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Pet Vet: Plants, decorations, unattended food — all holiday hazards for pets

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Winter takes me back to my childhood. Christmas was a time filled with colored lights, wonder, and questions: How come Santa always showed up at my house when I was over at the neighbors? And how come he never brought what I really wanted?

I wasn't greedy. I only wanted one thing.

A dog.

What I got instead was a truckload of stuffed animals — my mother's vain attempt to appease my hunger for the real thing. (It didn't work.)

As I write this, two dogs slumber at my feet, waiting for their next meal (because they ate five minutes ago).


Like most dogs, both of them have accidentally eaten things which made them ill in the past. Use these pointers to keep you one step ahead of your pets when it comes to their safety this holiday season.



Often gifted as a bulb, an amaryllis brightens winter days with its beautiful blooms. If ingested, the bulb and leaves contain toxins which cause serious signs ranging from bloody diarrhea and vomiting to neurologic signs such as seizures.


This common evergreen shrub is used to make holiday decor. Lovingly dubbed the "tree of death," this plant contains toxins which attack the heart and require medical intervention if ingested.


True lilies (Easter, Tiger, Day, Stargazer, and Asiatic) are cat killers. Every part of the plant is toxic, even the pollen. Lily ingestion causes severe kidney failure in cats, which carries a guarded prognosis even with medical intervention. Just don't bring lilies into the house.


Calla lilies and Peace lilies are not consider "true" lilies, and don't cause kidney failure in cats. However, they contain oxalates, which can cause pain on chewing, and profuse drooling. Lily of the valley, although beautiful, contains a cardiotoxin.


Everyone knows that poinsettias are toxic if eaten, right? Actually, they're not that poisonous. When the stems of the leaves are broken, they exude a milky white sap which can cause contact irritation, resulting in drooling, vomiting, skin, and gum irritation. This is usually self-limiting. Rinsing out the mouth with water or giving your pet a bath should help.


This plant is also not as toxic as most people think, at least in America. The European variety of mistletoe causes more harm. Usually, ingestion causes self-limiting gastrointestinal upset, unless a very large amount of berries and leaves are consumed.

English Holly

Holly leaves are so tough they cause mechanical injury when eaten — leading to drooling, lip smacking, and typically self-limiting gastrointestinal distress.



Top 10 things to keep away from your pets:

1. chocolate

2. macadamia nuts

3. alcoholic drinks

4. unbaked yeast bread dough

5. booze-soaked dessert

6. table salt — found in homemade tree ornaments and play dough

7. grapes/raisins/currants

8. xylitol sugar substitute

9. caffeine

10. unattended garbage — you never know what's in there


Watching a cat play with tinsel or ribbons is only fun until they swallow it whole, fall deathly ill, and require surgery to get the pretty ribbon back out (although it won't look quite as attractive as before).

Liquid potpourri is dangerous for cats. Felines are extremely sensitive to the essential oils and detergents, causing oral and gastrointestinal ulceration and irritation, liver failure, breathing troubles, and neurologic signs.

Ann M. Anderson, DVM, is a veterinarian at Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital in Rochester.

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