By Janet McAfee

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are arriving in quick succession, but this time of year also sees a dramatic increase in emergency trips to the vet. Christmas trees are going up, parties are planned, and holiday lights are brightening our desert scene as we humans begin to celebrate. Celebrations for animal lovers often include our four-legged family members. However, in the frenzy of activity, we may overlook the dangers that certain plants, foods and decorations pose to cats and dogs.

One of your dinner party guests might be tempted to give Benji a sample from his plate as the pup sweetly begs under the table. Sugar, chocolate, turkey bones, gravy, and avocados are among the many foods that can be harmful to a dog. Onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, and nuts, (particularly walnuts and macadamia nuts) are very dangerous when consumed by a dog in large quantities. If you’re hosting a large party where food is being served, be on the safe side and keep the critters in a back room, even if your visitors are animal lovers!

Keep that bowl of holiday candy off the coffee table or anywhere else that a pet can reach it. Chocolate in particular is very dangerous for animals. Candy and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol is also hazardous. Your pet can sneak a package of sugarless gum from your purse and become ill, so don’t leave your purse within his reach. One of my dogs once chewed up a $20 bill from my purse that was sitting on a low lying area, an item that also was not good for her health.


Poinsettias with their bright red flowers are the most festive holiday plant, and while they are not as toxic as we believed in the past, sampling a leaf from one can make your dog mildly ill or cause swelling and itching to the skin. Worse than poinsettias are holly, lilies and mistletoe. While a kiss under the mistletoe might add some romance to your holiday, it can cause erratic behavior and even cardiovascular collapse when ingested by your pet. Mistletoe berries that drop to the floor can also be a hazardous, so you might want to nix this plant from your list.

If you dress your pet in a cute holiday costumes such as a Santa Suit or a pair of Reindeer antlers, make sure the outfit is not constricting, annoying to them, or unsafe. Clothing should not constrict the animal’s movement, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow. A festive red bandana might be a good alternative to a tight fitting outfit.

Dr. Lillian Roberts of Country Club Animal Clinic in Palm Desert sees a dramatic influx of four-legged patients this time of year. She advises to, “avoid ornaments or decorations that are small and easy to swallow, as these can quickly lead to intestinal blockage and emergency surgery. This also includes tinsel, ribbon, and small loose bells that cats find irresistible. I once x-rayed a dog only to discover an entire glass ornament, unbroken, just sitting there in his stomach. Surgery was needed to get the ornament out.”

Dr. Roberts offers these additional tips to keep your animals safe and healthy:

(1) Unplug Christmas tree lights and other electrical decorations when you are not home. Cords are attractive chew toys for kittens and puppies, and if chewed when plugged in can be very dangerous.

(2) Make sure anything you add to the water under your tree is not poisonous. Pets WILL drink from this bowl. Flocked trees are also a bad idea..

(3) You can feed your dog turkey in moderation, but don’t include the skin, bones or gravy. Mixing a high fat meal with holiday stress is a recipe for GI upset for your pet. If it’s bad for you, it’s bad for Fido!

(4) If your dog has a sensitive stomach or food allergies, don’t share your holiday meal.

(5) Make time for your pets, keeping their routine as normal as possible. Travel can be distressing for some pets. Make sure visitors don’t leave gates, doors, and windows open that allow animals to escape.

Refrain from surprising your mother-in-law or a friend with an animal as a gift. Let people experience the joy of selecting a pet that meets their own personal preference. Accompany them to a rescue or shelter to select a pet and pay their adoption fee. And if you are still “petless” this season, visit the Coachella Valley Animal Campus at 72-050 Pet Land Place, Thousand Palms, (760) 343-3644. View their adoptable animals at Rescue animals bring love to your home this season and throughout the year, and some even bring you a holiday miracle.

Keep your vet’s contact information close at hand. You can contact Country Club Animal Clinic in Palm Desert at (760) 776-7555. There is only one 24-hr animal hospital in the Coachella Valley which is VCA, 46920 Jefferson just north of Highway 111, Indio (760) 342-4712. Contact the 24-hour Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.

Happy and safe holidays to you and your pets!