Poinsettia (Euphorbia plucherrima) is known to be highly toxic, but it is just an old wives tale. This plant is the least toxic of the four and most likely will only cause GI upset.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) is another plant that if ingested would generally only cause GI upset.
American Mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) most often causes depression and vomiting, but the mistletoe family has the potential to cause more serious signs, such as hypotension and cardiovascular collapse. Keep in mind that ingestion of large amounts of plant material can cause a foreign body obstruction. Yesterday I had a call regarding a 65 pound lab that ingested 2 medium sized poinsettias that contained approximately 6-8 flowers a piece. The only thing he left was the dirt. We recommended emesis just to lower the risk for GI upset and FBO. Plain canned pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie kind_ is the main bulking agent I recommend.
Are you hungry?
Chocolate (not sugar free) is the most common food agent I have received calls on around the holidays. Chocolate contains methylxanthines (theobromine and caffeine) which can cause GI upset, polydipsia, stimulatory signs, tachycardia, cardiac arrhythmias, tremors, and seizures. Toxicity is based on how dark the chocolate is (white vs. mile vs. baking chocolate). The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is.
Candy (non chocolate, not sugar free) most likely will cause GI upset and polydipsia/polyuria from all the sugar. However is a high volume of sugar candy is ingested, electrolyte disturbances are possible.
Xylitol is the sugar free substitute that is found in candy, gum, and baked goods. Depending on the amount ingested GI upset, hypoglycemia, and liver damage can develop.
Garlic and onions are part of allium species and can cause GI upset and Heinz Body Hemolytic Anemia.
Yest and bread dough when ingested produce alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation which can cause the animal to become drunk and bloated. Mmmm that yummy fruit cake that may contain Grapes and Raisins can cause GI upset and acute renal failure and Macadamia nuts which can cause GI upset, depression, weakness, ataxia, tremors, and hyperthermia.
So you need something to walk all this food down with right?
Coffee and coffee grounds contain caffeine. Signs are very similar to those of chocolate. Once the coffee has been brewed, most of the caffeine has been extracted, so it is not as potent. And my favorite stimulant: Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
Alcohol usually causes vomiting, depression, lethargy and ataxia. Other possible signs are vocalization, disorientation, hypothermia, tremors, tachycardia, acidosis, and dyspnea. Rarely it can cause coma and seizure. Keep in mind that the holiday feasts may contain a lot of fat, sugar, and salt.
Fat and sugar can trigger pancreatitis.
Salt can cause electrolyte disturbances. Hypernatremia leads to CNS signs such as ataxia, tremors and seizures.
After all festivities, the leftover food is discarded and your trash can is an animal's ideal dinner table.
Spoiled food can cause significant GI upset and secondary dehydration.
Molds can cause tremogenic mycotoxins and can cause significant vomiting and CNS signs including ataxia, tremors, seizures, and hyperthermia.
Decorations add to all the holiday cheer.
Electrical cords from all those pretty lights. Chewing on the cord can lead to mucosal injury in the mouth and electrocution.
Plastic and glass from ornaments and lights can cause trauma to the mouth and GI tract and can cause an obstruction..
Tinsel and ribbon can cause linear foreign body obstructions and can get caught in the mouth and throat.
Toys can be chewed on and those small parts, including batteries can be ingested.
Batteries can cause corrosive injury to the mucosa of the GI tract and lead to ulceration and possible perforation.
Christmas trees pose a few hazards. Some of the calls I receive involve the animal chewing into presents under the tree. Do not put food items, such as chocolate or nuts in a gift box under your tree.
Dead and dying needles tend to be ingested. Depending on the type of tree you have, generally the needles will cause mechanical irritation and GI upset.
Christmas tree food and preservatives added to water can turn into your pets new water bowl. Generally these are diluted an only cause GI upset.
Liquid Potpourris can cause oral, pharyngeal and esophageal ulceration.
Essential oils are known to cause CNS signs depending on the strength. Cats are more susceptible to the adverse effects of essential oils. Dermal exposures may cause skin irritation and re exposure if the animal continues to groom itself.
Artificial fire logs are generally made up of sawdust and wax. They tend to crumble when chewed so the main concern is for GI upset and FBO.
Crackle or colored fire logs contain metals to give off different colored flames. Signs may vary depending on the type of metal used.
Java fire logs contain coffee ground and give off a coffee type aroma. The caffeine in the grounds can cause signs similar to chocolate as discussed earlier.
Ice melts can cause dermal and GI irritation. Ingestion can lead to salt toxicosis. Walking the pet away from salted sidewalk and driveways is recommended. If this cannot be avoided, the owner should wipe/wash off the pets paws.
This is a brief overview of holiday hazards. If you suspect a toxicity and need assistance, please contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. That number is 888-426-4435.
You may also contact The Animal Emergency Hospital of North Texas directly at 817-410-2273.