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

Tinsel and 11 other common holiday hazards for pets

Christmas globes. Shake 'em and get a serene winter's scene. Break 'em and a lapping dog or cat can quickly die from ingesting the liquid. It often contains ethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze that causes kidney failure and brain damage.

Holiday dinner. Fatty foods such as ham, pork chops, turkey skin and gravy commonly trigger vomiting and diarrhea in dogs but can also trigger a severe — and possibly fatal — inflammation of the pancreas. When eaten by dogs and cats, onions, garlic, chives and leeks cause anemia and red blood cells to rupture; look for lethargy, pale gums and rapid breathing and heart rate. Mouth irritation and gastrointestinal distress are other results.

Alcohol. Dogs will drink what you give them — and that should never include beer, wine or other spirits. Canines can't hold their liquor — literally. Liver damage or coma can result. Cats are generally teetotalers but they are curious, so beware.

Chocolate. Yes, any type is harmful to dogs, who are inherently attracted to the smell and taste, notes the Pet Poison Hotline, "but the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more poisonous it is." Baker's chocolate is riskiest (just 2 ounces can severely sicken a 50-pound dog), followed by dark, milk and white varieties. "It depends on type and amount consumed, and body weight of the dog, but I have seen some die from eating chocolate," notes Rector.

Gifts and wrapping. What self-respecting dog — along with some curious cats — won't tear into a present for sport? The problem comes when they mistake the contents for food. Splintered toy and styrofoam pieces can get lodged in the stomach, requiring emergency surgery. Chewed batteries leak acid, causing serious internal burns. Ink from wrapping paper comes up as easily as it went down; expect vomiting. And if ribbon is ingested, surgery could be required.

Other holiday plants. Poinsettias may be out of the woods, but be careful about other festive foliage: "When eaten by cats, lilies — including amaryllis — cause kidney failure and possible death," notes Rector. Holly can damage the stomach and intestines of dogs and cats. Red azaleas and paper whites should also be avoided.

Also of interest: Caring for pets of the homeless. >>

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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