Turkey & Tinsel & Mistletoe

ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center Alerts Public to Prevalent Holiday Pet Poisonings
November 15, 2010

NEW YORK—There is nothing better than gathering with family and friends for the holidays — eating, drinking, and putting up festive decorations. While enjoying this time of year, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) wants pet owners to be aware of potential hazards that certain treats and décor can pose to our furry friends. 

“Many of our winter holiday traditions can pose a threat to our companion animals,” says Dr. Tina Wismer, Senior Director of Veterinary Outreach and Education for the ASPCA. “As you prepare for the holiday season, be cautious of items that can be dangerous to pets.”


Last year, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center managed 17,000 cases of pet illness caused by human foods. Chocolate is the worst offender of food-based poisoning in pets, causing a variety of symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rate and occasionally seizures. “Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate are more damaging to pets, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep all chocolate out of reach,” adds Dr. Wismer. Pet owners should also be wary of sweeteners, such as xylitol, which cause a sudden drop in blood glucose.

Turkey, a favorite treat for cats and dogs, may contain bones that can splinter and cause blockages in the throat or digestive tract, in addition to causing stomach upset from grease and fat. Additionally, Dr. Wismer strongly urges pet owners to be extremely careful with any alcoholic beverages. “Pets that ingest alcohol can become very sick and may fall into a coma, leading to an untimely death,” she adds.


One of the joys of the holidays is decorating the home. However, it’s important to protect pets against seemingly innocuous decorations. Many of the items we incorporate into our traditional holiday decorations each year—ribbons, tinsel, glass ornaments, as well as wires, cords, candles, and even Christmas tree water—can all pose potential dangers to pets if left unattended.


In 2009, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center received 8,000 calls about potentially poisonous plants and flowers. Dr. Wismer warns against the use of certain holiday plants that are likely to cause serious damage. “Flowers such as lilies, which are commonly used this time of year, can cause kidney failure in cats,” she says. “The more traditional festive plants such as holly and mistletoe can also be dangerous for cats and dogs alike, causing gastrointestinal upset or, in rare cases with mistletoe, cardiovascular problems. It’s best to use non-toxic decorations, such as wood, fabric or even pinecones.”

And what about the popular poinsettia? A persistent holiday myth insists that the poinsettia plant is toxic to pets. In reality, poinsettias cause only mild to moderate gastrointestinal irritation. Keeping it out of pets’ reach is still a good idea, but there’s no need to banish it altogether.

If your dog or cat accidentally ingests a potentially toxic substance this holiday season, contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 for immediate assistance.