With the crisp chill of winter in the air and Christmas carols on the radio, the holidays are upon us - and with them the need to keep a close eye on all of our pets. Changes in routine, dangerous foods, and decorations which may cause injury are just a few of the things which can lead to your dogs or cats falling ill or getting hurt. Your pet should be able to enjoy the holidays with just as much cheer and contentment as the rest of the family, so to keep these few tips in mind to keep your furry friends safe.

One of the more visible holiday-related items is, of course, the Christmas tree.  With its prominent placement in your home, your pets are left to combat against the dangers that it poses.  Make sure to secure your tree, perhaps in the corner of the room, to prevent the likelihood of your playful pup or eager feline knocking it over. Keep an eye on the water at the base of your tree, as it may contain fertilizers or bacteria, so drinking it may cause your pet gastrointestinal issues. You may want to keep ornaments and string lights off the bottom branches to stop your pets from grabbing at them and knocking them off.  String lights may give your dog or cat a nasty shock that may even be life-threatening, while ornaments can break and cut your pet’s mouth, esophagus, or paws. Likewise, hanging tinsel from your tree might provide your pet with what they think is a tasty treat, but can obstruct the intestinal tract and even lead to surgery.  And for the safety of all family members – human and furry alike – never leave your tree lights on while you are not home or while you are sleeping.

Christmas trees aren’t the only holiday plants which can harm your pets. When eaten, mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal problems and cardiovascular issues.  Likewise, holly can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Also, lilies (beautiful as they are) when ingested can cause kidney failure for cats. Perhaps the best idea if you have four-legged friends in your home is to restrict your holiday flora to the artificial variety.

Another traditional sight during the holidays is the soft glow of candles. Whether they be lit on a menorah or filling your home with the sweet scent of peppermint, candles should always be attended when lit to prevent a wayward pet from knocking them over or getting their little noses a bit too close to the flame.  Make sure to put out any candles when you leave a room.  In the same vein, lit fireplaces should have screens to keep dogs and cats from getting far too close.

Like the rest of the year, you should avoid giving your dog certain “human” foods to keep them from having bad reactions or even getting seriously ill.  Such problem foods as chocolate, and those flavored with xylitol or alcohol are an issue no matter what time of the year it is.  It may also be a good idea to warn your guests not to feed your pets from the table.  This will ensure that fatty or spicy foods, turkey bones, grapes and any other foods which are dangerous to your pet’s health don’t make it into their mouths.  Another good tip is to feed your pets before you and your guests have dinner to lessen the chance they try to beg at the table.

However, it’s not just “people” food you need to watch out for.  Your pet also runs the risk of trying to eat many “interesting” things during the holidays which they may not have the opportunity to eat throughout the rest of the year.  Random items such as ribbons, batteries, potpourri, ornament hooks, loose bits from toys and pine needles can all block your pet’s intestinal tract and result in serious injury.  Use common sense with what your dog or cat may be likely to put in their mouths, thinking that they have found a new treat.

Another good idea is to note any time during the holiday celebrations when there may be loud noises which might upset or frighten your pets.   Fireworks on New Year’s Day can scare your pet and cause them to hide or even run away if they can find a way out. Your pets might not enjoy the loud music or raised voices which might come during a happy holiday party. In that case, you might want to give your dog or cat a quiet place away from the party to themselves where they won’t be bothered and they can relax. 

Perhaps one of the most important things is to make sure that your pets are not stressed out by the hectic changes which come during the holidays no matter what or how your family may celebrate.  You know your pets better than anyone and you know what your pets can handle.  Your dog may get overexcited when there are too many guests around.  While one of your cats may be a social butterfly, another may dislike strangers to the point of hiding until they leave.  If your dog is older and lacks patience, it might be a good idea to keep small children away from them to prevent them from being bothered.  Understand your pets’ traits and try to keep them in mind when arranging your plans for the holidays.  Also, make sure if you want to board your pet somewhere over a holiday vacation that you schedule early, as kennels can fill up quickly at times like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

All in all, keeping your pet safe during the holidays is mostly a matter of common sense. When decorating, cooking or celebrating, give your pet’s welfare a thought and decide whether or not your dog or cat is likely to end up innocently doing something which may eventually harm them.  Protecting your pet can keep them around for another year so they can wear that Santa hat and smile for next year’s Christmas card!

Article contributed by:  Jennifer Matarese