Howl-iday Hazards: The Vet’s Guide to Avoiding a Christmas Cat-astrophe

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Petplan reports 112% surge in Christmas poisoning claims due to toxic 'treats' and dangerous decorations

Santa Paws is coming to town but amid the barks and purrs of festive glee, North America's best loved pet insurance provider reminds pet parents of howl-iday hazards that can lead to a Blue Christmas. Petplan unwrapped the seasonal stats and found that pets suffered from poisoning 112% more frequently from December 24-26 in 2013 than at any other time of the year.

Furry friends may have visions of treats dancing in their heads, but common festive nibbles are ho-ho no-no’s! Last year, suspicious snouts sniffed out everything from grapes, onions and chocolate to sugar-free gum and raw bread dough – all of which are highly toxic.

Another reason furry friends visited the vet? Socks! The fanciless footwear was the most common item eaten by pets last Christmas according to Petplan claims data. Are pets taking a cue from all the stockings hung with care? Not so says Dr. Jules Benson, Petplan's Chief Veterinary Medical Officer. "Lots of families get together over the holiday break – whether it’s nights spent by the fire or days spent snoozing on the sofa," he says. "Every extra person visiting over Christmas could mean two more socks for curious pets."

Other Christmas culprits that plagued pets included ornaments, plastic wrap, bone fragments and even a tape dispenser. These unwelcome eats can spoil more than the pet’s supper, costing their parents an average of $1,678 to treat (a 43% increase over non-holiday treatment costs) – with one claim topping $3,000 for a tinsel-eating Terrier.

To keep this season merry and bright for four-legged friends, Petplan’s Dr. Jules Benson shares this “naughty list” of items to keep out of paw’s reach.

  • Deck the halls (with caution!): Tinsel, Christmas baubles, candles and other delightful decorations lend a festive glow but can cause terrible trouble if pets decide to snack on them. Keep decorations out of paw’s reach and ensure furry friends are supervised.
  • Mischief underneath the mistletoe: The leaves and berries of mistletoe and holly all contain toxins that can be lethal for pets. Ensure four-legged family members don't sneak a thorny snack by hanging mistletoe and holly on high.
  • Un-cheery chocolate: Chocolate and Christmas go together like Dasher and Dancer, but it could lead to a sleigh-ride to the vet for furry friends. While all chocolate is toxic to pets, cocoa powder and baking chocolate are the most dangerous, followed by dark chocolate. Containing higher concentrations of toxins like theobromine and caffeine, chocolate can cause diarrhea, vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure and can be fatal depending on the amount ingested. (Always get a veterinary opinion if your pet eats chocolate!)

On the other paw, poinsettias get a bad (w)rap, but the truth is they’re much less toxic than pet parents may think. Petplan conducted an online survey of more than 5,700 pet parents and found that only 11% correctly answered that poinsettias are not poisonous to pets. Poinsettia-sampling pets usually end up with mild cases of vomiting or diarrhea – although not pleasant, it’s unlikely to ruin festive fun for long.

Pet-proofing this holiday season doesn't stop at home – it’s important to take extra care outdoors, too:

  • Ethylene glycol (the main ingredient in antifreeze) has long been a toxic temptation for pets due to its sweet taste but just a small amount can cause fatal kidney failure – with an average reimbursement of $929 to treat. Be sure to wipe up spills thoroughly and keep pets away from the garage.
  • Slippery conditions and a chill in the air mean cruciate ligament tears are highest in the fourth quarter of the year, with a chilling 30% more accidents in December than at any other time of the year. With the average reimbursement for a cruciate ligament tear being $2,435, it’s enough to send a shiver up your spine.
  • Close encounters with icy pavement conditions can also lead to cut paw pads – with an average reimbursement of $187!

So what's the parent of a playful pup to do outdoors? "Dog booties can help protect their paws – just keep your dog’s dignity in mind when shopping!" says Dr. Benson. And if your fashion-conscious furry friends won't tolerate footwear, using a pad-protectant can help shield them from the elements and ensure they have a happy howl-iday season!

For more information about keeping four-legged friends healthy through the holiday season and beyond, visit


Petplan is more than a pet insurance company. We're dedicated to providing pet parents with the support, resources and tools they need to keep their pets not just surviving—but thriving—into their old age. Simply put, we aim to be the kind of company that will make our pets proud. For the second consecutive year, Petplan was listed among the top 50 companies on Forbes' annual ranking of America’s Most Promising Companies – a list of 100 privately held, high-growth companies with bright futures. Petplan is the only pet insurance company to have been included on Inc. Magazine’s list of 500 fastest-growing, privately held companies in America.

Petplan’s fully customizable cat and dog insurance policies provide comprehensive coverage for all hereditary and chronic conditions for the life of the pet as standard. Petplan policies are underwritten by AGCS Marine Insurance Company in the U.S. and by Allianz Global Risks US Insurance Company in Canada. The Allianz Group was rated A+ by A.M. Best in 2014. For more information about Petplan pet insurance, visit or call 1-866-467-3875.

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Jessica Kinney
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