Holiday Pet Hazards

Dog Candy

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) in Urbana, Illinois handles over 167,000 cases of pets exposed to possibly poisonous substances every year.1 As we approach the holiday season, it is important to remember many of the seasonal traditions we enjoy offer a deadly temptation to pets. Many households will have guests who may not be familiar with items that can pose dangers to pets. Holiday baking will increase the opportunity for counter-surfing canines or felines to sneak a potentially harmful treat. Decorative plants, flowers, and ornaments, while beautiful by human standards, may offer a deadly fascination to a pet. Sidewalk de-icer can be particularly troublesome to dogs who will walk over it and then lick it off their paws. Owners must be aware of common household items that come out during the holidays that can be toxic to animal companions, and what do to in case of an exposure!


If cousin Eddie is staying for the holidays, make sure he knows not to leave his heart medication out! Human prescription and OTC medications are the most commonly reported pet poisoning. As these are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for human patients, it is not surprising that cardiac medications, antidepressants, and pain medications (opioids and NSAIDS) are the top culprits in pet poisonings. Many exposures occur when a dose falls on the floor and the family dog or cat, thinking it is a treat, rushes to gobble it up off the floor. Other commonly ingested medications include acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen, and herbal and nutraceutical products (fish oil, joint supplements). Many of these products are tasty to pets, and some can be life threatening if ingested.


Unfortunately, the recent change in legal status of marijuana in many states has caused the number of poisoned pets to skyrocket. If a client is travelling to or expecting visitors from a state where marijuana is legal, ensure all drug products are kept strictly out of reach of pets (and children as well!). One veterinarian in Colorado reports treating at least 2 cases weekly where a pet has ingested medical marijuana in a “edible” form. Ingestion of Cannabis sativa by companion animals can result in CNS depression, tachycardia, hypothermia, and ataxia, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, increased heart rate, and even seizures and coma. Emetics are of limited effectiveness due to the antiemetic effect of THC. The reported lethal dose for dogs is over 3g per kg of body weight.2


During this time of year, many households also have extra sweet treats in the home. Chocolate is the most common toxic treat that is reported to the ASPCA. Although dogs are most often the culprits, cats are at risk as well. Methylxanthines (theobromine) and caffeine in the chocolate are rapidly absorbed from the GI tract and metabolized in the liver. They undergo enteroheptaic recycling, thus staying in the body fur up to 72 hours in severe cases. Clinical signs usually occur within 6 to 12 hours of ingestion and begin with polydipsia, vomitting, diarrhea, and restlessness. As the toxicosis progresses, hyperactivity, ataxia, tremors, hyperthermia, arrhythmias, and seizures can occur. In general the darker the chocolate, the higher the methylxanthine and caffeine content. One ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially lethal dose in dogs. If an animal is presented within 1 hour of ingestion, decontamination is recommended. Induction of emesis using apomorphne or hydrogen peroxide should be considered. 2


For people utilizing low-calorie and sugar-free sweets and beverages, owners need to be sure the food does not contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, prior to sharing the treat with canines. In most mammals, xylitol has not significant effect on insulin levels. In canines, however, it stimulates a rapid release of insulin that causes extreme hypoglycemia. Induction of emesis should only be attempted in the clinic setting in asymptomatic animals.2


There are many other foods that are toxic to animal companions. While this list is by no means comprehensive, these items are frequently encountered in the kitchen!2

  • Allium sp. (onions, garlic): organosulfoxide compounds in allium species cause hemolytic anemia in dogs and cats. s.       Clinical signs develop after several days (but may appear after one day if a large quantity was consumed) including depression, hemoglobinuria, icterus, tachypnea, tachycardia, exercise intolerance, cold sensitivity, inappetence, abdominal pain, or diarrhea4
  • Grapes, raisins: ingestion results in anuric renal failure in some dogs, cats, and ferrets (unknown mechanism)
  • raw, yeast-risen bread dough: yeast in bread dough ferments readily in the stomach, causing gastric distension. Ethanol, a byproduct of yeast fermentation, is rapidly absorbed, causing inebriation and metabolic acidosis
  • Macadamia nuts: ingestion associated with nonfatal syndrome (unknown mechanism) of vomiting, ataxia, hyperthermia, and depression. Dogs are the only species in which this has been reported. Symptoms usually resolve without treatment within 48 hours.
  • Fatty foods: when large amounts of fat are ingested, vomiting and diarrhea often occur. Pancreatitis often follows, especially in certain breeds such as miniature schnauzers, Shetland sheepdogs, and Yorkshire terriers


Besides food, many holiday traditions include decorative plants. In 2012, over 7000 cases of pet poisonings due to ingestion of household plants were reported to the ASPCA Poison Control Center. This is one category where felines were the most common patient (rather than canines). A list of common plants used for decoration or as holiday gifts is below

  • Crysanthemum
  • Cyclamen
  • Holly
  • Hyacinth & Amaryllis
  • Kalanchoe
  • Mistletoe
  • Poinsettia
  • Tulip/Narcissus (bulbs only!)
  • Yew


Although evergreen trees are not usually considered dangerous if nibbled on by companion animals, many felines (and even a few canines) have a fatal fascination with the shiny ribbon, tinsel, ornaments, and electric cords that are on the Christmas tree! In addition to the danger of knocking over the entire decorated tree, if these items are ingested they often end up having to be surgically removed from the digestive tract.


Other seasonal dangers around the house include antifreeze (ethylene glycol), ice-melting chemicals, and rodenticides. Owners need to be reminded to keep their antifreeze out of reach of pets and children, and clean up any spills immediately. It has an appealing, sweet taste to canines; as little as 1.4ml/kg in cats or 4.4ml/kg in dogs is lethal. Ethylene glycol causes severe metabolic acidosis and renal damage, with peak blood concentrations occurring within 3 short hours of ingestion. Another product encountered in colder weather is ice-melt. This product, intended for application to walkways or driveways, contains sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, or calcium chloride. Calcium salts are the most hazardous for pets as they can cause severe GI as well as dermal irritation. Urea-based ice melt products are generally labeled as “safe” for use around pets as exposure usually leads to mild GI irritation. All types of ice melts have the potential to be hazardous, with exposure or ingestions resulting in GI irritation and local dermal irritation. It is important that owners are educated on the potential risks of exposure and proper storage and use of these items. During winter weather rodents are more frequently encountered inside homes, which increases utilization of rodenticides. The most commonly available rodenticides to the lay public are anticoagulants that inhibit the enzyme vitamin k epoxide reductase, essentially deactivating the blood’s ability to clot. Usually exposure occurs when a pet ingests the poison directly, or pet food is contaminated due to improper storage of the poison. Treatment with Vitamin K1 is antidotal, with treatment generally necessary for 3 to 4 weeks based on prothrombin time. 2,3


With all the excitement and activity during the holiday season, it is important for pet owners to consider the health and safety of their animal companions when choosing decorative plants and treats to have in the home. It is also important for owners to ensure their guests are aware of their personal items and medications to keep them out of reach of the furry household members. In the unfortunate event of a poisoning, Monument Pharmacy does compound apomorphine in tablets for ophthalmic administration.


For prescribers and their patients, quality means accuracy, consistency, professionalism and service. At Monument Pharmacy, our licensed pharmacists and certified technicians prepare all of our compounded products with the utmost attention to detail regarding purity, potency, and consistency. All ingredients are sourced from FDA-licensed suppliers and compounded prescriptions are prepared according to exacting federal and Colorado state standards.


Most orders for compounded medications received prior to 3pm Mountain can be shipped out the same business day. When you call toll-free 1-800-595-7565 (local 719-481-2209), you will always reach one of our friendly customer care specialists in person, right here in Monument, Colorado. We have competitive pricing and will beat others’ compound prices by 10%. Just let us know what you’re quoted or paying elsewhere. As an added value, we are able to ship many prescriptions via USPS first-class mail at no charge. Our goal is for your service to be second to none; in fact, you’re satisfaction is guaranteed! You can count on us to exceed your expectations. Feel free to contact us for details.




  1. 10 Most Common Pet Toxins of 2014. ASPCA 15 April 2015. Web. Accessed 20 October 2015.
  2. Kahn, Cynthia, et al. The Merck Veterinary Manual (10th Edition). Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck & Co, Inc. 2010
  3. Plumb, Donald C. Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook, 10th Ed. Stockholm, WI: Pharmavet, Inc., 2008
  4. Burrows GE, Tyrl RJ. Liliaceae Juss.Toxic plants of North America. Ames: Iowa State Press, 2001;751-805.

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