Happy Holidays

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Happy Holidays from VIN

excerpts of some veterinary discussions on Veterinary Information Network (VIN)

Common holiday toxicities

Q. Getting to be that time again. I am wondering what folks commonly see in the way of toxicities during the holiday season?

A. Here's one veterinarian's list:

Halloween, Christmas and Easter: Chocolate, complete with foil wrappers

Thanksgiving: turkey bones, and turkey toxicity (closely related to the syndrome in humans: bloated abdomen, inability to rise after the football game, lethargy...)

Christmas: tinsle/ribbon (as a foreign body), batteries, alcohol

And here's another one:

1) Chocolate: Contains the methylxanthines theobromine and caffeine. Less than 2 oz milk choc/kg body weight can cause clinical signs.

2) Some christmas tree extenders contain nitrites/nitrates which can cause oral and GI burns. Usually not enough to cause methemoglobin.

3) Mistletoe: 1 to 2 berries can be fatal. Take possible ingestions seriously -emetic, activated charcoal, saline cathartic, and supportive care.

4) Poinsettia: Nope, they got a bum rap. Other then a gi irritant, they are not toxic unless large quantities are ingested.

5) Ethylene glycol: Lots of antifreeze changes this time of year.

Christmas tree flocking   [Back to Top]

Q. I have a little Maltese dog that has been eating the flocking from a Christmas tree. Does anyone know what is in this stuff and if it is toxic? He is showing no signs, but the owner is in a panic.

A.  Sorry for my ignorance but is the 'flocking' the white snow? If so it's pretty safe stuff but in large quantities can be toxic. I believe it is made of some nasty hydrocarbons - possibly only dangerous when it is fresh and moist.


Holly berries          [Back to Top]

Q. My own dogs are ingesting holly berries from a tree hanging over their dog run. I see them in their vomitus. At certain times the tree sheds many berries into their run and they could potentially eat many. Does anyone know if this tree could pose a health risk to my dogs? My neighbor tells me the tree is toxic to children.

A.  Holly : Ilex spp. Yes, the leaves and especially the berries are toxic. Some references list the bitter principle ilicin as being responsible for the cs. Others attribute the alkaloids theobromine and caffiene (the methylxanthines responsible in chocolate poisoning) as the toxic principle but the cs do not fit these. Signs: GI upset, CNS depression. Tx: if early - emetic followed by activated charcoal and saline cathartic. Otherwise symptomatic and supportive.
Hope this helps some.

Holly berries are known for the ability to cause gastroenteritis in animals. As Mark said, Ilicin (an alkaloid) is responsible. On a comparative basis among the holiday plants, the holly is midway in danger between poinsettia (mild upset gut) and the mistletoe (phoradendron, which causes severe hemorrhagic gastroenteritis). I would suggest that you try to be as tidy as possible in keeping berries out of the runs. FrankGaley

Pine needles       [Back to Top]

Q.  OK, tell me. Are pine needles actually toxic to cats or are they just GI irritants?

A.  It may depend on which pine you're referring to. The pines with known toxicity are the western yellow pine (pinus ponderosa) and the loblolly pine(pinus taeda). The needles from these trees are known to cause abortion in grazing cattle and death in cows if secondary complications go untreated. From lab studies, the toxin has some sort of antiestrgenic activity. Some suspect it may be a mycotoxin.

I believe the White Pine that is abundant in my neck of the woods (NC) does not have this toxicity. These needles do however contain resins that would cause gi irritation along with the physical properties of the needles. This is common among many plants however. The christmas poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) for instance really got a bum rap. Experimental studies with rats failed to produce a toxicosis other then gi irritation from the plants natural resins. Hope this helped you some


Technically, they are primarily irritants. I suppose that theoretically, an animal could get enough pine oil to run into a narcosis or pulmonary problem, but that's pretty unlikely. In general, those things are more of a concern with the concentrated pine OIL products, not needles. Pine needles do have a compound, isocupressic acid, that can cause abortions in cattle, but I am unaware of any problems in pregnant small animals or other monogastrics.