UC Davis Veterinarian: Avoid giving your pets these Christmas foods

UC Davis Veterinarian: Avoid giving your pets these Christmas foods

It is almost a different nature to want to grab your pet and have them take pictures next to your new holiday decorations. Or maybe give them a little bit of your remaining Christmas dinner and pumpkin pie. After all, they are like family and should see what the Christmas spirit is all about – right?

Not exactly. According to PetMD, a pet health information site that collaborates with veterinarians, some holiday foods are dangerous for pets.

Some common plants and decorations often used around the winter season are also unsafe for dogs and cats, according to Robert Poppenga, a veterinary clinical toxicologist with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine.

When we fall for the holidays, here are some of the best things you will avoid giving to your furry friends:


The mistletoe is great for kissing under, but as a snack, not so much. These plants have lectins and phoratoxins, which can cause low blood pressure and decreased heart rate if ingested in large amounts, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and difficulty breathing.


Holly, another common winter decoration, can be harmful to your four-legged friends. Its green leaves and berries have chemicals known as saponins. If ingested, dogs and cats can drool, vomit and lose appetite, according to the FDA.

Baking chocolate

Pet owners may eventually know that chocolate is a big no-no for dogs and cats. But according to Poppenga, baking chocolate is especially problematic.

“It has theobromine and caffeine,” he said, adding that these ingredients are in higher concentrations in baking chocolate than in milk chocolate.

Even as little as two one-ounce squares of baking chocolate can be toxic to a 20-pound dog, according to PetMD.

Poppenga said consumption of theobromine and caffeine can increase heart rate, cause animals to be hyperexcitable and, in extreme cases, cause severe muscle tremors and cramps.

Grapes, raisins and currants

If you have bowls of grapes, raisins or currants or have baked goods with these fruits, you want to make sure that it is out of reach of your pet.

Grapes, raisins and Zante currants can cause kidney failure in animals. And black, red and white currants can cause upset stomachs if your pet ingests large amounts.

Desserts with Xylitol

Xylitol is a common sugar-free sweetener or sugar alcohol. You can find this ingredient in sugar-free ice cream, mint and baked goods.

If a dog eats Xylitol, Poppenga said they will experience low blood sugar, weakness and potential liver damage.

It can also cause seizures, incoordination and decreased activity, according to the FDA.

Twisted decorations

Candles, tinsel, ribbons and any kind of leash decoration can be a problem for cats, Poppenga said. If cats try to swallow these items, it can cause gastrointestinal problems if caught in the gastrointestinal tract.

If your pet got to it first

The holidays can get busy. While preparing dinners, decorating or hosting guests, your pet may accidentally grab your holly or eat your chocolate pie.

If you suspect that your dog or cat has eaten something it should not or is experiencing symptoms, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661.

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Hanh Truong is a reporter at The Sacramento Bee’s help desk. She was a former freelance journalist and covered education and culture for PBS SoCal and music for buzzbands.la.


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