Health Advocate Blog

Keep your pets safe during the holidays

Decorating your home is a fun way to get into the holiday spirit, but many people don’t know that some common holiday plants and decorations contain things that are harmful if your pets consume them. Plants like mistletoe and holly, and decorations like tinsel and wire, can have harmful effects if ingested by pets (and children, too). Read on to learn more about which popular plants and decorations are potentially dangerous, and how to keep your pets out of the veterinary hospital this holiday season.

Harmful plants

In general, you should keep all plants out of your pets’ reach. But if you do have these plants in your home, heed these safety tips:

Poinsettias: The thick sap inside the stem is toxic, and if ingested by your dog or cat, your pet may show symptoms like vomiting, lack of appetite, and depression. If your pet ingests part of a poinsettia, consider restricting their food and water for a few hours, as symptoms should only last an hour or two. If symptoms persist, consult your veterinarian.

Mistletoe: Mistletoe berries are the most toxic part of the plant, but its effects are fairly mild. If ingested, your pet may show similar symptoms as eating poinsettia. But the real risk is dehydration, so encourage your pet to drink water. If your pet won’t drink up, or if it is very young or very old, call your vet, as your pet may require medical treatment.

Holly: The spines on holly leaves are sharp and can cause injury to an animal’s mouth, tongue, and lips. Holly also has some chemical content that is toxic, and ingesting holly leaves can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Call your vet if your pet has eaten holly.

Lilies: Lily plants can be toxic to cats, causing kidney injury with potentially devastating, even fatal, effects. Pet owners should seek veterinary attention immediately if their cat has ingested a lily plant.

Harmful decorations

Tinsel can damage the intestines and cause severe injuries when ingested.

Pets often chew electric wires, like the ones used for holiday lights. These wires can look especially appealing to younger animals. When chewed, electric wires can potentially shock, burn, or electrocute, causing harm to your pet. Unplug cords when they’re not in use, place them in cord protectors, or coat them with a non-toxic spray (found at your local pet supply store) to deter chewing.

Glass ornaments and ornament hooks are hazardous, too. Pets can ingest glass splinters or hooks, causing internal damage. Hang sharp and/or breakable ornaments higher on the tree, so they are out of reach of your pets. If you notice an ornament has fallen off the tree and broken, clean it up as soon as possible.

Make sure your Christmas tree is secure. Ensure that your pet can’t bump it and send it toppling over. Get a strong and unwavering base to hold the tree, and anchor the tree to the wall or ceiling. Also, choose a smart location for the tree—don’t place it near things that a pet can jump onto and use as a launch pad to then jump onto the tree.

Ensure holiday treats are out of reach of pets. If you are hosting friends and family, keep food platters on counters and tables that are difficult for pets to access. Remind your guests to please not feed “people food” to your pets—some foods can harm pets (for example, dogs and cats can get sick from eating chocolate).

Also make sure that Christmas stockings are hung out of reach of curious pets, especially if your stockings contain treats or toiletries (like candy or toothpaste) that are attractive to pets, but that can be harmful to them if ingested.

Keep ribbons and gift trimmings away from pets. Consider wrapping and storing gifts in a room that has a door you can keep closed. Bring gifts by the Christmas tree only when you and your loved ones are ready to open them. Bag up discarded wrapping, tissue paper, ribbon, and trimmings promptly. Cats, especially, are often curious about these items, and you don’t want your feline friend to choke on them!

Safety tips

Monitor your plants. Place plants out of reach, and check for any signs of chewed or missing leaves. If you’re unsure about whether a plant could be harmful or not, look it up to check its toxicity (the ASPCA’s website provides helpful information on understanding what plants may be harmful to your pet). In many cases, the safest course of action for pet owners is to just not keep plants in your home.

Monitor your decorations. Decorations like bubble lights, tinsel, and ornaments can be very inviting to your pets. Make sure you place them out of reach, and consider avoiding tinsel altogether.

Have the phone number of your veterinarian and the emergency vet number posted. Keep the poison center number handy, too. If you suspect a pet poisoning, do not wait to call. Prompt attention may make a crucial difference in your pet’s health.

Be sure to let fellow pet owners aware of potentially harmful holiday plants and décor to ensure a safe and happy holiday.

[Source:, Dr. Lisa Murphy and Dr. Kenneth Drobatz of Penn Vet]