Christmas Trees and Antifreeze: Protect your Pet from Winter Hazards

By Natalie L. Marks, D.V.M

At this time of year, there are many holiday and seasonal items that can be potentially hazardous or toxic to your pets.  Many of these items remain in the house and understanding these hazards can help protect your furry family members.    Please read these tips carefully.

Christmas trees, while a large part of many homes during the holidays, actually hold many risks for pets.    Christmas tree water can contain fertilizer that can cause nausea and vomiting.   Also, if this water becomes stagnant, it can allow bacteria to grow which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.    Ribbon and tinsel, are easily swallowed by our pets but these decorations may become lodged in the intestines, creating an obstruction and an emergency situation.  Electrical cords seem very tempting to young kittens and puppies but can cause horrible trauma to the mouth and tongue, and sadly, electrocute pets.    Batteries associated with ornaments and other decorations contain corrosives, and if ingested, may ulcerate a pet’s tongue, mouth and stomach.   To reduce holiday risks, cover up or hide electrical cords and cover tree stands to discourage water drinking by pets.

Christmas trees are not the only holiday plants posing potential toxicities to our pets- plants such as lilies, poinsettias, mistletoe, holly and potpourri can pose serious risks to our furry family members.  Lilies, such as Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Easter, Stargazer and Casa Blanca, are central parts of many holiday flower arrangements.   When ingested by cats, these plants can actually cause kidney failure.   Poinsettias– their toxicity is often times over-dramatized, but ingesting poinsettia leaves  may cause nausea or vomiting from irritation.   Mistletoe causes similar gastrointestinal upset as poinsettias, but does have the potential to cause heart abnormalities and holly can be very toxic, usually causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy.   Potpourri, specifically liquid, can result in horrific mouth, skin and eye trauma from ingestion, splashing or spills from simmering table displays.  Please avoid these holiday plants or, minimally, place them in areas of the home that cannot be reached by pets.   If there is potential exposure, please see your veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital immediately for the best prognosis.

In the garage, the most well-known and lethal toxin is antifreeze.  Pets are thought to be attracted to this substance due to its taste, but it only takes 1 teaspoon to poison a cat and 4 teaspoons to be life-threatening to a small dog!  (You can read more about the dangers of antifreeze in our winter hazards blog.)  Luckily, a test has been developed for suspicious cases, and there are very specific, effective treatments for dogs and cats IF CAUGHT EARLY.    For pet safety, only use Prestige’s Low Tox or Sierra, which contains propylene glycol, a pet-friendly antifreeze.

Ice-melting agents can also pose a holiday threat.   Depending on the active ingredient in the ice-melting product, pets can develop drooling, depression, vomiting and oral ulcers after ingestion.   Restrict pets’ access after using these products in high-traffic areas.

We know how much your pets mean to you and we want to help you keep them safe this holiday season.  As always, if there is ever a potential exposure to any of the above toxic items, please contact your veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital immediately or the emergency clinics in the area.   We want to personally wish all of our clients, patients and readers a very healthy, happy and safe holiday season and new year!