Gail Goble, DVM

Medical Director 

VCA Animal Medical Center of Pasadena

Just before Christmas, I diagnosed a cat with a foreign body; specifically with a sewing needle lodged in his stomach. His owner had been hand making Christmas gifts when her mischievous helper ran off with some red thread, needle attached! Thankfully, he came through surgery uneventfully and made a complete recovery. Then there was the year Reeces, a lab mix puppy, pooped Christmas. He had eaten a string of lights. He was able to pass the broken bulbs without surgery, resulting in his owners finding sparkling presents all over their yard. In the ten years I’ve practiced veterinary medicine, I’ve noticed that clinics get a little busier (and a little more interesting) during the holidays. 

Every year, the holidays bring risk to our pets. For the curious, this often includes eating non food items (ribbons, plants, ornaments, etc.), which can cause symptoms ranging from stomach upset, to obstructions requiring emergency surgery. 

Cats commonly ingest ribbons, strings, tinsel. When eaten, we refer to these as linear foreign bodies. These are very dangerous as they can get hung up and cause a drawstring effect on the intestines. One piece of string can damage long portions of intestines and in some cases tear holes in them.

And what holiday season would be complete without food and treats? Anything outside of your pet’s normal diet, especially fatty foods, can cause stomach upset and pancreatitis (a more severe condition that may require hospitalization). Chewing on bones can cause tooth fractures and when eaten can act as a foreign body or cause GI upset. 

Lastly, many of our favorite foods are actually toxic for our pets. 

1. Chocolate – The more pure and darker (cocoa powder and baker’s chocolate), the less it takes to make an animal sick. Mild toxicities cause stomach upset but more severe cases can cause heart arrhythmias, seizures and death.

2. Onions, Garlic, Chives, Leeks – Mild cases cause stomach upset, but severe cases lead to anemia 

3. Grapes / Raisins – Toxicity is unpredictable. This means we can’t be sure which pets will or will not get sick. In severe cases, kidney failure occurs and treatment includes hospitalization. 

4. Xylitol – An artificial sweetener used in sugar free gum, but also as a sugar substitute in some desserts. Xylitol toxicity can cause low blood sugar and liver damage and is an emergency. 

5. Alcohol – Signs can include staggering, nausea, drooling, etc and can lead to seizures or coma. 

6. Salt dough ornaments or homemade play dough – Salt toxicity can lead to brain swelling and death.  

7. Medications – With guests and travel during the holiday season, our pets may have access to medications they wouldn’t normally. If traveling with your pet, be sure to research nearby emergency veterinary clinics just in case. 

This list isn’t all inclusive and when in doubt, leave it out of your pet’s holiday experience!