Common Holiday Toxins for Pets - Keep Your Holidays Happy

Behavior and Training  •   Ashley Shaffer  •   Nov 01, 2014

A few years ago, I walked into my kitchen on a terrifying site. Lucy, my 3 year old (at the time) Labradoodle had pulled 3 bags of dark candy making chocolates down from a shelf… and eaten them. I had been gone for about 30 minutes and we lived about 30 minutes from the vet. If that chocolate needed to get out of her, we couldn’t wait to get across town to her doctor. I quickly did the math and realized she had eaten 1 ½ pounds of dark chocolate. I had always heard that chocolate was bad for dogs, but how much was too much? I knew over a pound of the “good stuff” was probably a very bad thing. What was going to happen to her? What could I do? She definitely had the “guilty dog” face on but wasn’t acting funny. I called the vet. They gave me instructions on how to induce vomiting to get the chocolate out of her system, and thank goodness it all worked. I wish I would have gotten her outside in time, but I couldn’t be more thankful we weren’t spending some holiday nights at the animal hospital.

The winter holiday season can be a pretty dangerous time for cats and dogs. Before you deck any of your halls with boughs of holly or start baking those cookies for Santa, there are some things you should really keep in mind as a responsible dog or cat owner. You don’t want to be the one having to induce vomiting for your pet. Trust me. Here is a list of holiday pet toxins to help you safely deck your halls.


Mistletoe, while hung to encourage holiday smooches, is actually a parasitic evergreen plant. It also contains some serious toxins (ovalbumin, and phoratoxin viscumin) if you are a cat or dog. Eating mistletoe berries or leaves can cause extreme gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological problems in animals. Everything from low blood pressure to collapse can be traced back to ingesting mistletoe. If you have pets, consider hanging the fake stuff, or just going without.


Holly Boughs of holly can actually cause bouts of gastrointestinal distress if eaten by cats and dogs. Holly contains chemicals known as glycosides and can cause decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.

Holiday Desserts

Giving your pets “people food” kind of comes with its own set of issues as it is, but when you add in the special recipes that are often used during the holidays, you need to be extremely careful. Raisins and grapes are extremely toxic to dogs. Make sure Rover stays far away from the Christmas Fruit Cake because ingesting raisins and grapes can cause kidney failure in dogs. There’s also the obvious big red flag on chocolate. Chocolate is not good for dogs. Small amounts have the potential to cause vomiting and diarrhea. If your dog eats a large amount, they can suffer from seizures and heart arrhythmias. Last but not least, sugar free dishes can contain the artificial sweetener, xylitol. Xylitol is toxic to dogs and can cause extreme blood sugar crashes and liver failure.


Most of us know that you shouldn’t give your pets alcohol. I’ve heard of dogs that search holiday parties for unguarded glasses though, and sometimes you might not realize a certain dessert or dish contains alcohol. Alcohol is very dangerous for pets and can cause many things including drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Tinsel and Lights

Shiny, sparkly, twinkly tinsel and lights… I’ve actually had to keep close tabs on my own cat years ago for playing with and even trying to chew Christmas lights. Chewing electrical cords is never a good idea for anyone or anything. If you have a cat, you might want to skip the tinsel all together. Cats are naturally drawn to it and if eaten, it is not immediately toxic, but can cause major issues as it bunches and gets stuck through the intestines.

Just like with children, you absolutely cannot remove everything dangerous from the world. You can, however, be informed, aware, and take precautions. For example, any chocolate in our house, especially the dark “good stuff”, stays out of reach and behind closed doors. The kind of closed door that would take opposable thumbs to open.

Please know that there are many holiday toxins not even included on this list: duraflame logs, amaryllis flowers, potpourri… too many to list them all. Be a mindful pet owner and always, ALWAYS consult your veterinarian with any concerns or questions.

For more information (and to see where I found some of my information), visit:

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Ashley Shaffer

About the Author
Ashley Shaffer

Ashley is a freelance writer, blogger, and current stay at home mom for two silly boys. A graduate of East Carolina, Ashley spent 7 years out in Seattle before moving back to NC. Her love of North Carolina inspired her to create this site to encourage everyone to see, learn, and do more in and around North Carolina and the Triangle. You can follow her personal Twitter account @AshleyBShaffer.