Be wary of holiday decor potentially dangerous to pets


Q: Are poinsettias toxic to dogs?

— Bonnie

There is a common misconception that the poinsettia plant is highly toxic to humans and animals, but in reality this is not the case. This urban legend likely goes back to 1919 when a child reportedly died after consuming a poinsettia leaf. Numerous studies have been done on this plant, and even in large doses the poinsettia only causes some vomiting and diarrhea at its very worst.

There are other holiday toxins that one should be concerned about, however, if you have a household that includes cats and dogs. 

— Christmas Tree Water: This may contain fertilizers and bacteria that can upset the stomach if ingested.

— Electrical Cords: Curious cats, dogs and pocket pets can nibble on the cords. Not only can electrical cords burn tissue of the tongue and mouth, but this could also cause electrical shock, or in rare causes electrocution.

— Ribbons and tinsel: This is especially hazardous to cats. Ribbon and tinsel can become lodged in the intestines and cause intestinal obstruction. One end of the ribbon can get wrapped around the tongue and the other end is swallowed. When this happens, the intestinal tract gets bunched along the string like a curtain on a curtain rod. Emergency surgery is required to save the animal.

— Batteries: All batteries contain some type of alkaline material to aid in electrical current conduction. When batteries are chewed, and the alkaline gel is released, this material causes cell death. If the battery is chewed and its contents inhaled, this can damage the respiratory tract and cause difficulty breathing and poor oxygenation.  

 If the battery is chewed and swallowed, or if the battery is swallowed whole and then erodes in the stomach, the alkaline gel can damage the mouth and intestinal tract causing ulcers. Small lithium batteries especially like to lodge in the esophagus and cause a perforation of the esophagus. If your pet has swallowed a battery, call your veterinarian immediately. The treatment options vary depending on where the battery is currently located in the body, so an x-ray will likely be recommended before a treatment plan is made. 

— Glass ornaments: Pets will occasionally eat the ornaments off of trees. When pets eat sharp objects, we generally do not want to induce vomiting because they could lodge in the esophagus when coming back up. Depending on what has been eaten, the pet may need to have the object surgically removed, or we may need to wait and see if the object will pass on its own.

Candy: Chocolate, in all forms, especially dark or baking chocolate, can be dangerous to cats and dogs. Also, candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be toxic.  If your pet has eaten chocolate, call your veterinarian and they can help you determine if your pet ingested a toxic amount. If your pet ate candy or gum containing xylitol, bring the packaging and your pet in to your veterinarian.

Dr. Teresa Hershey is a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic in Linden Hills. Email her your pet questions at