Winter holiday pet safety

A man and woman lounge on their couch with their dog in front of a Christmas tree

November and December abounds with holiday celebrations, and nothing can spoil good cheer like an emergency trip to the veterinary clinic. These tips can help keep your winter holiday season from becoming not-so-happy—for your pet and for you.

Plan in advance

Make sure you know how to get to your 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic before there's an emergency. Talk with your veterinarian in advance to find out where you would need to take your pet, and plan your travel route so you're not trying to find your way when stressed. Always keep these numbers posted in an easy-to-find location in case of emergencies:

  • Your veterinarian's clinic phone number
  • 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic (if different)
  • ASPCA Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661


Keep people food away from pets, and instruct everyone else to do the same. If you want to share holiday treats with your pets, make or buy treats formulated just for them. The following people foods are especially dangerous for pets:

  • Chocolate is an essential part of holidays for many people, but it is toxic to dogs and cats. It's safest to consider all chocolate off limits for pets, even though the harm it can cause varies based on the type of chocolate, the size of your pet, and the amount eaten.
  • Other sweets and baked goods also should be kept out of reach. Not only are they often too rich for pets; they may contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which has been linked to liver failure and death in dogs.
  • Table scraps – including gravy, sauces, dressing, and meat or poultry fat or skin – should be kept away from pets. During the holidays, when our own diets tend toward extra-rich foods, table scraps can be especially hard for pets to digest and can cause pancreatitis. Bones can cause choking or intestinal blockage. Plus, many foods that are healthy for people are poisonous to pets, including onions, raisins, and grapes.
  • Unbaked yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating.

Quick action can save lives. Signs that your pet may have eaten something they shouldn't include sudden behavior changes, depression, pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your pet has any of these signs, call your veterinarian or nearest veterinary emergency clinic immediately. You may also want to call the ASPCA Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661); note that a fee may apply.


Holiday plants, lights, candles, and other decorations can make the holidays festive, but they also pose risky temptations for our pets.

A man holds a dog during a Diwali celebration
  • Ornaments can cause hazards for pets. Breakable ornaments can cause injuries, and swallowed ornaments can cause intestinal blockage or illness. Keep any ornaments, including those made from salt-based dough or other food-based materials, out of reach of pets.
  • Tinsel, ribbons, wreaths, and other decorative materials also can be tempting for pets to play with and eat. These items whether swallowed in whole or in part can cause choking or intestinal blockage.
  • Christmas trees can tip over if pets climb on them or try to play with the lights and ornaments. Consider tying your tree to the ceiling or a doorframe using fishing line to secure it.
  • Water additives for Christmas trees can be hazardous to your pets if swallowed. Avoid adding anything to the water for your tree if you have pets in the house.
  • Electric lights can cause burns when a curious pet chews the electrical cords.
  • Candles and oil lamps are attractive to pets as well as people. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle or lamp; it could result in a fire.
  • Flowers and festive plants can result in an emergency veterinary visit if your pet gets hold of them. Poinsettias, amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar, and holly are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets who eat them. The ASPCA offers lists of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats.
  • Potpourris should be kept out of reach of inquisitive pets. Liquid potpourris pose risks because they contain essential oils and other ingredients that can severely damage your pet's mouth, eyes and skin. Non-liquid potpourris containing flowers, leaves, bark, herbs, and/or spices could cause problems if eaten.

Hosting parties and visitors

Visitors can upset pets, as can the noise and excitement of holiday parties and any celebratory fireworks. Even pets that aren't normally shy may become nervous in the hubbub that can accompany a holiday gathering. The following tips will reduce emotional stress on your pet and protect your guests from possible injury.

A woman looks at her pet bird with holiday lights in the background
  • All pets should have access to a comfortable, quiet place indoors if they want to retreat. Make sure your pet has a room or crate somewhere away from the commotion, where your guests won't follow, that your pet can go to anytime they want to get away.
  • Inform your guests ahead of time that you have pets or if other guests may be bringing pets to your house. Guests with allergies or weakened immune systems (due to pregnancy, disease, or medications/ treatments that suppress the immune system) need to be aware of the pets (especially exotic pets) in your home so they can take any needed precautions to protect themselves.
  • Guests with pets? If guests ask to bring their own pets and you don't know how the pets will get along, you can either politely decline their request or plan to spend some time helping the pets to get to know each other, supervising their interactions, monitoring for signs of a problem, and taking action to avoid injuries to pets or people.
  • Pets that are nervous around visitors should be put it in another room or a crate with a favorite toy. If your pet is particularly upset by houseguests, talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions to this common problem.
  • Exotic pets make some people uncomfortable and may themselves be more easily stressed by gatherings. Keep exotic pets safely away from the holiday hubbub.
  • Watch the exits. Even if your pets are comfortable around guests, make sure you watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving your home. While you're welcoming hungry guests and collecting coats, a four-legged family member may make a break for it out the door and become lost.
  • Identification tags and microchips reunite families. Make sure your pet has proper identification with your current contact information – particularly a microchip with registered up-to-date, information. That way, if your pet does sneak out, they're more likely to be returned to you. If your pet isn't already microchipped, talk to your veterinarian about the benefits of this simple procedure.
  • Clear the food from your table, counters and serving areas when you are done using them and make sure the trash gets put where your pet can't reach it. A carcass or large quantity of meat sitting out on the carving table, or left in a trash container that is easily opened, could endanger your pet if eaten. Dispose of carcasses and bones – and anything used to wrap or tie the meat, such as strings, bags and packaging – in a covered, tightly secured trash bag placed in a closed trash container outdoors (or behind a closed, locked door).
  • Trash also should be cleared away where pets can't reach it – especially sparkly ribbon and other packaging or decorative items that could be tempting for your pet to play with or eat.

When you leave the house

  • Unplug decorations while you're not around. Cats, dogs and other pets are often tempted to chew electrical cords.
  • Take out the trash to make sure your pets can't get to it, especially if it contains any food or food scraps.

Holiday travel

Whether you take your pets with you or leave them behind, take these precautions to safeguard them whenever you're traveling. Learn more about traveling with pets.

  • Interstate and international travel regulations require any pet you bring with you to have a health certificate from your veterinarian – even if you are traveling by car. Learn the requirements for any states or countries you will visit or pass through, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to get the needed certificate within the timeframes required by those destinations. (Even Santa's reindeer need to get health certificates for their annual flight around the world!)
  • Pets in vehicles should always be safely restrained and should never be left alone in the car in any weather. Proper restraint means using a secure harness or a carrier, placed in a location clear of airbags. Never transport your pet in the bed of a truck.
  • If you're traveling by air and considering bringing your pet with you, talk with your veterinarian first. Certain pets, such as short-nosed dogs and cats, may have difficulty with air travel. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you regarding your own pet's ability to travel.
  • Pack for your pet as well as yourself if you're going to travel together. In addition to your pet's food and medications, this includes bringing copies of their medical records, information to help identify your pet if they become lost, first aid supplies, and other items. Refer to our Traveling with Your Pet FAQ for a more complete list.
  • Boarding your dog while you travel? Talk with your veterinarian to find out whether and how to protect your pet from canine flu and other contagious diseases, and to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines.