Dublin vets highlight some Christmas Hazards for your pet

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service have published some excellent advice to help you keep your pets safe and well this Christmas:

Christmas can be a busy and chaotic time with large quantities of food and presents left unattended. Curious pets, particularly dogs, may investigate and eat gifts (including edible ones) left under the tree, food in the kitchen or chew on plants decorating the house.



If there are dogs in the household or visiting over Christmas do not put any chocolate under or on the Christmas tree; the temptation may be too great. Chocolate contains a chemical very similar to caffeine, which dogs do not tolerate very well. White chocolate is generally not a risk but even a relatively small amount of dark chocolate can cause agitation, hyperexcitability, tremors, convulsions and problems with the heart.

Dogs will obviously not unwrap chocolate and can eat a very large quantity. The wrappers are not toxic but could cause obstruction of the gut.

Grapes and dried vine fruits (currants, sultanas, raisins)

Grapes and their dried products (currants, sultanas and raisins) are toxic to dogs. Ingestion of even a small quantity can cause severe kidney failure. Don’t forget this will include food items that contain dried fruits such as Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies. Be aware that chocolate-coated raisins are available so there is the additional risk of chocolate toxicity with these.

Onions (and garlic, leeks, shallots and chives)

Onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives all belong to the Allium species of plants. They can cause toxicity even when cooked. Initially there can be gastrointestinal signs with vomiting and diarrhoea but the main effect is damage to red blood cells resulting in anaemia. This may not be apparent for several days after ingestion. Foods to avoid at Christmas include sage and onion stuffing.


Dogs may help themselves to any alcohol left unattended including wine and liqueurs and it can cause similar signs in them as it does in their owners when drunk in excess. Dogs can become wobbly and drowsy and in severe cases there is a risk of low body temperature, low blood sugar and coma.

Macadamia nuts

Macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, increased body temperature, tremor, lameness and stiffness in dogs. Be aware that chocolate-coated macadamia nuts are available so there is also a risk of chocolate toxicity with these.


If there is any food left over at Christmas, be careful to dispose of it promptly and appropriately. Mouldy food (including yoghurt, bread and cheese) can contain toxins produced by the mould that cause rapid onset convulsions in dogs.


Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Poinsettia has the reputation of being a toxic plant, but this has been greatly exaggerated. It can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach with hypersalivation and sometimes vomiting.

Holly (Ilex species)

Although the plant is considered to be of low toxicity, ingestion of holly berries (Ilex quifolium) may result in gastrointestinal upset.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

The plant is considered to be of low toxicity. It is likely that reports of alarming effects refer to American mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) and not European mistletoe (Viscum album). Ingestion of the berries of European mistletoe may cause gastrointestinal upset.

Christmas Trees

These trees are considered to be of low toxicity. Ingestion may cause a mild gastrointestinal upset
and they could cause mechanical obstruction or physical injury (some needles are sharp).

Ivy (Hedera species)

The ivy used in wreaths and decorations is Hedera helix (not Toxicodendron radicans, the American poison ivy).

Ivy may cause gastrointestinal upset when ingested. Where there is significant or prolonged skin
contact, Hedera species can cause both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis.

Lilies (Lilium species)

Many households will have lilies at Christmas, and all parts of this plant, even the pollen, are extremely toxic to cats and cause severe kidney damage. Lilies are not hazardous to dogs and may cause only mild gastrointestinal upset if ingested.


Silica Gel

Silica gel comes in small sachets and is often found in the packaging of new shoes, handbags, cameras or electrical equipment. Although it is labelled “Do not Eat” it is considered to be of low toxicity

Christmas decorations

Decorations made of plastic, paper or foil are of low toxicity although may obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. Glass decorations could pose the risk of a mechanical injury to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract.

Wrapping or crepe paper

Ingestion may cause staining of the mouth which may look alarming, although the toxicity is considered to be low. Ingestion of a large amount may cause obstruction to the gastrointestinal tract.


Although candles, even scented ones, are considered to be of low toxicity, ingestion could potentially cause obstruction or a choking hazard.

Pot Pourri

Ingestion of pot pourri causes significant gastrointestinal effects in dogs. These may last several
days even after the material has passed through the gut.

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