Critter Buzz: Avoid an emergency trip to the vet this holiday season

The holidays bring great fun, time with family and, of course, great food. But what happens when your dog gets that little fatty treat you think he or she deserves? Your mind might wander to weight gain first, but there are a variety of other significant problems that can occur.

Fatty foods

Dogs can be very sensitive to sudden changes in diet. Not all dogs are affected, but for those that are, even the smallest fatty treat — like turkey skin — can result in vomiting and diarrhea.

A far more serious threat to your pet’s health is pancreatitis, which can also result from your pet eating fatty foods. While the cause of pancreatitis is not always known, it can sometimes be triggered by ingestion of a fatty meal.

The pancreas is a vital organ that performs many functions in the body, including the production of various hormones such as insulin and digestive enzymes. When the pancreas is functioning normally, digestive enzymes remain inactive and are ported directly to the intestine, where they activate to help digest food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, these enzymes activate in the pancreas and surrounding area, causing damage and inflammation. This condition causes nausea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and lack of appetite. If the pancreatitis is severe, the pancreas may become so damaged that diabetes and/or the inability to digest food can become a permanent problem. Occasionally, these attacks can be so severe that they can result in sudden heart failure and death.


Chocolate is always around during the holidays, too, and animals — especially dogs — like to get into it. Chocolate contains a lot of fat and sugar that can lead to — you guessed it — pancreatitis. It also contains a substance called methylxanthine theobromine, which is toxic to animals. It can cause a multitude of problems including vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination, a racing heart rate, muscle spasms and, occasionally, seizures. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain more theobromine than milk chocolate, and animals that consume enough dark chocolate can be at risk of sudden death due to heart failure. If you suspect that your pet has consumed any chocolate, call your veterinarian to find out what to do.

Poinsettia and mistletoe

Poinsettia plants are only mildly toxic, causing vomiting and diarrhea, whereas mistletoe is very toxic, causing vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, difficulty walking, collapse, seizures and sometimes sudden death.

Fir trees and wreaths

Holiday fir trees are mildly toxic and can cause mild signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. Their needles are sharp and can damage the intestines if ingested. Finally, additives designed to preserve holiday trees can be toxic, so a covered tree stand is the best option.

Protect your furry family members by keeping these substances away from them, and do not make the mistake of giving your pet that fatty treat that could lead to a trip to the veterinary hospital this holiday season.

What to do

If your pet ingests any of the items listed in this article, contact your veterinarian immediately for recommendations.

In the event that your veterinary hospital is closed, the ASPCA Poison Prevention Hotline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 888-426-4435. A consultation fee may be required.

— Jennifer Stone is the medical director and staff veterinarian at the Lawrence Humane Society. She has been a shelter veterinarian for more than a decade.