Christmas Dangers

Christmas is a wonderful time for amazing food, gift giving and spending time with family. But the season’s festivities hold some risks and dangers for our four-legged friends. Being aware of the dangers around Christmas time can help keep your pets safe this holiday.

Toxic and Dangerous Foods

Several food types are known to cause toxicities and illness in dogs and cats. The critical food types to keep away from your pets are Christmas cakes, fruit mince pies, grapes, sultanas, raisins, and chocolate.


Several food types are known to cause toxicities and illness in dogs and cats. The critical food types to keep away from your pets are Christmas cakes, fruit mince pies, grapes, sultanas, raisins, and chocolate.


Source: Wallflower Chocolate

Milk chocolate and dark chocolate contain significant amounts of theobromine and will cause serious poisoning without treatment. White chocolate contains less theobromine but the caffeine content can still cause serious disease. There is a big variation in how each individual reacts to the chocolate. Some animals may only need a little bit to show clinical signs, while others may not be as sensitive. The problem is that it is almost impossible to know until it is too late.


The effects of chocolate poisoning can vary depending on what type of chocolate the animal has eaten, how much they’ve eaten and how long it has been in their digestive tract. The most common signs seen with chocolate toxicity are restlessness, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst and/or urination, muscle tremors, seizures and respiratory distress. Some or all of these signs may be present and, if left untreated, can be fatal.


The treatment for chocolate toxicity begins with causing the animal to vomit, preventing more toxin from being absorbed into the blood stream. Sometimes animals require hospitalisation and need to be given fluids directly into the blood stream. The animal may be given a substance called “activated charcoal” which helps to bind up any toxin left in the digestive tract and also reduces how much toxin is absorbed. This activated charcoal may be given for up to 3 days after the animal has eaten the chocolate. If the animal is showing signs such as persistent vomiting or seizures then further treatment, medications and monitoring in hospital may be needed.

Grapes, Raisins & Sultanas

Christmas cakes and fruit mince pies are often full of grapes, sultanas and raisins, and are just as dangerous as the fruit on its own. It is not well understood why grapes, raisins and their varieties are toxic to our pets, but cases of toxicities have been well documents for many years. The toxic dose of these foods also seems to vary between individuals, with some animals eating small amounts with seemingly no illness, while others require intensive treatment. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell which animals will become ill and which animals won’t until it’s too late.

Sultanas, grapes, raisins.png

Source: Brisbane Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Service

Kidney injury and disease is the most common outcome following grape and raisin ingestion. The most common signs of grape and raisin toxicity are vomiting (usually within 24 hours), lethargy, reduced appetite, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, excessive thirst and changes in urination patterns (ranging from excessive urination to no urine production). Some or all of these signs may be present and, if left untreated, can be fatal.


The treatment for grape or raisin toxicity is similar to chocolate toxicity in the early stages. Causing the animal to vomit as much of the ingested grapes or raisins as possible helps to reduce the amount of toxin absorbed into the blood stream. Hospitalisation for intravenous fluids is often recommended, and administration of activated charcoal may be started. Other medications to control nausea may be given, and close monitoring is required to ensure that the animal is producing urine normally.

Other High Risk Foods

There are other food types commonly enjoyed during the festive season that may not cause toxicities, but can still cause our pets to become unwell. We encourage everyone to be cautious, and avoid feeding some foods to your pets to avoid stomach upsets, gastrointestinal disease and other disorders.

Roasts & Barbeque Meats

While we may love our Christmas hams, roast turkey and summer barbeques, these meats can cause simple stomach upset, gastrointestinal inflammation, and pancreatitis in dogs and cats. Chicken or turkey skin is high in fat, as are barbeque off-cuts and drippings. Christmas hams are often also heavy with fats, and high in salt. If these are ingested, the fat and salt content can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. This can cause our pets to not want to eat, become lethargic, and become dehydrated. In these circumstances, often they need to be treated with intravenous fluids in hospital, pain relief and other medications to manage their nausea. These patients are often treated for 24-72 hours.

Onions & Garlic

Roasts and gravy often contain onions and garlic. These vegetables, and other vegetables in the same family such as leeks, chives, spring onions or shallots, can cause anaemias in some pets if eaten. This family of vegetables contain organosulfoxides, which cause damage to red blood cells. This can lead to the formation of abnormal structures (such as Heinz Bodies) on the outside of the red blood cells, resulting in the red blood cells breaking apart (haemolysis). This is known as haemolytic anaemia. Haemolysis releases haemoglobin into the fluid portion of the blood stream, and reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Affected animals can become lethargic and may have bloody urine, and severe cases can be weak, vomiting, and have high temperatures. Treatment depends on how severely the animal is affected, and may be as simple as anti-inflammatory treatment or may involve intravenous fluids and blood transfusions.


Cheese platters often contain blue cheeses and soft cheeses. These are also heavy in fats, and blue cheeses contain roquefortine. These can also cause stomach upsets and pancreatitis, and if large amounts of blue cheeses are ingested then muscle tremors and seizures can occur.

Stone Fruits

& Nuts

The sweet flesh of stone fruits is not known to be toxic to dogs and cats, but the hard stone seeds can cause stomach and intestinal obstructions if eaten. Removing obstructions requires abdominal surgery, and intestinal surgery can carry significant risks of post-operative complications. Patients treated for obstructions are often hospitalised for several days, treated with intravenous fluids, pain relief, and other medication to manage infection and nausea.

Similarly, some nut varieties can cause obstructions if they are large enough. Common nut obstructions are macadamia nuts, hazel nuts, and Brazil nuts. Macadamia nuts can also cause muscle tremors, weakness, wobbliness, and vomiting in dogs.


Bones can also cause stomach and intestinal obstructions, as well as the other gastrointestinal disorders described earlier.

Stone fruits.jpg

Lollies & Sweets

Some lollies and sweets can contain artificial sweeteners such as Xylitol. Xylitol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, and severe cases can have seizures and develop liver failure. Not all lollies and sweets contain Xylitol, so it is important to check package labels and ingredients, and keep these treats away from pets.


Alcohols can have significant effects in dogs and cats, and may appear cute or funny but can be dangerous. Alcohol can cause confusion, weakness, wobbliness, vomiting, diarrhoea, low body temperature, and decreased blood pH (acidosis). This can occur if alcohol is ingested, but it can also be absorbed via the skin. Affected animals are treated with intravenous fluids and medications to manage nausea, and often require nursing care.

Dangerous Items Around The Home

Other items commonly found during the festive season may not cause toxicities, but can pose risks to the health of our pets.


Small toys are easily picked up and swallowed, and can cause stomach and intestinal obstructions, similar to nuts and stone fruits. The Silica Gel packets from new gifts can look like tasty treats for our pets, but if swallowed they will swell, and can cause stomach and intestinal obstructions or stomach upset.


Christmas decorations often seem like toys to our pets. Glass baubles can cause cuts if broken or bitten, and tinsel can cause intestinal obstruction in the form of a linear foreign body. A linear foreign body is when a long item, such as string, is not able to pass through the intestine normally, and instead causes the intestine to bunch up like a concertina. This can constrict the intestine and cause the tissue to die. Linear foreign bodies require abdominal surgery to be removed, and carry high risks for post-operative complications. These are often more complicated than simple obstructions like stones or bones. 


Ribbon from gift wrappings can also cause linear foreign body obstructions.

Toxic Plants - 

Mistletoe, Holly

& Ivy

Mistletoe can cause stomach and intestinal irritation, resulting in drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. In severe cases (when large amounts of the berries are ingested) abnormal heart rates, collapse, low blood pressure, weakness and wobbliness, and seizures can occur, and can result in death if enough is eaten.


Many varieties of holly exist, and most of them will cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and affected animals will seem dull and depressed.

If the leaves of ivy are eaten or chewed, they can cause mouth pain, drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and swelling of the tongue and lips. Depending on the exact species of ivy, abdominal pain and diarrhoea may also occur.


If any of these plants are chewed or ingested, affect animals may be treated with intravenous fluids, pain relief, medications to manage nausea, vasopressors, and anti-seizure medications. 

Toxic Plants - 


Poinsettia is often listed as a poisonous plant for cats and dogs, however its effects are predominantly mild. The sap of Poinsettia plants can cause mild irritation to the skin, resulting in redness and itchiness. If the plant is chewed or eaten, it may cause mild vomiting and drooling, and diarrhoea is rarely seen. Often these cases don’t require veterinary intervention and resolve on their own, but some cases can cause persistent signs and can occasionally be more severe. If treatment is required, then it usually involves nausea and pain management.


Toxic Plants - 


Like grape & raisin toxicity, it is poorly understood why lilies are toxic to cats but many cases are well documented. All parts of the plant are considered toxic, not just the pollen or flower, and even very small amounts can cause severe disease. Lilies do not seem to be toxic to dogs, only cats.


Sudden onset kidney failure is the most common outcome following exposure to lilies. The most common signs seen are lethargy, weakness, reduced or absent appetite, vomiting, and changes in urination patterns (ranging from excessive urination to no urine production).


The treatment for lily toxicity and the subsequent acute kidney injury is aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, pain management and anti-nausea medications. Kidney injury and subsequent failure can be very difficult to manage and treat, and even successful treatment can result in the cat suffering from chronic kidney disease that will lead to on-going management and treatment needs, and decrease their life expectancy considerably.


Source: VetCare Pet Hospital

If you have any questions or you suspect that your pet has eaten any toxic or harmful substances or objects, contact us straight away on 07 3297 0803 and come down to our clinic.


Often the sooner the animal is treated, the faster the treatment works and the better the outcome.