5 Holiday Toxins Your Dog Should Avoid

Veterinarian Vanessa Yeager discusses the top 5 most common dangers to your dog this holiday season. Learn about the deadly side effects of ingesting raisins, chocolate, antifreeze, and other harmful substances.

QDT Editor
4-minute read

dog with cookiesShould my dog be eating that?

This is a common question nearly every pet owner apprehensively contemplates at some point, especially around the holidays. 

This time of year, more goodies whipped up in the kitchen mistakenly fall to the floor and are quickly whisked away by your four-legged vacuum cleaner. Having a gaggle of relatives and friends over for festive holiday parties consumes our attention, leaving the family dog up to his own devices. This can spell disaster for your pet.

See also: Doggy Behavioral Safety During the Holidays


There are a lot of potentially toxic substances out there. In fact, anything can be toxic - even water! Excessive water consumption can cause cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) and this can be lethal. Of course, achieving water-induced toxicity is incredibly difficult as you would need to consume several liters of water in a short amount of time, but it can happen.

The point is that overabundance of anything (no matter how innocent) can cause serious damage for your pet.

Here are the top 5 holiday toxins you should know about, why they're toxic, and what you should do if your pet gets his paws on them:

Holiday Toxin #1: Chocolate

Chocolate toxicity is probably the most frequently reported toxicity in dogs year round (the Animal Poison Control Center averages about 22 calls per day on chocolate alone).

But it's especially common around major holidays like Christmas and Easter. Whether it’s in a wrapper, hidden in a stocking, or laying out in a festive bowl on the coffee table, you (as well as your dog) may be tempted to grab a taste. While we can indulge the occasional chocolate craving (yes, even Nutrition Diva says so), our dogs simply cannot.

Ask the Diva: Best Way to Fight Chocolate Cravings?


All types of chocolate are potentially toxic to dogs (including white chocolate), as they all are comprised of varying levels of cocoa and cocoa contains a stimulant called theobromine. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, making dark chocolate potentially more toxic than milk chocolate depending on how much is ingested.

Theobromine can be toxic in dogs because it's not metabolized as quickly by their livers as it is in humans. Dog livers take about twice as long to metabolize theobromine than humans do, so it sits around in their blood stream longer, causing gastrointestinal disturbances and can lead to seizures if left untreated.

Holiday Toxin #2: Raisins

These yummy dried fruits often make their way into a variety of holiday dishes, including fruitcake, cookies, stuffing, and other delights. That's why pet owners are often left scratching their heads when asked by the vet as to how many raisins were in the dessert that the family dog gobbled down while left unattended in the kitchen.

Raisins, through some unknown mechanism, can cause kidney failure in dogs. The exact cause has been stumping veterinarians for years, but the fact is that it only takes a small amount to cause toxicity.  

For instance, a tiny 1.5 oz snack box of raisins is enough to be potentially problematic in a 30-pound dog. And not all dogs that consume raisins will develop kidney issues. It all depends on how many raisins were consumed and how much the dog weighs.

Holiday Toxin #3: Poinsettia Plants

santa and puppy

These guys have gotten a bad reputation over the years, but in fact, they're not really something to get your tinsel in a twist about.

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias aren’t actually as toxic as they are made out to be. It’s a common misconception that poinsettia plants are lethal. They really aren’t.

The do contain mildly irritating sap from their leaves that may cause some minor gastrointestinal upset or irritation around the mouth, but it seldom requires treatment and will usually just resolve itself.