Winter Ho-Ho-Holiday Pet Safety Tips

The winter months abound with holiday celebrations, and nothing can spoil good cheer like an emergency trip to the vet.

From Christmas trees to holiday baking, your house will be transformed from a normal environment to one filled with sights, sounds, and smells that will have your dog or cat ready to investigate. You can’t blame them for being curious, but you can take the right steps to make sure they don’t get into anything that could lead to a vet visit over the holidays.

We’ve highlighted some of the common holiday dangers around your home and tips to keep your furry family members safe and merry this holiday season.


Plan in advance

Make sure you know how to get to your 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic before there’s an emergency.

Your regular vet clinic may have reduced hours or closures during the holiday season, so find out where you would need to take your pet and plan your travel route so you’re not trying to find your way when stressed.

Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital is open 24/7/365, during holidays and times when other vet clinics may not be available. As a VECCS Level 1 certified hospital, we are capable of handling even the most critical, life-threatening emergencies and trauma, with specialists on call to handle any medical or surgical issue your pet may be experiencing.

For more information, see our Emergencies page or call us at (604) 514-8383

Here are some other numbers you should post in an easy-to-find location in case of emergencies:

  • Your veterinarian’s clinic phone number
  • 24-hour emergency poison hotlines:

24/7 Animal Poison Control Center at 1-855-764-7661 or

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 1-888-426-4435 (fees may apply)

Hazardous foods and snacks

Every year, vets see a dramatic increase in chocolate poisonings during the holidays. Here is a list of foods pets should not ingest:

Chocolate – There is a chemical in chocolate called theobromine. It triggers vomiting, diarrhoea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, problems with the heart, and can be fatal. The darker the chocolate, the more severe the effect.

Mince pies & Christmas puddings – Grapes, currants, sultanas, and raisins are all poisonous for dogs. For dogs, even the smallest amount of Christmas pudding can cause severe kidney failure. It is unknown if these foods also pose a risk to cats, but it is advisable to avoid.

Macadamia nuts – These nuts are often found in biscuits and used as snacks at Christmas time. They can bring on weakness, vomiting, tremors, and hyperthermia in dogs.

Gravy, stuffing & sausage – It is best not to feed your pet foods like gravy, stuffing, or sausage, since they often contain onions, garlic or chives, which are toxic to dogs and can cause stomach upset.

Cheese – An occasional treat of cheese is acceptable, but be aware that some types, such as blue cheese, can produce toxins that cause rapid onset convulsions in dogs.

Alcohol – Alcohol can cause serious problems for pets, including vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, and tremors. It can lead to low blood sugar and coma in severe cases. Avoid leaving drinks around or food containing alcohol, such as chocolate liqueurs.

Candy – Candy, chewing gum and some cakes can contain sugar substitutes such as xylitol. Xylitol can induce the release of insulin in dogs, resulting in low blood sugar and even liver damage. Although other artificial sweeteners don’t have such severe effects, they may cause gastrointestinal discomfort or upset so it’s best to become an avid ingredient-checker and avoid giving your pet food containing artificial sweeteners.

Harmful plants and flowers

Holiday plants are a great way to brighten up a home, but can present real dangers, as many are toxic to pets. Even non-toxic plants can still cause severe gastrointestinal upset if ingested in large quantities.

Plants that are harmful include:










Poinsettias – cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and result in vomiting, but they are generally considered low in toxicity.

Christmas trees – Sharp needles can cause internal damage if swallowed. Cats and kittens may also try to climb the tree. It is advisable to secure the base of the tree to reduce the chance of it falling over. And make sure dogs and cats do not drink any water, if you have a live Christmas tree. Christmas tree water, with or without additives, can cause stomach upset in dogs and cats.

Decorations and ornaments

Colourful, glittery, and tempting, these items are dangerous if ingested:

Tinsel and ribbon – Cats love the feel of chewing tinsel and ribbons. However, if ingested, these decorative items can wrap around the base of a feline’s tongue and become caught in their intestines causing an intestinal blockage leading to an emergency surgery.

Wrapping paper and presents – Keep out of reach of pets and avoid using ribbons for wrapping. If dogs eat a lot of wrapping paper, it can cause an obstruction in the stomach. Cats may want to play with ribbon but if ingested it can cause a blockage or twisted intestine and will likely need surgical attention.

Batteries – Store batteries away from pets and make sure toys using batteries are stored away when not in use. Batteries can cause serious internal damage if chewed or swallowed by pets. Alkaline batteries leak a caustic substance that can burn your pet’s mouth, esophagus, or stomach.

String lights or fairy lights – String lights can cause burns or electrocution if chewed. This is a particular risk to cats. There is also risk of strangulation or injury if your pet becomes entangled in the lights. Trailing wires from lights could also look like an invitation to a tug-of-war game.

Snow Globes – Imported versions can contain antifreeze – as little as one tablespoon can be fatal for a cat.

Salt dough ornaments – The mix of flour and salt with water can cause a potentially fatal salt toxicosis.

Fires and Candles Don’t Mix Well With Pets

Warm fireplaces and the glow of candles evoke strong holiday memories. However, roasting chestnuts over an open fire can be a serious risk for playful and curious pets.

Keep candles out of reach where a pet cannot knock them over or brush past. Always use a secure fireplace screen. Snuff out candles and douse fireplace embers completely before leaving your pet unattended with them.

Gifts Can be Tempting

Edible gifts containing chocolate, candies, or baking should not be accessible. Keen noses might also pick up on scented candles and soaps and mistake them for food, so keep these gifts tucked safely away.

Give your pet something to distract them, like a chew toy or long-lasting snack, while you and your family open presents to keep their mind and eyes off the exciting present opening portion of the day’s festivities.

Other winter hazards

Anti-freeze and ice melt – Anti-freeze with the chemical ethylene glycol can be deadly to animals. For more information about anti-freeze and pets, check out this article from the BC SPCA. Rock salt can also cause a chain reaction of dangers. If a pet walks on it, it can irritate paw pads, causing pets to lick or swallow the rock salt, which can result in agitation and vomiting. Look for ice melts with a propylene glycol base for a relatively pet-safe way to melt ice.

Winter Sweaters & coats – Coats and sweaters can help keep a pet’s temperature from rapidly dropping in outside conditions. All coats and pet costumes should allow pets to move freely, breathe easily and bark or meow. There should be no dangling parts for pets to tear off and swallow. If your pet doesn’t enjoy dressing up, it’s best to let them be themselves over the holidays.

Holiday travel

Whether you take your pets with you or leave them behind, take these precautions to safeguard them whenever you’re traveling. Learn more about travelling with animals on the Government of Canada website.

  • International travel regulations require any pet you bring with you to have a health certificate from your veterinarian – even if you are traveling by car. Learn the requirements for countries you will visit or pass through and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to get the needed certificate within the timeframes required by those destinations.
  • Pets in vehicles should always be safely restrained and should never be left alone in the car in any weather. Proper restraint means using a secure harness or a carrier, placed in a location clear of airbags. Never transport your pet in the bed of a truck.
  • If you’re traveling by air and considering bringing your pet with you, talk with your veterinarian first. Certain pets, such as short-nosed dogs and cats, may have difficulty with air travel. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you regarding your own pet’s ability to travel.
  • Pack for your pet as well as yourself if you’re going to travel together. In addition to your pet’s food and medications, this includes bringing copies of their medical records, information to help identify your pet if they become lost, first aid supplies, and other items.

Boarding your dog while you travel? Talk with your veterinarian to find out whether and how to protect your pet from canine flu and other contagious diseases, and to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines.


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