A number of holiday plants and treats are dangerous for animals, says Dr Dennis Blodgett, a veterinary toxicologist in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.
Chocolate, for example, contains a caffeine-like substance that is very dangerous for dogs. Two squares of baking chocolate, or just over a pound of milk chocolate, can kill a 20-pound dog, according to Dr Blodgett.
Ingesting mistletoe can cause symptoms ranging from an upset stomach to death, depending upon the amount consumed and the size of the animal. Other dangerous plants include holly berries and Jerusalem cherries. Poinsettias usually only produce mild clinical signs and should generally be considered non-toxic.
Dogs and cats should be kept away from the water in Christmas-tree stands, says Blodgett, since it contains turpentine-like compounds that are dangerous for both dogs and cats, but particularly lethal for cats.
Placing a physical barrier such as a screen or tree skirt is the best preventive measure that can be taken.
Cold weather associated with the holiday season can also pose problems. Automobile-owners changing their own antifreeze should always make sure the toxic substance is kept away from pets. While dogs and cats are attracted to the substance because of its sweet smell and taste, its active ingredient, ethylene glycol, can cause massive kidney damage and death if ingested.
Since a few minutes can often mean the difference between life and death with regard to poisonings, pet-owners should contact their local veterinarian quickly if they suspect their pet has ingested some of these toxic substances.