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How Not to Kill Your Dog (or Cat) at Christmas

Tinsel and 11 other common holiday hazards for pets

In this season of ho-ho-ho, perhaps the last place you want to go-go-go is to a veterinary hospital. But that's the unfortunate emergency destination for thousands of pet owners each year. But don't blame poinsettias. Despite a reputation as highly toxic, the holiday versions of these popular plants cause only mild mouth or stomach irritation when eaten by pets, says veterinarian Megan Rector of the VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Colorado.

See also: 8 myths about pet care.

Reindeer dog - the holidays can be hazardous to your pets

Keep your furry friends away from toxic foods and decorations during the holidays. — Photo by David Skernick/Getty Images

It's the other traditional Christmas decorations and foods that can turn yuletide into crueltide for dogs and cats. Here are the dangerous dozen:

Fruitcake. A treat (or not) for you, it's potentially deadly for dogs. The grapes, raisins and currants can cause kidney failure, warns the Pet Poison Hotline. Rum-soaked varieties can trigger dangerous drops in blood pressure and body temperature and possibly respiratory failure.

Potpourri. If it's dried, expect only mild gastrointestinal upset. But liquid forms — whose scent can attract cats — can be life-threatening. "It burns their mouth and … their esophagus," says Rector. Liquid potpourri can stick to paws and irritate skin and eyes after a cat grooms itself.

Mistletoe. When eaten, it most commonly causes nausea and vomiting, but don't kiss off the potential danger of a sudden and dangerous drop in blood pressure and heart rate that this cardiac depressant can sometimes cause, Rector adds.

Christmas lights. The rubber coating of cords makes for a welcome chew toy. But resulting electrical shock can cause burns of the mouth, gums and tongue, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart rhythm, loss of consciousness, and possibly death.

Tinsel. Most cats and some dogs can't resist playing with it. Eating it risks cuts in the mouth, under the tongue and throughout the intestines.

Tree preservatives. Store-bought products to extend a tree's life — or even sugar water put in a tree stand — can harbor dangerous bacteria, causing vomiting and diarrhea. And "adding aspirin or Tylenol to tree water, as many people do, is very toxic to cats and dogs who drink it," warns Rector. A cardboard cover or blanket over the water may prevent problems.

Next: Dogs, cats should avoid these fatty foods. >>

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