15 Holiday Hazards You May Not Realize Are Dangerous For Your Pup

Written by: Mikkel Becker

December 22, 2022

This article was written by Mikkel Becker, the head trainer at Fear Free Pets. Fear Free Pets works to make sure every dog can be happy and stress-free in all aspects of life: from the vet’s office, to the groomer, to the comfort of home.

While the holidays allow for all sorts of good times, they also require that we take extra care of our pups. Few people imagine their festive decorations and holiday foodstuffs as potentially dangerous, but for dogs, the holidays present several possible hazards.

Fortunately, a little knowledge goes a long way. Just keep your pup away from any of the items on this list and you’ll all be able to safely enjoy your holidays. 

1. Bones (Cooked & Uncooked)

Holiday meals alone present an entire list of hazards, but the big food item to be careful with is giving your dog bones.

As the daughter of a veterinarian, and as someone who has worked with numerous veterinary hospitals as an assistant and animal trainer, I can say that giving bones comes with some serious risks. You should especially NEVER give your dog cooked bones. These can splinter and form extremely sharp pieces that create a choking hazard and may cause intestinal damage if their digestive tract is punctured or blocked.

As for uncooked bones, they can cause other issues, including teeth fractures and breakage (ouch). If you do give bones to your dog, ensure they’re sized appropriately and note that there is always a risk of teeth damage. Beyond this, throw out pieces of bone that are too small and may be swallowed whole.

Instead of bones, you may consider other options to upgrade your dog’s meals, like a variety of enticing food toppers, or treats to use with enrichment or puzzle toys, like lots of these from Super Chewer!

2. Turkey (Or Other Fatty Meats/Foods)

Yes, it’s hard to let things go to waste, but don’t give in to the temptation of giving your dog fatty pieces of meat pulled from the holiday turkey or ham—dogs can develop a life-threatening condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is caused by an overabundance of fat that your dog then can’t properly process. So limit your dog’s intake of overly fatty meats and other foods, including butter-soaked potatoes.

This doesn’t mean your dog can’t join in on the holiday feasting! Pre-portioning a given amount that your pup can enjoy during the feast can cut down on the pesky begging, and more importantly, allow your dog to enjoy themselves without feeling left out of all the fun. You can cook your dog a special meal that’s appropriate for their dietary needs and approved by their vet.

In some cases, this may mean sticking to a more rigid meal plan for the dog, but still making it enjoyable for them (such as cooked green beans flavored with a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth instead of butter, cooking an egg or lean ground turkey or beef over rice, or providing a bit of unsweetened canned pumpkin).

Remember that quantity should be limited in size to prevent dietary upset (too much of a good thing can still cause intestinal discomfort, diarrhea, or vomiting). If you can’t resist giving a piece of the turkey, steak, ham, or other meat, choose the leanest pieces in small portions and work in some training by using it as a reward for good behavior!

3. Uncooked Ingredients (Like Bread Dough)

Dogs may help themselves to food left unattended and unsupervised. Or, for especially emboldened pups, they may help themselves to what they can snag, regardless if a human’s there or not.

Food items that you think may seem harmless can actually cause significant distress. For example, bread dough can be very dangerous for dogs. Why? Dough rises with heat. And when it comes to the dog eating uncooked dough that’s say, left out on the counter before being placed into the oven, the result can be disastrous. The ingested portion can rise and grow into uncomfortable, unhealthy, or even life-threatening sizes inside your pup’s GI tract and stomach. (Note: If a dog does eat uncooked dough, this is a serious problem that warrants a trip to the emergency vet.)

To prevent food theft when cooking or eating, it’s probably safer for your pup to hang out in their personal dog-specific space, such as their Fear Free Fortress area. Or you may consider keeping them on harness and leash with a responsible person who can oversee the dog’s whereabouts and safety.

4. Sweets & Other Dangerous Food Items

We have yet to meet the pastry that is good for a dog. So many contain chocolate and sugar, which can be incredibly toxic to dogs. No cookies, no pie, no gelt. No exceptions! Other off-limits items include coffee and coffee beans, macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins, avocados, alcohol, and cannabis (including cannabis-containing food items).

Dogs can become seriously ill from eating food that their body doesn’t tolerate the way a human’s would. For example, while small quantities of milk chocolate may only result in dietary upset and diarrhea, when it comes to more concentrated chocolate, the result can be life-threatening. 

Keep unsafe items from your dog by using closed doors, securable cabinets, and putting items up high and out of reach. In addition, warn guests to keep the dog out of such spaces and to be mindful of where they put down food. 

5. Sugar-Free Products (Xylitol)

Probably the biggest unknown culprit for serious and life-threatening complications are food items that contain xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener. Xylitol lurks in a variety of products, from gum, to vitamins, to syrup and candy. Most disturbing of all, it takes very little to wreak havoc on a dog’s insides—even vital organs (like the liver) can start shutting down. Even one stick of gum that contains xylitol places a small-sized dog at very serious health risk.

Ensure that all items containing xylitol are kept far out of reach, and consider what your dog may get into that you might be unaware of, like unwrapped gift items and guests’ bags that may contain sugar-free products. If your dog does ingest anything containing xylitol, it’s time to find an emergency vet.

Also, always check the peanut butter jar’s ingredients before treating your pup! Some peanut butter is now being made with xylitol, so make sure you don’t accidentally give them the wrong kind.

6. Alcohol, Cannabis, & Human Medications

Although some human medications may appear harmless, many meds can pose a health risk if ingested.

Remember that your dog is better able to relax with veterinary-approved chill pills, supplements, and behavior modification strategies—not a home remedy of beer or cannabis brownies to help your dog calm down.

Dogs have different metabolic systems than humans, and so tolerate things like alcohol and cannabis quite differently than people, resulting in serious neurological issues if too much is consumed. 

Consider moving purses, unopened gifts, suitcases, and other personal items like coats to an area that’s inaccessible to your dog. Also, always ensure all meds (even over the counter medications) are kept safely out of reach.

7.  Rodenticides & Antifreeze 

We like to mention these specifically because the holidays generally involve a lot of travel, which can result in anti-freeze being left out in garages. As for rodenticides, if you and your pup travel to a relative’s house, you don’t necessarily know what they lay out to keep the critters away.

Unfortunately, even a small amount of rodent control poison or a lick of antifreeze can be lethal. And because they often taste GREAT to your dog (they’re sweet), your pup will probably happily eat them.

If visiting a friend or family member’s house, be aware of any items they may have lying around the house, garage, or yard that your pup may get into. Keep an eye on your dog and limit them to areas that have been safely patrolled and deemed as safe. Additionally, provide plentiful pup-friendly options for your pup that are safe to enjoy, like dog-approved chews, stuffed food puzzles, or their favorite BarkBox toys.

8. Escape Attempts

Let’s face it: your dog may be a door dasher. And while you’re able to manage the situation in your day-to-day routine, during holiday events you may be less able to monitor entryways and exits. As a result, your pup may dash out and run away, become lost, or get into serious trouble by running onto the open road.

To prevent The Great Doggy Escape, consider gating or otherwise containing entryways. Alternatively, you could keep your dog on a harness and leash when you know people are coming over. You can also place door alerts that sound off when the door is opened or attach a GPS to your dog’s collar, allowing you to check their whereabouts and ensure they’re inside and safe in case a guest accidentally initiates an outdoor adventure.

Consider placing signs at exit and entry points and reminding people to watch out for your dog as they come and go. You can also encourage people who go outside for fresh air to do so in a space where your dog can’t immediately dash out doors, like a fenced-in patio or yard.

Most importantly, ensure that your dog has up to date identification on their ID tag and has been microchipped. Make sure your pup’s microchip always has up-to-date information on their profile, as well, so if they do get lost, you can hopefully be quickly reunited.

9. Real Holiday Plants

Mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias are all off-limits, and so is the Christmas tree. Each of these plants is naturally toxic to your dog. If you treat any of these plants with chemicals to preserve them through the holidays, they will only become more toxic.

To prevent ingestion, put them out of reach of naughty-minded or overly curious pups. Shelves are a lovely invention on which to place your festive plant, but the floor by the stairs is probably not the best choice.

10. Decorations & Wires

Whether it’s a bulb on the tree or a string of lights on the banister, it looks like a chew toy to your dog. Holiday decorations are often made of glass or run on electricity, neither of which are great for gnawing. Edible ornaments can also be problematic—be wary of using popcorn, cereal, or hard candies to decorate your tree or home. That’s just asking for your dog to eat something they’re not supposed to.

Related: 9 Ways To Dog-Proof Your Holiday Decorations

Try to use wire protectors when stringing lights, and don’t place ornaments within easy reach of your pup. If you just don’t trust your dog around a tree, encourage them to hang out in their Fear Free Fortress, or manage the situation so they’re never too near the shiny, tempting things-that-look-like-tennis-balls-but-aren’t.

11. Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper poses many of the same problems that decorations pose: too many easily chewed items that shouldn’t be chewed. Ribbon, tape, staples, stickers, and any of the other items used to wrap gifts should not be ingested by dogs or treated as chew toys.

12. Batteries

Your home might have a few more batteries around over the holidays than normal. Since batteries range in size, they might accidentally be swallowed by your dog or treated like a nice big chew toy. Neither scenario is a good one. Make sure to keep them safely away from curious noses.

13. The Cold

The winter tends to be harsh and unforgiving wherever temperatures drops dramatically. If you take your dog outside for holiday fun, make sure you keep your pup warm, dry, and hydrated during the snow season.

An insulated winter coat, properly-fitted dog boots, and a balm to keep paw pads from getting dry and cracked are all great to have on hand.

14. Tiny Human Toys 

Your dog might mistake some of the new toys gifted to tiny humans for their own. But toys not designed to be chewed on or played with by dogs clearly shouldn’t be used by dogs. Human toys tend to have many more pieces than dog toys, and if ingested, can cause serious damage to a dog’s GI tract.

Make sure all children’s toys are safely put away when they’re done being used, and teach kids not to share their new toys with the family pup, since “play” for dogs sometimes involves destruction.

15. Guests

Okay, so your in-laws aren’t technically a threat to your dog, but if they don’t know what’s off-limits for your pup, they might not be able to help you keep your dog healthy over the holiday. In other words, educate your holiday guests and be an advocate for your pup!

If you’d like to learn more about keeping your pup safe for the holidays, you can read more at Fear Free Happy Homes!

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Written by: Mikkel Becker

December 22, 2022

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