The holiday entertaining season is here and while we’re busy preparing, serving and cleaning up our festive meals we need to be mindful of our pets. We may think a little indulgence of Christmas turkey is a treat but is it safe? And oops grandpa dropped a little stuffing on the floor? No worries Harley is our built-in vacuum. Heck, we probably didn’t even see it happen. But wait…what should we know?

We chatted with Dr. Jo Myers, practicing veterinarian on Vetster – the world’s fastest-growing veterinary telehealth platform, for some timely tips  on how to keep our pets safe and enjoy a stress-free holiday season.

Let’s start with holiday table scraps to avoid for pets…

The holidays mean lots of leftover food, and while it may be tempting to enlist your pet to help finish it off – many of the festive foods we so much enjoy are, in fact, hazardous to pets. Dr. Jo Myers, tells us we should be careful with these…

Fat trimmings and bones: Eating too much of anything rich, fatty, or unusual — cooked or raw — can cause intestinal issues and stomach upset. Dogs are at especially high risk for a life-threatening bout of pancreatitis when they overindulge in a fatty meal. As for bones? They aren’t toxic, but they do present some hazards. Dogs and cats can nibble large, sharp, or oblong pieces of a bone that can get lodged in their esophagus or elsewhere along the digestive tract. These indigestible chunks can cause intestinal blockages which are fatal without treatment.

Raw or uncooked meat: Raw or uncooked meat can be bad for pets, just like it is for people. Raw meat can carry food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and E. coli. So make sure you wash your hands after stuffing that turkey. A pet that’s consumed raw-meat residue can disrupt a dinner in a hurry.

Onions, garlic, leeks, scallions: Pets shouldn’t eat onions, leeks, scallions, or garlic. These vegetables damage red blood cells, and eating enough of them can lead to hemolytic anemia. The effects of this condition are not always immediately evident, and can include lethargy, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, pale gums, and jaundice. Keep concentrated sources of onions and garlic out of reach from your feline friends.

Chocolate and other sources of caffeine: Chocolate contains the methylxanthines theobromine and caffeine, both of which are potentially toxic to pets when consumed in significantly large amounts. Chocolate toxicosis symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, and seizures.

Milk, cheese, and other dairy products: Adult dogs and cats, like most mammals, are lactose intolerant. Once weaned, the consumption of a large amount of dairy products can cause stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. So you’ll have to share your eggnog with someone else.

Bread dough with yeast: Uncooked dough with yeast continues to ferment even after it’s been swallowed, and this produces alcohol. Large amounts of dough can produce dangerous amounts of alcohol as well as enough gas to cause potentially life-threatening intestinal distension. It’s best to keep pets away from the kitchen while those dinner rolls are rising.

Alcohol: While we’re on the topic of eggnog, pets need to steer clear of holiday cocktails as well. Alcohol affects pets the same way as it does humans, but keep in mind dogs and cats don’t weigh as much. Dogs and cats that have been exposed to alcohol may act like they’re drunk, and higher doses lead to alcohol poisoning. Symptoms include: vomiting, trouble walking, disorientation, lethargy, loss of vision, seizures, slowed breathing, loss of consciousness, and in extreme cases sudden death.

Cannabis: is one of the most common things for dogs to get into as families gather for the holidays and THC ingestion is one of the most common reasons for people to seek out a telehealth consultation over the holidays.

  • THC intoxication is common, especially for dogs, and it’s important to go the extra mile to keep cannabis products out of reach. Edibles smell and taste good but the strong smell of dried unprocessed cannabis is also appealing to dogs. They will typically consume all they can search out and find. THC intoxication is usually not life-threatening, but the symptoms can be profound and seriously interrupt a holiday celebration.
  • Our pets are at especially at risk for THC intoxication for these reasons:
  • They’ll eat the entire stash if they find it, no matter what form it’s in (decarboxylated products are more concentrated and more dangerous).
  • They have a keen sense of smell and will seek it out.
  • They have relatively small body weights compared to us, so the effect is stronger.
  • Visiting friends and family often feel the need to “hide” cannabis products from other humans in the household, but fail to consider keeping it secure from pets.

What to do when your dog or cat eats something they shouldn’t?

The severity of symptoms often depends on the amount of the hazardous food your dog or cat has eaten. But if your pet has ingested any of the above or is showing signs of distress, call your vet right away. It’s always better to seek help sooner rather than later, and there’s no safe or effective way to induce vomiting for cats at home, so professional help is critical.

You can also schedule an online appointment through Vetster to determine if an emergency vet visit is necessary. Licensed veterinarians are available 24/7 and can observe your pet’s behavior in their natural environment to better discuss treatment options as well as safe human-food alternatives.

Holiday - Pets

What else should we keep an eye on this season?

Lilies: Potted plants are a common gift for hosts/hostesses and lilies are a common choice this time of year, but even tiny doses of lily plants are potentially lethal to cats. They’re so toxic that exposure to just the pollen (perhaps groomed off their fur after brushing up against the plant) or drinking the water that cut flowers have been in is enough to cause permanent kidney damage.

Candles: Open flames are always potentially hazardous and are best avoided. It’s easy for a pet to singe whiskers or tail hair, but they’re also easily knocked over, which can lead to burns from hot wax. Pets can also knock flammable objects into the open flame with disastrous results.

Diffusers: Diffusers can be used safely around pets as long as they’re up and out of reach and the pet is free to move away from where the scent is concentrated. Essential oils should never be applied directly to pets.

Tinsel and Ribbons: The backwards facing barbs on cats’ tongues often lead to swallowing stringy things as they struggle to get them out of their mouths. Even though strings are small and flexible, they have a high potential to cause a particular kind of intestinal blockage that can be fatal without treatment.

Magnet Toys: Be mindful of any toys containing magnets. Magnets that are initially unconnected when swallowed may become attracted to each other and connect in the intestines. When they stick together through the intestinal wall, that tissue dies and life-threatening peritonitis is the result.

Candy and Gum: Sugar-free candy and gum often contain common hazards like xylitol. Dogs can’t process xylitol the way we do, and ingestion of only a few pieces can cause life-threatening low blood sugar. Chocolate ingestion is also a common problem around the holidays. Common symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, but high doses can lead to heart problems, seizures and can even be lethal.

The best way to avoid issues is to keep hazards out of reach. Vigilance is key, along with keeping pets confined to pet-safe areas.

Big thanks to Dr. Jo Myers and Vetster for this insight!

Up next… Handy tips on how to help your anxious pet feel happy and safe while entertaining at home!