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KNOXVILLE –- As joyous as the holiday season is for humans, it can be dog-gone dangerous for pets, according to veterinarians at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

It’s important to keep your pets in mind when celebrating the holidays, said Dr. Amy Holford, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the vet school.

Glass tree ornaments and tinsel can be dangerous. Eating poinsettias can be irritating to the mouth and stomach. Consuming mistletoe can be fatal, Holford said.

Cover or tack down electrical cords to keep scampering pets from tripping over them and pulling down decorations. Securing cords also will prevent pets from gnawing on them.

If entertaining stresses your pets, make other arrangements for four-legged family members during holiday parties. Options include putting them in an enclosed room away from all the noise or boarding them.

Resist temptation to offer Fido a bite of your holiday treats, Holford said. Any abrupt changes in a pet’s diet can lead to gastrointestinal upset, and some foods can be dangerous.

While chocolate can put a gleam in a child’s eye, it can put a dog in the hospital. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical found in cocoa that can be poisonous to dogs, Holford said. It affects the heart, central nervous system, and kidneys. Early signs of chocolate poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urination.

Xylitol, a sweetener found in sugar-free chewing gum, candy, and baked goods, can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening problems for pets. The Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports dogs ingesting substantial amounts of items sweetened with xylitol could develop a sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, loss of coordination, and seizures.

Raisins and grapes can cause acute renal failure in some dogs. Onions, alcohol, and fatty foods are also items to keep away from your pet, Holford said.

The safest idea, she said, is to secure the kitchen trash — or even make the kitchen off-limits for pets during the holidays.

“And don’t leave leave food or drinks unattended with pets around. The animals will find a way to get to them,” Holford said.

About 63 percent of American households have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.

While it may be tempting to put a big bow on a cute puppy to give as a gift this holiday season, it’s not a good idea, said Dr. John New, head of the department of comparative medicine at the vet school.

“The person or entire family receiving the pet should be involved in selecting it. So many times, puppies and kittens that were given as gifts end up at an animal shelter a few weeks later because there wasn’t enough thought put into the process,” New said.

Instead of giving a furry gift, New recommends making a donation to a local animal shelter or humane society in someone’s name.

Sandra Harbison, (865) 974-7377,
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,