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Common Toxicites During the Holiday Season

By Dr. Joe Ecker

The holiday season is a time for people to come together and celebrate. For our canine and feline companions the holidays are often a time to get into mischief. Here are a few common foods to keep away from our beloved family pets during the holidays.


Just like people, dogs love chocolate. Unfortunately for dogs, chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both classified as methylxanthines. Dogs are sensitive to the effects of methylxanthines. Depending on the amount and type, chocolate ingestion can lead to hyperactivity, increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, and potentially death. Other effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, increased urination, and lethargy. The amount of methylxanthines varies with the type of chocolate, however a general rule is that the darker the chocolate, the more it will affect our canine companions. Early treatment is paramount to a successful outcome. Treatment usually consists of inducing vomiting followed by administration of activated charcoal to reduce intestinal absorption. Depending on your dog’s clinical signs, hospitalization with supportive care may be recommended.


While a small piece of turkey can be an exciting treat for your dog, when ingested in large quantities turkey can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and moderate to severe pancreatitis. Vomiting and diarrhea can usually be treated supportively on an outpatient basis, whereas pancreatitis can be a painful experience for your pet and may require several days of hospitalization and supportive care. Severe cases of pancreatitis may even be fatal.

Moldy Foods

Moldy foods may contain tremorgenic mycotoxins, a neurotoxin which can induce muscle tremors, drunken behavior, and convulsions. Intoxications have been reported in several species, however dogs that roam around in the backyard or have access to spoiled foods are at increased risk. Treatment goals following ingestion of spoiled or moldy foods include minimizing absorption through induction vomiting, administration of activated charcoal, and providing supportive care with intravenous fluids and muscle relaxants if needed. With early and aggressive treatment, the overall prognosis is very good.

Bread Dough

Dogs that ingest rising bread dough can be in life-threatening danger. Your dog’s body heat will cause the dough to raise in the stomach, often several times its original size.  Ethanol can be produced from the dough and signs you may notice include severe abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, incoordination, and depression. Treatment for asymptomatic dogs involves inducing vomiting. Some dogs with large bloated stomachs can be experiencing pain from this distension, and pain medications are needed to make our patients comfortable. In some cases surgery is required to remove the large lump of bread dough from the stomach.

Grapes and Raisins

Ingestion of grapes or raisins can lead to kidney failure in dogs. The quantity of grapes or raisins that can cause failure is not exactly known; therefore ANY amount may potentially be dangerous. Treatment includes inducing vomiting and administration of activated charcoal, followed by intravenous fluid administration in hospital for at least 48 hours. During hospitalization, kidney parameters are routinely monitored and therapy is adjusted accordingly.


Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute found in many sugar-free gums, candies, and other foods. Dogs are sensitive to xylitol, as ingestion of a small quantity can lead to rapid and life threatening hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.  Larger doses have been associated with liver failure and blood clotting abnormalities. Treatment is aimed at providing supportive care to maintain normal blood sugar levels and supportive treatment for liver failure.


Lilies that may be found in holiday flower arrangements could be deadly to your cat. Many types of lily can cause kidney failure in cats. Typical signs your cat may show after lily ingestion include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, tremors, seizures, increased thirst, increased or decreased urine output. If you suspect that your cat has ingested any part of the lily plant, you should seek immediate veterinary care for the best chance of a successful outcome. Treatment includes aggressive intravenous fluid therapy and protection of the gastrointestinal tract. In severe cases, dialysis may be recommended.

Please remember that most toxicities in our pets can be avoided through simple precautionary measures. If you found your pet has ingested something potentially toxic, please do not hesitate to contact the clinic, or an emergency clinic after hours. The ACPCA Animal Poison Control Center is also an excellent resource and can be contacted 24-hours a day, 7-days a week at 888.426.4435. 

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