Christmas-Specific Poisons for Both Cats and Dogs

socks-the-cat-1084179_960_720The holiday time around Christmas and New Year is obviously a period for most individuals when much food and drink is consumed, homes are filled with more people than usual, there are often children around, and Christmas trees adorned with presents are given pride of place. All of this can create an environment in which is very easy for pets to be exposed to poisons. This article will look some Christmas-specific poisons facing your canine and feline friends.

Poinsettia Plants

Many individuals have been led to believe that the poinsettia plant is deadly for pets and children, but this is actually an unlikely occurrence. This plant’s brightly colored leaves contain a sap that is irritating to the tissues of the mouth and esophagus. If ingested, the leaves will often cause nausea and vomiting, but it would take a significant amount of the plant’s material to cause poisoning, and most animals and children will not eat such a large enough amount because of the irritating taste and feel from the sap.

However, if the poinsettia plant has been treated with a pesticide, your furry friend could be at risk of becoming ill from ingesting the pesticide. The size of your pet and the amount of plant material ingested will determine the severity of the poisoning. Puppies and kittens are at the highest risk. Severe reactions to poinsettia plant or the the pesticide it has been treated with include seizures, coma, and in some cases, death.

Holly and Mistletoe

Both holly and mistletoe are popular plants during the holiday season. These plants, along with their berries, have a greater level of toxicity that the poinsettia plant. Symptoms of illness from ingesting these holiday plants include intestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, excessive drooling and abdominal pain for your pet.

The mistletoe has multiple substances that are toxic to both dogs and cats, including toxalbumin and pharatoxic viscumin (Lectins, Phoratoxins). It is well known for causing several intestinal upset, as well as sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, breathing problems and even hallucinations (unusual behavior). If a significant amount of these plants is ingested, seizures and death may follow. The leaves and berries of both holly and mistletoe plants, even the dried plants, should be kept well out of reach to your pet, or kept out of the home altogether.

The Christmas Tree

There are other dangers to consider with the Yule tree other than lights and ornaments. The oils produced by fir trees can irritate your pet’s mouth and stomach, which causes excessive vomiting or drooling. Meanwhile, the tree needles may cause gastrointestinal irritation, obstruction and puncture. In addition, the water used to nourish Christmas trees can be noxious. Bacteria, molds and fertilizers can cause your furry friend to become extremely sick with only a few laps. Here are a few tips to consider for those planning to put a Christmas tree up in a home with pets:

Place Your Christmas Tree in a Corner

Consider placing your Christmas tree in a corner, blocked off from your pet’s wanting eyes. If this doesn’t keep your furry friend from attempting to jump onto the tree, you can place aluminum foil, a plastic drink bottle filled with knick-knacks, or anything else that creates noise on the tree’s bottom limbs to warn you of an impeding tree disaster.

Hang Tinsel Up Out of Your Pet’s Reach

While tinsel can add a nice sparkling touch to the tree, make sure you hang it up out of your dog or cat’s reach. If ingested, tinsel can potentially block their intestines, which is generally only remedied through surgical means.

Avoid Putting Lights on the Tree’s Lower Branches

Avoid putting lights on the tree’s lower branches. This can not only get your pet tangled up in the lights, but they are also a burning hazard. In addition, your pet may inadvertently get shocked by biting through the wire.

Keep Ornaments Out of Reach

Ornaments should be kept out of reach as well. Not only are ornaments a choking and intestinal blockage hazard, but the shards from broken ornaments may injure paws, mouths or other parts of your pet’s body.

Keep the Area Free and Clear of Pine Needles

If you are buying a live Christmas tree this year, make sure to keep the area free and clear of pine needles. They may not seem dangerous, but the needles can puncture your pet’s intestines if ingested.

Other Christmas-Specific Poisons


Dogs and cats are more vulnerable to chocolate poisoning than humans are and cases of chocolate poisoning are more common during the holiday season. The harmful substance in chocolate is called theobromine (a methylxanthine like caffeine). This poisoning is a type of dose-dependent poisoning which means that whether or not your pet shows signs depends on how much theobromine he or she is exposed to. Not all types of chocolate are created equally as a far as the risk of causing poisoning is concerned. The amount of theobromine the particular chocolate contains will determine the risk level. Theobromine tends to be greatest for plain/dark chocolate, cooking chocolate as well as cocoa powder. The next most dangerous is milk chocolate and white chocolate is the least hazardous. So-called chocolates or chocolate drops that are specially made for animals are safe because they are not made from cacao beans and do not contain theobromine.

Pets will most likely start showing signs within 24 hours of eating the chocolate but it is often much sooner than that and these signs could go for two or three days. Signs include vomiting and pain the in the stomach area; the abdomen. Poisoned pets may become very excitable, wobbly when walking and start to pant or breath quickly. In the most severe cases, your pet may start to show twitching and tremoring of the muscles as well as having fits or seizures. Some dogs will seem to want to drink more water and to pass more urine. It is important to contact your vet if this occurs and given them as much information as possible, such as how much chocolate has gone missing and also what type of chocolate it is.


Xylitol is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol found in small amounts in various fruits and vegetables. However, it is also extracted commercially and used as a sweetener in low carbohydrate and diabetic products, including baked goods such as cakes and biscuits.

Xylitol poisoning has been reported in dogs but there have been no reports of clinical poisoning in cats. Poisoning occurs when your pet eats a product that contains xylitol. The two main usses that this can cause in dogs are hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and liver failure.


These are just a few Christmas-specific poisons for dogs and cats. If you believe your pet may have been poisoned with one of these, don’t hesitate to contact us here at All Pets Veterinary Medical Center with the link below for more information!

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