The holidays are a time for merriment and festivities, but they also bring numerous potential dangers for pets. We’ve rounded up the various hazards so you can prepare and ensure your pets have a safe holiday season. 

But we also know accidents happen, which is why VCA offers free 24/7 Live Chat with a licensed veterinary professional through the myVCA app. “We give owners peace of mind by providing compassionate support and professional guidance any time of the day, every day of the year,” says Dr. Lisa Maniscalco, Virtual Care Manager.

While calling Poison Control is recommended for pets eating something harmful like human medication, virtual care technicians can help guide pet owners on what to do in many situations. “We help them decide whether they can monitor their pet or if they need to call their vet or go to the emergency room,” says Dr. Maniscalco. 

“We had chats on Thanksgiving about dogs literally stealing raw turkeys off the counter and eating them,” says Rachel Turner, Virtual Care Technician. These veterinary professionals can then help assess what pet owners should do for the pet’s safety.

In terms of holiday pet dangers, Dr. Sarah Hoggan, Medical Director for VCA California Veterinary Specialists-Murrieta, classifies them into three different categories: Toxic, Traumatic, and Environmental. Dr. Hoggan oversees emergency and critical care services and shared with us the main threats to be aware of below. 


Chocolate- Chocolate can be poisonous to animals. Whether it’s cookies on the counter, treats set out on coffee tables, or even wrapped chocolate under the tree, dogs can often find and ingest chocolate that’s pervasive during the holidays.

Human food- “If there's a meat and cheese tray out or hors d'oeuvres, dogs can certainly get into those and eat things that are far too rich for them to be able to digest,” says Dr. Hoggan.

Plants- Holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, amaryllis, and lilies are dangerous to pets. 

Alcohol- Rich cocktails or spirits (such as Bailey's Irish Cream) may have a sweet and milky component that overpowers the alcohol fragrance and can be attractive to dogs, but alcohol is still a poison.

Medication and supplements- Prescription medication, supplements, and medical marijuana all pose a threat to pets. Ask any guests to secure these items, as dogs often like to chew on plastic pill bottles and are attracted to medical marijuana in the form of edibles. 

Tree water- Preservatives and bacteria can be found in the water of Christmas tree stands and can make pets sick.


Electrical Cords- Pets will chew on electrical cords, which can result in a serious oral burn, as well as significant electric shock injury. “The electricity damages their lungs, and their lungs fill with fluid, so they can't breathe and they have to be hospitalized,” says Dr. Hoggan.

Decorations/wrapping- Ornaments can be eaten or broken, resulting in injury, so it’s best to block access to the tree from pets and use shatter-proof ornaments. Tinsel, string, and ribbon are all often ingested and can cause severe internal damage.

Batteries- “With all of those Christmas toys, a punctured battery could become a punctured intestinal tract,” says Dr. Lisa Maniscalco.

Knocking tree over- Dogs and cats can knock the tree over and have it fall on themselves. 

Bags- Dogs can get into chip bags that are left out and end up suffocating.


Pets fighting- When families and friends gather, they may think it’s a good idea to bring the pets along, but pets that don’t know each other can fight. “That can be a very dangerous situation because you're bringing one pet that may not know the other pet into that animal's territory, and that can turn into a territorial fight,” says Dr. Hoggan. “And if it's big dog versus little dog, those can be fatal encounters. Or if it's big dog versus unknown cat, that can be a fatal.” 

Visitors- Human visitors can also pose a threat or lead to pets biting. Children should especially be made aware to not get in the pet’s face, put small animals on high beds, or touch them unwantedly. If a dog has voluntarily gone to its own bed or crate, it means that dog should be left alone. “It's not acceptable to allow a child to drag that dog out of that crate to play because the dog is saying, ‘I need a break. I can't handle this,’” says Dr. Hoggan.

Banishment- If guests are uncomfortable with pets, dogs should not be put outdoors in cold weather if they aren’t used to it. Additionally, owners should be aware that putting dogs in a room by themselves can be interpreted as a major form of punishment as they are social animals. 

Pet anxiety- Anything outside of the pet’s normal routine may cause anxiety, including house guests or traveling. Consult your vet beforehand to talk about possible medications. 

Frozen water- If dogs are spending time outside, owners must be sure their water bowls don’t freeze and eliminate their source of water.

The ASPCA emergency Animal Poison Control Center hotline is available 24/7 at (888) 426-4435.

“In terms of holiday pet dangers, Dr. Sarah Hoggan classifies them into three different categories: Toxic, Traumatic, and Environmental.”