Holiday Safety for Your Small Animal

The holiday season can pose unique hazards to your small animal.

The holidays are a festive season for both the family and the family pets. However, it is also a season that can expose your small mammals to unique hazards that are completely harmless to humans. You can keep your pet out of harm’s way by being aware of these potential safety concerns.


Small mammals like to nibble on vegetation. In the wild, they are adapted to the plant life around their natural habitat. Not so with many types of traditional holiday plants. A number of these can pose a significant threat to your pet if ingested. Some common greenery to avoid includes:

  • Mistletoe - The entire plant (especially the berries) can cause gastrointestinal irritation to heart problems, seizures and death
  • Yew - Can cause gastrointestinal irritation to seizures and death
  • Holly - Mammals that ingest holly often experience stomach and throat irritation
  • Lilies - Any part of this plant is life threatening if ingested

The breadth and variety of holiday foods that you and your family enjoy during the holidays also can be dangerous to small mammals. Kids especially (not to mention well-meaning adult guests) have a habit of “treating” family pets to people food without realizing the potential risks. Family gatherings, often chaotic, can also mean that candy and food items are often strewn about the house and readily available to a wandering or curious pet. If your small mammal roams free, or your family has a habit of treating your pet, be careful to avoid these foods:

  • Chocolate - As with other mammals, chocolate can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, tremors, seizures, and death.
  • Caffeine and Coffee - Small mammals are particularly vulnerable to caffeine products, particularly coffee. It can cause severe digestive problems, seizures, and hyperactivity.
  • Alcohol - Never expose your pet to alcohol; it can cause vomiting and lethargy. Large amounts can be fatal.

Christmas Tree Safety

Your Christmas tree, if improperly secured, may pose a safety risk to your small pet. While there are steps that you can take to help secure it, the easiest solution may be to restrict your small mammal from roaming freely throughout the house during the holidays.

  • Power Cable - Christmas lights tend to be powered by an ad hoc selection of power strips, extension cords, and light strings. Pets like to chew on the warm wires, which can result in electrocution and death. Always hide cords under rugs, or cover them with tape and unplug the lights when not at home.
  • Batteries - Under your Christmas tree, you may have gifts that contain batteries. Small mammals have a tendency to lick batteries, which can result in them ingesting corrosive battery acid. Be very careful with them around your pets.
  • Christmas Tree Water - Do not let your small mammal drink the water out of the base of your Christmas tree. Tree water can poison your mammal. Preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents, such as aspirin, are commonly added to tree water to keep the tree fresh. Use a covered tree water dish to be safe.
  • Tinsel and Garland - Small mammals love to nibble on low-hanging tinsel and garland, which can cause choking, mouth injury, and digestive problems.
  • Broken Snow Globes - A very common holiday problem is a broken snow globe. If this should happen, be sure to clean it up thoroughly. Many globes contain antifreeze, a favorite flavor of mammals, but it can be fatal if ingested.


Are you thinking about going away for the holidays? While small mammals tend to be easier to care for than cats and dogs, their basic needs must still be taken care of while you are away.
Make sure that your pet has enough food and water. Most cage water feeders can last for about five days. Generally, this is the maximum amount of time that you should to leave your small mammal alone. Food, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. Fresh food will last no longer than a day. Some pet stores will sell dry food designed to last longer, but a safe rule of thumb is a five-day limit. If you are going to be gone longer, then it is best to make pet-sitting arrangements or to have someone come to your home.
Clean your pet’s cage thoroughly before leaving, and be sure to add enough substrate to accommodate the additional waste.