U of M Veterinarian: From Tinsel to Tree Water, Keep Your Pet Safe this Christmas

Updated: 06/19/2015 3:52 PM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste

Photo: KSTP Photo/Leslie Dyste

With Christmas quickly approaching it's important to remember to pay extra attention to your four-legged friends.

KSTP.com spoke with Dr. Kristi Flynn of the U of M Veterinary Medical Center who says sweets, tinsel and even your house guests can be dangerous to your pets.


All ornaments and holiday decor are dangerous for pets when they are ingested. Flynn warns tinsel can be especially bad. If a pet eats tinsel it may result in a surgical emergency that could be deadly. She says she generally sees this problem in cats.

You'll also want to stop your pet from lapping up Christmas tree water. They should be fine, but if the water is stagnant it can cause intestinal problems. 

Sweets and Food

If your dog eats sweets it could cause pancreatitis, which could be life threatening. Flynn warns sugar-free gum and sugar-free candy containing xylitol is very dangerous to pets.

You'll also want to keep chocolate away from your dog. Flynn says dark chocolate is the most toxic kind. If a large dog eats a small amount of milk chocolate, it should be OK, according to Flynn. If a small breed consumes chocolate Flynn says to contact a veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline right away. She says there is a charge for the call, but they are available 24 hours a day.

Many pet owners are tempted to share part of their holiday dinner with their pup. Flynn says it's OK to share as long as you're careful to avoid fatty foods. She suggests sharing small pieces of meat without skin and gravy, or small pieces of sweet potato without the butter and marshmallows.

House Guests

From open doors to hidden candy, guests can bring dangers into your household. Flynn suggests talking with your guests to make sure they don't have any candy in bags that your pet could get into. You'll also want to remind them to keep doors closed because even the best-behaved pet can make a run for it.

Dogs can also get anxious with new people in their home. Flynn suggests putting them in a comfortable room with a treat like a rubber Kong filled with sweet potato. For pets with extreme anxiety she says you may want to talk to a veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication for your pet during the holidays.

Winter Weather Dangers

Salt on sidewalks and roadways can cause some problems for your pet. While salt is not toxic to dogs, it can be very uncomfortable. Flynn says dogs can get a 'thermal burn feeling.'

Luckily, it won't do long-term damage. The uncomfortable feeling will stop after the salt is washed off of your pup's paws, and there are 'pet safe' salt products that may be less irritating.

Flynn says a pair of dog booties are your dog's best defense against the salt. She says fleece booties are fine for dogs to wear out in the snow, and there are also some 'non-slip' options.

If pets eat the salt, or lick their paws- there's not really a cause for concern. Flynn says the small amount of salt won't harm their health.

Hypothermia is a concern for pets, especially in smaller breeds. Flynn recommends staying with your dog when they go outside, to make sure you remember to let them in. She says tragedies are often caused due to miscommunication between family members on who is letting the pet back inside.

Oftentimes pet owners resort to bundling their dog up to stay warm, but is it really necessary? Flynn says sweaters and jackets are a good option to keep your pet comfortable, especially in short-haired breeds. The clothing can help keep the core of your dog warmer.

Flynn recommends making the sweater or jacket a positive experience by giving your pup treats while they're wearing it.

Cats also face their share of risks in cold weather. She says cats often wander into neighbor's garages for warmth. They can also find themselves in trouble when they crawl into the hood of a car to stay warm.

Send your holiday and winter pet photos to pics@KSTP.com.