By Janet McAfee

The 2020 holiday season has arrived!  Thanksgiving is next week, followed by Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, and New Year’s Eve.  Christmas trees are going up, holiday lights brighten our desert, and parties (though smaller) are planned. There may be fewer than usual friends and family members at your holiday table this year due to COVID-19 concerns.  However, you can count on attendance from faithful Fluffy and Fido under the table or lingering nearby hoping for a holiday treat.

However, this time of year also sees a dramatic increase in emergency trips to the vet for our four-legged friends. In the frenzy of activity, we may overlook the dangers that certain holiday foods, plants and decorations pose to cats and dogs.

One of your dinner party guests might be tempted to give Benji a sample from his plate.  Sugar, chocolate, turkey skin, turkey bones, gravy, and avocados 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. Many sauces contain onions and garlic which have sulfoxides and disulfides poisonous to pets in all forms, raw, cooked, or powder.  These same foods are also harmful for cats.


Keep that bowl of holiday candy off the coffee table where a pet can reach it.  Chocolate in particular is very dangerous for animals. Candy and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol is very hazardous.  Alcoholic beverages and caffeine drinks are also harmful.

Toxicity from these foods can produce a myriad of symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, weakness, drunken gait, hyperactivity, tremors, and coma.  Symptoms may vary depending on the substance ingested.  Consult your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic food or plant.

Poinsettias are not as toxic as once believed, however sampling a leaf from one can make your dog mildly ill or cause swelling to the skin.  Even worse than poinsettias are holly, lilies and mistletoe.  A kiss under the mistletoe might add romance to your holiday, but mistletoe can cause erratic behavior and even cardiovascular collapse when ingested by your pet.  Mistletoe berries can also be a hazardous.

Dr. Lillian Roberts of Country Club Animal Clinic in Palm Desert sees a dramatic influx of patients this time of year.  She advises, “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 sitting in his stomach.  Surgery was needed to get the ornament out.”.  Dr. Roberts offers these additional tips to keep your animals safe and healthy:

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.

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.

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.

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

Make sure visitors don’t leave gates, doors, and windows open that allow animals to escape. Keep collars and ID tags with your phone number on pets at all times.

Keep your vet’s contact information close at hand.  The only 24-hr animal hospital in the Coachella Valley is VCA, 46920 Jefferson just north of Highway 111, Indio (760) 342-4712.  Contact the 24-hour Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.  Country Club Animal Clinic with Dr. Lillian Roberts can be reached at (760) 776-7555.  Keep these phone numbers on your cell phone in case of an emergency.

Give thanks for your dogs and cats who will happily keep you company!  I wish you and your 4-legged family members a safe and happy holiday season!