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The Ruff Report: Your pet deserves this priceless holiday gift

The best present you can give your pet during the holiday season is so large that it cannot fit in a box, needs no fancy ribbon, costs absolutely nothing and can be delivered only by you.

Consider giving your dog or cat the precious gift of safety, because the holiday period is one of the more dangerous - and poisonous - times of the year for pets, according to animal welfare advocates.

Pets face an assortment of hazards: some hidden, like the strings used to tie the turkey during roasting that can get entangle a pet's intestines if ingested, and others not-so-hidden, like chocolate which is toxic and can kill in even small amounts.

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Many of the winter traditions we enjoy can be harmful to our companion animals,” Dr. Steven Hansen, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist and senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, states in a media release. “When preparing for this festive season, be mindful of activities that can be potentially hazardous to pets.”

Pets are at a higher risk of being poisoned because toxins are everywhere during the holiday season with people medications, food and plants accounting for most pet poisonings, animal welfare advocates say.

People medications

The number of pets being poisoned from human medications increases during the holiday season, because people have tendency to become careless, animal welfare officials say.

"All prescription and non-prescription drugs should be safely stored," Dr. Hansen said.

But many people keep their medications in daily pill reminders, in their luggage or even leave it out when staying with family or friends, making them easy targets for pets, Dr. Hansen said. "Even in small doses, human medications can be potentially lethal to pets."


Many foods, especially chocolate and other candies, are toxic to pets, animal welfare advocates say.

Depending on the dose ingested, chocolate (bakers, semi sweet, milk and dark) is potentially poisonous to many animals,” Dr. Hansen said. “Vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate can be seen with the ingestion of as little as one-quarter ounce of baking chocolate by a 10-pound dog.”

Other highly toxic food are macadamia nuts, which can cause temporary weakness in back legs, and any food containing Xylitol, a sugar substitute that can make a dog's blood sugar drop quickly and cause liver damage.

Wayne Ingmire, a veterinarian at Mokena Animal Clinic near Chicago, says people should avoid giving their dogs and cats people food because pets who get table scraps are likely to get sick.

Providing rich human foods is just a bad idea, and it can cause pancreatitis and general internal illness, Dr. Ingmire states in a media release from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, and it can be life threatening. When a pet is diagnosed as having pancreatitis, he/she becomes more susceptible to developing it again so you want to avoid your pet ever having it."

Pets who get sick after eating people food usually need veterinary treatment, Dr. Ingmire said. "If your pet becomes ill with bloody vomit and diarrhea after consuming turkey or ham or getting into the garbage, take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.”

Leon Robbins, a veterinarian at Grandview Animal Hospital near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says the best way to avoid digestive problems is to give a pet its normal diet.

"If there is food left over, don't give it to your pet as a holiday treat," Dr. Robbins states in a media release from Pet Sitters International of King, North Carolina. "Instead give baby carrots, green beans or broccoli as treats."

Holiday decorations

Holiday trees and decorations also can pose dangers for pets, Dr. Robbins explained, because they are attracted to bright lights, shining ornaments and dangling tinsel and ribbons, which can damage a pet's intestines if ingested. "Try to use big, pet-friendly ornaments and keep the ornaments, as well as the lights, out of a pet's reach," he said.

Animal welfare advocates urge people to consider decorating trees with ornaments that are less enticing to dogs and cats.

Water for holiday trees also can pose a health hazard, animal welfare experts say. Dogs and cats may try to drink tree water, which can harbor bacteria, so use pet-friendly preservatives in it rather than chemical fertilizers. Tree stands designed to prevent pets from accessing the water also are an option.

Beware of handbags

Handbags of guests also can be a reservoir of danger for pets, according to Dr. Ahna Brutlag, assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline in Minneapolis. Many people carry items in handbags such as prescription medications, pain medications, sugarless chewing gum (with xylitol), asthma inhalers, cigarettes, coins and hand sanitizers, which all can be toxic to pets.

Dr. Brutlag advises storing handbags in a safe place where pets cannot access them. “Many dogs and cats simply cannot resist the smell and taste of new things, sometimes causing them to ingest items that can land them at the emergency veterinary clinic on Christmas eve,” he states in a media release. “During the holidays, our homes are filled with new and interesting items.”

Provide a safe haven

Some pets will get upset, frightened or excited by visitors during the holidays, according to Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian with the American Veterinarian Medical Association. She suggests putting a pet in a separate room with familiar items such as toys, a comfortable bed and a kennel to create a safe haven.

"If you know your pet's going to be begging, what you may need to do is put the pet in the back room, close the door, put a note on the door saying Santa's workshop or please keep out, and then you know your pet's going to be out of harm's way," Dr. Cruz states in a media release.

Holiday do's and don'ts

The following information comes from the ASPCA, North American Pet Health Insurance Association and Pet Sitters International.

Foods that pose danger to pets include:
  • Rich, fatty foods like turkey skins or gravy, which can cause stomach upset, diarrhea or pancreatitis.
  • Bones, which can tear or obstruct a pet's intestinal tract. Poultry bones can be especially dangerous or even fatal to animals. 
  • Onions, which are are toxic and can destroy a dog's red blood cells, leading to anemia. Also avoid foods containing high amounts of onion powder. 
  • Grapes and raisins, which contain toxins that can cause kidney failure.
  • Chocolate, especially baking chocolate, which can kill a dog. It affects the nervous system and causes urinary system and heart muscle damage.
  • Coffee, which is dangerous, so watch out for grounds and whole beans.
  • Nicotine, which is a stimulant that can increase the heart rate leading to collapse and death. 
  • Alcohol, avocado, macadamia nuts, yeast dough are also dangerous.
Other holiday safety and poison concerns for pets include:
  • Lilies, which can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested. 
  • Mistletoe, holly berries and poinsettias, which are toxic to pets if ingested.
  • Anti-freeze and ice-melting chemical, which are toxic to pets in ingested.
  • Candles/open flames, which a pet may accidentally knock over and start a fire.
  • Aluminum foil and cellophane, which can damage a pets intestinal track if ingested. 
  • Electrical cords, which a pet can trip over and get injured or chew on and get a shock.
  • Batteries, which can cause ulceration to a pet's mouth, tongue or gastrointestinal tract if bitten or swallowed.
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If a pet accidentally ingests any potentially harmful products, emergency advice can be obtained from the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (a fee will apply) or You can also get help from the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 (a fee will apply) or


The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on


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