Holiday safety: avoid the hazards!

This time of year includes lots of shiny, pretty, festive, unusual, and inviting items: from various plants & flowers to fancy foods to beautiful decorations. Whether you are hosting visitors and family or you are the guest at someone else’s place, please be mindful of the many temptations that may be especially hazardous to children and pets.

Securely anchor your Christmas tree so it doesn’t tip and fall, to avoid injuries to children and prevent water spillage. The tree water may contain fertilizers that can cause stomach upset; stagnant tree water is a breeding ground for bacteria and can nausea or diarrhea if your pet drinks it. Holiday floral bouquets can be very enticing to pets and kids. Lilies are the #1 flower often used by florists. Just one or two bites from a lily can result in severe acute kidney failure in cats – even the pollen is thought to be poisonous! Holly, when ingested, can cause pets/kids to suffer nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. Christmas or English holly can result in severe gastrointestinal upset thanks to the spiny leaves and the potentially toxic substances (including saponins, methylxanthines, and cyanogens). Artificial, silk, plastic plants may be a better choice. Discourage visitors from feeding “people” items to your pets. Chocolate, Macadamia nuts, avocados can be quite dangerous. Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Note that darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest level of methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the highest. Macadamia nuts are commonly used in holiday treats. For dogs, these nuts have caused weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia; these signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and last approximately 12 to 48 hours. Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products, including gum, candy, baked goods and toothpaste. In most pets, it can cause increased insulin release which can cause hypoglycemia &/or can lead to liver failure. Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination; can progress to recumbancy and seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days. If you suspect your pet has ingested anything harmful, please note the amount ingested and contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. For other pet hazard information, access:

Remember that the homes you visit may not be childproofed. Keep an eye out for danger spots like unlocked cabinets, unattended purses, accessible cleaning or laundry products, stairways, or hot radiators/heaters. Unless you absolutely need it for the time you are away from home, leave your meds  (OTC & prescription, alike) at home or locked up if you are the host. Too many pills can look like candy & provide too much temptation for children. Sherrill Dunning-Riley, RN, BSN, CEN, CDE reports: “Entering the phrase ‘one pill can kill’ into any Internet search engine will bring up a list of medications that can be fatal to babies, toddlers, and young children. Oral hypoglycemic agents/diabetes meds are on that list. Children are much more likely to find unsecured medications at grandparents’ homes or in the purses or luggage of visitors.” If your celebration includes adult holiday beverages, be sure to place your unattended alcoholic drinks out of reach. The national Poison Help Line is 1-800222-1222. Be sure to keep hot liquids and food away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over by a young child’s exploring hands. Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Do not burn gift wrap paper in the fireplace because a flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

Not just at this time of year, but anytime, the ultimate goal is to spend quality time with family and friends without a tragedy! 


One Response to Holiday safety: avoid the hazards!

  1. OLaughlin, Karen says:

    Thank you for this posting. I will share this with friends.
    Karen O’laughlin

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