This time of year, our homes are adorned with holiday lighting, poinsettia plants and mistletoe, as well as lots of goodies like brownies and cookies, and perhaps a Christmas tree that umbrellas a score of presents of all sizes and shapes. So, what’s to worry about?

As with Thanksgiving, there are any number of food items that can encourage intestinal problems in our dogs and cats, some that can even prove life-threatening. With Christmas, a new crop of potential health issues can arise with our pets’ exposure to many of those objects—in particular, with the tree.

Puppies and especially kittens or cats are notoriously interested in exploring and grasping objects into their mouths. Electric cords to light our trees can be very concerning, causing any degree of damage from simple skin burns to actual electrocution through biting and chewing actions. Try to keep cords covered and out of direct access to pets. Other items include yarn, string and other binding objects associated with wrapped presents. In particular, cats will begin to play with loose ends of these twine-like objects, and will actually begin chewing and swallowing them without good reason.

The same issue concerns tinsel dangling from Christmas tree branches, a real bait for our predatory cats, who love the motion, as well as the reflectivity of this item. As the cat swallows these items, some of them move slowly along the intestinal tract, which can cause the intestines to ‘bunch up.’ Soon, the intestines have tightened up; and as their contractility persists, they can actually scissor through the lining, eventually rupturing and allowing dangerous intestinal bacteria and debris to fall free into the abdominal cavity. A life-threatening condition called peritonitis can ensue; and nary an evening passes at the emergency clinic without a very sick cat entering in need of immediate and significantly dangerous surgical exploration and more.

And remember that any plastic or glass ornament can break, exposing pets to lacerations, or—if ingested—may impose serious medical and surgical needs.

Many people adorn their Christmas trees with chocolate candy, some of which can be toxic to our family pets. Keep such items well away from Fido and Felix.

Finally, remember that animals will explore and chew at plants, especially new ones. Poinsettias and mistletoe can both be irritating, and—if ingested in large amounts—can prove very toxic.

Be well! Be safe! Enjoy the holiday season with your family, friends and, of course, your pets.

Dr. Doug Pernikoff practices at the Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic/Veterinary Pet Rescue. For more information, visit

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