonous to Pets

1. Poinsettias

Poinsettias and dogs, or poinsettias and cats, are a common concern among pet parents around the holidays, but critical levels of poisoning are rarely seen in pets. Poinsettias are mildly toxic to pets and can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset upon consumption, so it’s a good idea to be cautious about where you place them when decorating for the holidays. However, poinsettias are hardly ever serious or fatal — there are other holiday plants that are much more toxic to pets you should be aware of.

2. Holly

Holly can be used as a Christmas decor, however, both holly leaves and holly berries are toxic to dogs, cats, and even small children. The plant contains substantial levels of toxic chemicals called saponins that, if consumed, have a greater toxicity level than poinsettias and can trigger gastric distress in pets.

Though the mechanical injury caused by the serrated shape of holly leaves prevents most pets from consuming enough to cause serious harm, as the leaves dry, the red holly berries can fall from the tree and onto the floor for pets to eat, leading to a strong GI reaction. Adverse side effects may include excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, as well as decreased activity and loss of appetite.

3. Mistletoe

Out of all the toxic holiday plants for pets, mistletoe may be the most dangerous. It contains multiple substances — such as lectins, phoratoxins, and toxalbumin — that can cause severe GI upset, along with impaired mobility, difficulty breathing, and possible hallucinations seen as unusual behavior.

If a large amount of mistletoe is ingested by a dog or cat, the consequences can be critical, including a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, collapse, seizure, and even death.1 Be sure to hang these holiday plants far out of pets’ reach, or better yet, keep them out of the home altogether.

4. Christmas Trees

If you have a real Christmas tree in your home, we recommend securing the area around your Christmas tree watering system. Many Christmas tree watering systems contain tree preservatives in them, which can upset your pet’s GI system. There is also a possibility that the water could have bacterial contamination, which can cause severe gastrointestinal upset in pets.

In addition, Evergreen and Japanese Yew Trees, two popular Christmas tree choices, are highly poisonous to dogs and cats. If your pet ingests parts of these trees, you may notice signs such as vomiting, weakness, drooling, tremors, and difficult breathing. Pets should not be allowed to drink from the Christmas tree water, as the sap from needles can be very harmful if consumed. Many families also add chemical preservatives to Christmas tree water that are toxic in pets and may cause severe adverse reactions.

cat looking at christmas tree

Note: When safeguarding your pets from Christmas tree hazards, don’t forget to secure electric cables and place enticing decorations like tinsel — a foreign object commonly ingested by cats — high out of reach.

5. Lilies

If you purchase or receive any holiday bouquets, note that some flowers, such as lilies, are very toxic to pets. Cats are particularly intrigued by lilies, so use extra caution to avoid placing them on tables and countertops your cat may jump on.

Hazardous Holiday Decorations

6. Playdough & Salt Ornaments

Many of us, especially those with children, have a collection of DIY ornaments made from playdough and salt during various arts and craft projects. While they may be sentimental to us, these ornaments look like treats to our pets. If a dog or cat decided to see how one tasted on the tree, they could find it contains a large amount of salt that causes sodium poisoning.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much salt either. According to Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, more than 1.5 grams of salt per body weight can be lethal in dogs.1.

7. Snow Globes with Antifreeze

Many of us are familiar with the use of antifreeze (otherwise known as ethylene glycol) around the house during winter, but did you know that snow globes are also commonly filled with this substance, making them a potential holiday toxin for our pets?

If a snow globe were to accidentally fall and break, ethylene glycol has a sweet, warming taste that many pets may enjoy, but the winter chemical is extremely poisonous to pets. Tragically, around 10,000 animals die each year from antifreeze poisoning, which has a fatality rate of 44-70% in dogs and 78-96% in cats.2

Prevent this accident from happening in your home this season by carefully placing snow globes where they cannot be easily knocked over. Take the time to seal and store all antifreeze containers away from pets. You can go the extra mile by purchasing an antifreeze that is advertised to have a bittering agent, which makes the taste far less desirable to pets.

8. Potpourri

Dry potpourri is lovely and can cause our homes to smell amazing during the holiday season. Sadly, it can cause** **chemical burns in our pets’ mouths and possibly even intestinal blockage or gastrointestinal upset depending on how much is consumed by our pets.

Some reports have even been made that potpourri containing strychnine, a neurologic toxin for pets, can cause severe side effects, such as seizures, fatigue, and loss of coordination. If you notice any of these symptoms, immediately consult your veterinarian for your next steps.

9. Essential Oils

Many essential oils are toxic to dogs, so burning or diffusing them in your home can cause a bad reaction and/or respiratory issues. While the scent of pine or cinnamon can be lovely this time of year, pets may try to lick the heated oil, resulting in possible chemical burns. Candles and oil warmers are also a serious fire hazard, as they can be easily knocked over by pets in the house. Never leave pets with open heat sources unattended.

10. Fire-Starter Logs & Lighter Fluid

Nothing says the holidays more than chestnuts roasting over an open fire. But using fire-starter logs in your household can be incredibly dangerous as they are usually created with paraffin and sawdust, which can cause moderate to severe stomach irritation when consumed by pets. A fire-starter log can also turn into an intestinal blockage if enough of it is ingested, so be on high alert of this holiday toxin if you have a dog that enjoys chewing on anything they can get their paws on.

Lighter fluid can cause severe stomach upset and vomiting in pets. Vomiting may put your dog at risk for aspiration pneumonia if the liquid gets into your pet’s lungs. If your pet has gotten into either fire-starter logs or lighter fluid, consult with your veterinarian or take your pet to the nearest animal hospital. Intestinal blockages and aspiration pneumonia and can be life-threatening.

Winter Chemicals Toxic to Pets

11. Ice Melt & Rodenticide

As the holidays approach, many of us experience dropping temperatures and ice formation on our walkways, sidewalks, and entryways. Ice melt is designed to prevent nasty slips, but it typically contains salt and other chemicals that can irritate pets' paw pads and skin. If pets indirectly ingest it by licking it off their paws, it can irritate their stomachs. In worse cases, it may lead to salt poisoning, which can cause excessive thirst, vomiting, and seizures.3.

During this time of year, rodenticides and pesticides that kill or repel unwelcome seasonal pests are common. While these may be effective, they're highly poisonous to cats and dogs upon direct or indirect ingestion. To avoid accidental poisoning this winter, look for pet-friendly ice melt and pesticide options. Keep all winter chemicals sealed and out of your pet’s reach.

12. Hand Warmers

As temperatures drop, folks often reach for disposable hand warmers to keep their fingers toasty. But be aware that many disposable hand warmers contain elemental iron, which is what causes the package to heat up when it’s exposed to air.

If your pet eats part of a used disposable hand warmer, they might develop an upset stomach. However, if your pet consumes part of an unused hand warmer, they could experience thermal burns in their stomach, nausea, and diarrhea, possibly with bloody stools.

In addition, an entire hand warmer could cause intestinal blockage if swallowed, which may result in a medical pet emergency that requires surgery to remove. Due your diligence to properly dispose of these devices after each use.

13. Batteries

Batteries are abundant around the holidays due to an increase in fun greeting cards, new toys, flameless candles, electronics, and more. Unfortunately, batteries can cause internal burns if swallowed by our pets, making them a very real hazard8. Keep all batteries up and away from your pets, and never leave them unsupervised with toys or greeting cards that are within reach.

puppy chewing christmas present

14. Silica Gel

Many holiday presents contain little silica gel packs that absorb moisture and keep the product dry until it can be used. While they serve an essential function, they are not safe for pets to get a hold of. Unfortunately, cats often find these packets entertaining, while dogs with pica are known to eat anything and everything.

If your cat or dog consumes all or part of one, they may experience diarrhea because the silica gel will attract water into their intestinal tract, resulting in loose, watery stools. Large quantities of silica gel may even cause intestinal tract obstruction. You might not see your pet get into a pack, so always watch for signs of silica poisoning, which includes diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

15. Human Medications

Human medications are a serious danger to pets. In fact, over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription drugs are the two most common toxins in pets, accounting for 15% of all calls received by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.4

While some human medications may be safe for pets in very specific dosages as prescribed by vets — such as trazodone for dogs or gabapentin for cats — many human-grade drugs are potentially lethal. This includes the OTC cold and flu meds you might stock up on at the drug store due to the increased chance of sickness in the winter.

Please advise any guests staying over for the holidays to keep their purses, luggage, and medicines safely secured to minimize the risk of accidental pet poisoning this winter.

Final Thoughts

The holidays can be a blast, and with proper precautions, we can keep our pets safe and having a good time along with us. However, accidents can happen, which is why having a plan in place is crucial. Pet insurance gives you a safety net should the worst happen to your pet. Get your customized pet insurance quote today. We save you time by comparing the top pet insurance plans available to your pet, so that you can have peace of mind knowing you have the best pet insurance plan for your pet at the best available price.


Key Takeaways

  • Many holiday decorations, foods, and common winter items, like antifreeze or rodenticide, can cause minor to severe reactions in our pets.
  • Accidental pet poisoning during the holidays can be avoided with proper precautions.
  • Having a pet insurance plan in place gives you peace of mind knowing that your pet will be covered should they need an emergency vet visit.

References:

  1. Healthy Paws, "Can Dogs Eat Salt?"
  2. Pet Poison Helpline, “Holiday Winter Toxins,” Accessed Nov. 17, 2021.
  3. Kings West Vets, “Toxic Foods for Dogs,” Accessed Nov. 17, 2021.
  4. ASPCA, “Top 10 Pet Toxin of 2020,” Accessed Nov. 17, 2021.
Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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