Tips for Avoiding an Emergency Visit to the Vet During the Holidays


There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the year 2020 is destined to stand out in history. In animal care circles however, 2020 has stood out as the year of the pet.

As Americans sought companionship in a new era of social distancing and working from home, pet ownership rocketed to all time highs. Adoptions are up throughout the country, and both shelters and sellers report long waiting lists for puppies and kittens ​.

As the holidays approach in a year which has led us to question the wisdom of large family gatherings, many Americans will find themselves cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. And while they may be preparing downsized affairs, some of these budding home chefs will be sharing their kitchens with mischievous, adolescent puppies and kittens.

Blocking Fluffy’s access to the following holiday hazards can keep your teenaged fur baby out of trouble - and out of the emergency clinic - on Black Friday.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions belong to the allium family, a type of plant that while beneficial for humans, is not tolerated by dogs and cats. Other common foods in this category include shallots, leeks, chives, scallions, and Chinese onions.

Pets that ingest these foods often suffer from gastrointestinal distress. When larger amounts are consumed, a life-threatening condition called Heinz body anemia can develop.

Clinical signs include lethargy, inappetence, pale gums, hyperventilation, and collapse. Heinz body anemia is fatal if not treated, so make sure any holiday treats do not include onions or garlic.

Bear in mind that the highest concentrations of both are often found in seasoning packets. In addition to tasting great, these crinkly wonders are irresistible playthings.

Sugar-Free Sweets

Many sugar-free mints, candies, chewing gums and baked goods contain a sweetener called Xylitol. This naturally occurring compound is derived from the birch tree, and is often marketed as a safe, natural alternative to sugar.

Pets who ingest even small amounts of Xylitol experience sudden, dramatic drops in their blood sugar. While the most obvious clinical sign of Xylitol toxicity is seizures, many pets can also experience vomiting, lethargy, weakness, collapse, and death.

Xylitol toxicity is nearly always fatal, and pets who survive the initial crisis may still be at risk for liver damage and blood clotting disorders.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Xylitol is the sheer number of products in which it is found. In addition to products that are clearly marked as sugar-free, it is used to sweeten toothpaste, mouthwash, kids’ vitamins, supplements, fish oil capsules, and over-the-counter medications.

Bottom line - anything marketed for human consumption should never be given to pets without first consulting your veterinarian. And since many products containing Xylitol are often found in ladies’ handbags, make sure your dinner guests stash their purses well out of Fluffy’s reach.


Our geriatric dachshund will magically forget about her aching back and defy the laws of gravity in her attempts to knock over a bottle of beer. While our guests think it’s hilarious, alcohol toxicity is one of the leading causes of holiday visits to the emergency clinic. Symptoms include respiratory depression and liver damage, so keep any adult beverages away from your pet.


As a general rule,the texture of nuts and seeds make them difficult to digest. Certain types such as walnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts can contain a toxin produced by a common species of mold.

Additionally nuts are naturally high in fat, and even these “good fats” can lead to pancreatitis in companion animals. Macadamia nuts have been linked to lethargy, weakness, tremors and seizures in dogs with a history of ingestion.

While researchers have yet to identify the compound that causes these symptoms, the connection has been proven definitively.


In addition to caffeine, chocolate contains a substance called theobromine which is toxic to dogs and cats. Clinical signs of theobromine toxicity include vomiting, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle rigidity, elevated body temperature, and seizures.

While all chocolate can create problems, a general rule is the darker the chocolate, the greater the threat. Baking chocolate and cocoa powder are particularly dangerous.

Cooking Debris

Cooking twine, turkey bones, discarded fat, foil pans, and greasy paper towels are just a few of the reasons veterinary emergency clinics are busy on Black Friday.

Make sure garbage bags are off the floor and out of reach. Secure garbage bins, and clear countertops as soon as possible. If your dog is crate trained or your kitty is happy in a separate room, you may want to consider keeping them out of the kitchen altogether.

The Most Important Tip Of All

Have a safe and wonderful holiday! Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at NBC 6 South Florida and Sabal Chase Animal Clinic!

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.

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