Holiday Pet Dangers

November 23, 2022

By Dr. Doug Mader

The holidays are such a wonderful time of year – but we don’t want to ruin it by having a preventable pet tragedy.  I’d like to share some common sense warnings that may prevent a holiday disaster. It would be wise to take a few minutes to assess these hidden dangers before getting all get caught up in the seasonal festivities.

The first obvious danger to our pets is the Christmas tree. Aside from the inherent fire risk with real trees, there is also the possibility of pets injuring themselves on the needles and ornaments. Eyes can be accidentally poked or scratched. Delicate ornaments can be broken, resulting in sharp pieces of glass or plastic that can cause cuts or potentially be eaten. Some people hang candy or popcorn on their trees. These confections can be eaten by pets, and the plastic wrappers and strings can be swallowed and cause intestinal damage.  Cats like to play with shiny objects, and tinsel is notoriously dangerous. If swallowed in large quantities it can cause a blockage.

Extension cords are always a hazard. Pets can be accidentally tangled up in the wires, thus potentially pulling over the tree, or worse yet, becoming strangulated by the cord itself. Some dogs and cats, and especially rabbits, like to chew on things, and electrical cords are a delicacy. Aside from the fire risk, the possibility of electrical shock and death to the pet is very real.

Candles can be so beautiful but make sure that they can’t be knocked over by inquisitive cats or dogs.  Never leave a lit candle left alone!

Holiday candies are a real treat for humans. However, some sugar-free candies (containing xylitol) can be deadly to animals.  Others, like chocolate, contain methylxanthine.  This too can be toxic to pets if consumed in large quantities. If a dog or cat gets into a box of holiday chocolates or candies containing xylitol it is an emergency. Take your pet to your veterinarian immediately. It is a lot easier (and less expensive) to just keep the sweets out of reach!

Carefully check out new toys (both people toys and pet toys) to make sure they are safe for your pet to play with. Toys with small parts or pieces that can be easily broken off can also be easily swallowed. If small enough, they might simply pass right through your pet’s digestive tract, however, if it gets stuck a serious blockage can result.

It is not uncommon to have many guests over for holiday celebrations. Some pets, especially dogs, may get nervous when strangers are over. Be sure to respect their space and provide them with a retreat if they feel overwhelmed. On the flip side, some pets enjoy the company and will do their best to steal all the attention!

Lastly, be kind to your pet and avoid giving it a lot of leftovers from the holiday dinner feast. A radical change in diet can cause severe indigestion for even the healthiest pets.

Along the lines of holidays and pets, it is a good idea to think twice before giving someone a live pet as a gift. Although you may think it is a good idea, and you may think that the intended person may really want or like to have a particular pet, please check with them first.

Have a happy, wonderful, pet-safe holiday season!!!!!

Figure – Christmas trees, small ornaments, tinsel, sugar-free candies, and chocolate can pose huge dangers to pets.  (photo: D. Mader)

Douglas Mader, MS, DVM

Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Canine/Feline)

Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Reptile/Amphibian)

Diplomate, European College of Zoological Medicine (Herpetology)

Human-Animal Bond Certified

Author of The Vet at Noah’s Ark: Stories of Survival from an Inner-City Animal Hospital




  • Mia Rose November 25, 2022 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you for these helpful comments. I have three cats that are adults but still feel that I have to be mindful of any dangers out there.

  • Nova S November 27, 2022 at 11:57 pm

    wow, never knew it could be so serious!

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