Keeping your four-legged family members safe during the holiday season can seem like a daunting task. There are decorations, lights, plants, presents, and not to mention the hustle and bustle of shopping and parties. Before you start celebrating, make sure your pets are safe from holiday dangers. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure the safety of your pets during the holidays.


According to Kathy Wahlers at the Pet Poison Helpline, poinsettia plants get a bad rap, but they are only mildly toxic to pets. She says that holiday bouquets containing lilies, holly, or mistletoe are far more worrisome. Be sure to keep these plants well out of the reach of animals in your home, or consider using artificial versions. “Lilies, including tiger, Asiatic, stargazer, Easter, and day lilies, are the most dangerous plants for cats,” said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, assistant director of Pet Poison Helpline. “The ingestion of one to two leaves or flower petals is enough to cause sudden kidney failure in cats.”

Other yuletide plants such as holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to pets and can cause gastrointestinal upset and even heart arrhythmias if ingested.


Decorations such as tinsel, glass ornaments, and garlands can easily attract pets, but are dangerous because they are choking hazards. Tinsel is especially tempting to cats, who see bright, shiny strings as something to be played with. Although tinsel does not pose a poisoning risk, it can cause severe damage to a cat’s intestinal tract if swallowed. Ultimately, cats run the risk of severe injury to their intestines, and treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery.

Electric decorations such as stringed lights can brighten a room but, unfortunately, can also give your pets a shock should they chew on the wires. Keep decorations out of their reach, or at the very least, spray electrical cords with bitter-apple spray.

Avoid using aspirin in the water for your cut tree if you have a cat, as aspirin is highly toxic to cats.

Food and Drink

Alcoholic beverages. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure.

Bones.Chicken, duck, and turkey bones splinter easily and can lodge in your pet’s mouth or throat or even perforate the intestines. Larger bones from other animals can cause intestinal blockage.

Caffeine. Coffee and coffee grounds, tea, energy drinks, and certain medications containing caffeine, when consumed in large enough quantities, can kill your pet.

Chocolate and cocoa. These both contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea and large amounts can cause seizures and heart failure.

Grapes and raisins. Foods containing grapes and raisins (often used in fruit cake) can result in kidney failure in dogs.

Onions and garlic. These seasonings in any form — fresh, cooked, dried, or powdered — can damage red blood cells in pets, which can lead to anemia.

Spices. Nutmeg can cause seizures and even death. Sage could have your pet vomiting and cramping.

Unbaked bread dough. Small amounts of raw dough made with live yeast can expand in your pet’s stomach causing a bellyache. Too much and your buddy can have difficulty breathing.

Walnuts and macadamia nuts. According to Consumer Affairs, within 12 hours of ingesting these nuts, dogs can experience difficulty standing, tremors, fever, and an elevated heart rate that can lead to death.

Xylitol. Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener which is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.


According to the ASPCA, one of the most common holiday-related emergencies is the consumption of human pharmaceuticals. Make sure all your medications are securely locked away from pets and children, and be sure to tell your guests to keep their meds zipped up and packed away, too. If your pet shows signs of distress and you suspect that any of these foods were eaten, please note the amount ingested, and contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.


The unusual commotion of the holiday season can be stressful on animals as well as humans. Put your pets in a quiet room or quiet area of the house when guests are visiting. Soothing music helps not only humans but also animals. If possible, put on a nice, relaxing CD to calm your pet. Even though we’re all busy around the holidays, don’t forget to give your pets some attention. Try to keep your pets on their regular eating and exercise schedules. Leave a note on the front door reminding visitors not to allow your pet to run out of the house. Nothing puts a damper on festivities like turning a holiday party into a search party.


Unless it’s absolutely necessary to travel with your pet, leave them at home. It’s best to find a friend or pet sitter to come to your home to take care of your pets. If you must travel with your pet, make sure they have all the required vaccinations and are wearing identification tags or are microchipped. If you’re traveling by car, be sure to secure your pet safely with a seat-belt harness or crate and make frequent stops, allowing pets time to exercise and relieve themselves. Too many accidents happen in cargo areas, so if you must fly with your pet, it’s best to have it secured in a carrier underneath your seat. Make sure to be prepared at the airport. Animals traveling in carriers must be removed from those carriers when going through security. Make sure your pet has a harness and a leash to keep them from running and proper ID to ensure they get returned to you if something should happen.

By following these tips, both you and your pet can enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season!

Adoptable Pet of the Week

Malaya is an 8-year-old short-haired black tortoise-shell who is awaiting adoption through the Animal Shelter Assistance Program. This shy miss is a great conversationalist who will chirp at her favorite humans and even carry on a dialogue. Don’t startle her but approach slowly and pet her head, and she will reward you with a great purr!

To meet Malaya and other available cats needing loving homes, visit ASAP at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Rd. Hours: Weekdays 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call the ASAP office at 683-3368 or visit

Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization that takes care of the cats and kittens at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter. ASAP provides humane care for these animals and works to eliminate the practice of euthanizing them for reasons other than serious health or behavior problems.

The following is included in the adoption fee at ASAP: spay or neuter surgery, flea treatment, vaccinations, microchipping, health evaluation, including testing for Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Cats thought to be 10 years or older receive a full blood panel evaluation, thus assuring that the cat is indeed healthy and adoptable; medical and drug coverage through ASAP’s vet for two weeks beyond adoption; if necessary, temperament evaluation; and a cat carrier (you can save the county money by bringing your own).


ASAP Adopt a Cat Special

Make a holiday wish come true for a kitty. Adopt an adult cat for only $25 or two kittens for $75 from December 15-27. ASAP is open December 24, until noon.

Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions,


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