While world events have put a damper on most plans, many families are still feeling the Holiday spirit. That can mean gatherings and feasts — both big and small. No matter what size, though, the feeling of togetherness with our families and the food we share means a lot in a time where we could all use some comfort.


For most of us, the family includes our animal companions, so we’ll celebrate the holidays with gifts and special treats for them, too. However, it’s essential to take precautions for their safety because they can’t watch for their safety.

Whether given intentionally or by accident, know that certain foods are bad for pets. Even the festive decorations themselves can be very harmful in some cases — even fatal. 

This article’s information can be used in general for pets, though it primarily applies to dogs and cats. If you have specific concerns, remember to contact your vet for more information.


Dangerous Holiday Foods to Avoid Giving to Your Pets


This is one, almost everyone knows. Chocolate in virtually any form can be fatal to pets, especially dogs. Whether it’s dark or semi-sweet, chocolate contains theobromine, causing diarrhea and vomiting in small doses. In large quantities, it can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias. Most adults are aware of this, but it’s up to them to make sure children don’t try to give their furry friends a treat. It’s also essential to make sure bowls of chocolate are kept out of range of snatching jaws.


Too much sugar isn’t just bad for people; it can also do some severe damage to pets’ stomachs. 

Even sugarless candies are dangerous, as they contain xylitol, which is especially dangerous for dogs. Safe for humans, xylitol is absorbed much quicker into an animal’s bloodstream, and it can permanently damage their pancreas. 

Beyond that, wrappers are no good for a pet’s stomach, and dogs rarely take the time to discard the packaging. Like with chocolate, make sure the bowls are out of reach, and the kids don’t give the pet something they don’t need.

Bread Dough with Yeast

For some weird reason, a dog or cat’s stomach is ideal for bread dough to continue rising. The environment causes it to expand rapidly, and their stomachs can be damaged or even ruptured in the process. This can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, or bloating.


It just doesn’t seem fair, but cooked bones are just not a good idea for dogs. Whether ham or turkey, the cooking process weakens the bones’ strength. This can cause the bones to shatter, and when ingested, they can tear the dog’s esophagus or stomach lining, leading to internal bleeding. However, uncooked bones are generally safer and can help strengthen the dog’s teeth and cleanse their intestines. Make sure they’re fresh, though, as salmonella is very dangerous to dogs.


Like with bones for the dog, this one seems unfair for felines and at odds with everything old picture books teach us. But it is so: both pets need to stay away from dairy products. 

Like some humans, dogs and cats do not produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down dairy. When ingested, even in small amounts, it can lead to vomiting and upset stomachs. Also, just like some people, some pets have allergies to milk products. This includes butter, eggnog, and ice cream.

Grapes and Raisins

While the exact toxic element is still unknown, grapes and raisins can be fatal to pets. For whatever reason, they can lead to kidney failure very quickly, especially raisins. Do not let them have either grapes or raisins. If they do, watch for vomiting and hyperactivity followed by diarrhea and lethargy. If any of these side effects occur, see your veterinarian immediately.


The holiday season is a time for tippling. A little drink to celebrate the season doesn’t hurt us, but everything in moderation. However, alcohol needs to be kept away from your pets. Their smaller size and lack of tolerance make them more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning. Staggering and loss of reflexes may lead to cardiac arrest, respiratory problems, and long-term liver damage. Keep the drinks away from the critters

Nutmeg, Sage, Other Spices

Most spices are bad for pets, but nutmeg and sage are of particular note. Nutmeg can have hallucinogenic effects on pets, and it can also lead to seizures. Cats are particularly vulnerable to sage, which can have catnip-like impacts on them. Too much can lead to upset stomach and central nervous system depression.


Some of us can’t get through the day without a cup of coffee, but caffeine can be toxic to cats and dogs. While people probably won’t give their pets a cup of tea, lots of foods have caffeine or caffeine-like stimulants. Cats are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of caffeine.


Non-Food Dangers to Pets During the Holidays

Wrapping Paper

Cats and especially dogs enjoy tearing up any and all paper. Most pet owners have at least one story about their four-legged friend destroying a book or magazine. While not especially dangerous, the ubiquity of wrapping paper calls for caution. Plain paper is hard enough to pass through your pets’ system, but a lot of holiday paper has different laminations that can cause internal tearing. With that in mind, the leftover packaging of foods should be kept away from pets for the same reason.

Tinsel and Christmas Tree Ornaments

Like dog owners who have stories about destroyed books, most cat owners have a story about their cat destroying a Christmas tree and then acting as nothing happened. Most tree ornaments and lights have painting or coating that could be toxic, and it goes without saying they shouldn’t be swallowed. Cats are particularly vulnerable to tinsel. Bright and shiny, it almost begs to be played with, but they can destroy a cat’s intestinal tract. If you have cats, consider not having tinsel, full stop. They will be unable to resist it.


Several plants specific to holidays are bad news for pets. Cats especially love to nibble on plants, and in particular, lilies, holly berries, and mistletoe are very dangerous. Even a leaf or two can quickly cause kidney failure, gastrointestinal issues, and heart arrhythmias. Poinsettias are mildly toxic, though it would take more of them to damage kitty’s insides. For the most part, the cat will have vomiting spells and diarrhea after nibbling on the poinsettia, and that’s bad enough.

Dry and Liquid Potpourri

Dry potpourri is plants and herbs, and we’ve already discussed the importance of keeping pets away from them. 

Liquid Potpourri should also be used with caution. While filling the house with the smell of pine or nutmeg, cats might be inclined to lick the liquid steaming in a simmer pot. Even if you’re using non-toxic materials, a taste can lead to a burnt mouth, chemical burns, breathing problems, and tremors. 

And, well, cats like to knock things off tables and counters, which can lead to spills, burns, or even fire. Dogs are less vulnerable — but they’re still dogs, and dogs generally don’t worry about what they try to eat beforehand.


Have a Happy Holidays with your Pets

The holiday season is stressful enough, and it’s easy to let your animal companion’s needs be pushed to the back of the list of things to worry about. Again, though, they depend on us to look after them. Dogs and cats will be dogs and cats, regardless of the time of the year, and the holiday season presents extra challenges and dangers for them. However, a little foresight and caution on your part mean a happy holiday season for everyone in your family. If you have any specific questions, contact your veterinarian.

You can also consider avoiding the stress and worry of holiday hazards by boarding your pet at a Greenlin Pet Resorts location near you.