The combination of cold weather and Christmas holidays means extra care is needed to keep animals safe, and Henderson County AgriLife Extension Agent Spencer Perkins said some health hazards are potentially fatal.

"Antifreeze is appealing to pets because of its sweet taste but can cause lethal kidney failure and an accumulation of acid in the blood or body tissue. The ethylene glycol is the ingredient in many brands of anti-freeze that makes it dangerous, even if diluted in water."

As little as one to two tablespoons of the substance can be toxic to a medium-sized dog.

According to Perkins, it's not only found in anti-freeze but in some snow globes. He said that people should keep their pets away from chocolate and some kinds are more dangerous than others. Especially bad is chocolate used for baking. It contains a higher concentration of the stimulant theobromine than semi-sweet or milk chocolate.

Some typical clinical signs of chocolate toxicity include excessive excitability, restlessness, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, vomiting and diarrhea, Perkins said.

"A veterinarian should be consulted immediately to discuss the appropriate action to be taken if an animal has consumed chocolate."

A festive but potentially toxic plant that's often a part of holiday scenes is mistletoe. Perkins said the berry is the most toxic part of the plant, especially if it is chewed or swallowed whole. It can cause gastrointestinal problems and possible convulsions.

A plant that is attractive to animals but should be avoided is poinsettia. Perkins said it's been long debated whether the plant is actually toxic. But as with any plant an animal is unaccustomed to eating, it can cause vomiting or diarrhea.

"It's a good idea to keep it out of reach," Perkins said.

Tinsel can be dangerous to animals and is attractive to cats, in particular. If it's eaten it can block intestines and cause serious complications. With indoor cats, it's a good idea to keep them away from strands of tinsel.

Breakable ornaments should be near the top of the Christmas tree or avoided in favor of the shatterproof kind.