Keeping the Holidays Safe for Your Pets

The holidays can be a stressful and even dangerous time for our pets. The routines are upset, visitors abound, and tempting smells are coming from the kitchen!

The Christmas tree itself is hazard #1.

  • Many cats find it irresistibly tempting to climb, so make sure your tree is in a sturdy stand.
  • If it’s a live tree, it will have a water container—this is another hazard. Aromatic compounds from the tree itself and the chemicals often added to the water are highly toxic to pets; make sure the container is wrapped and taped or otherwise made inaccessible to your dog or cat, who will often try to drink from this novel water source.
  • Keep glass ornaments to a minimum if you must use them at all, and place them higher on the tree; put unbreakable ornaments lower down. A broken glass ornament is a minefield for tender little paws.
  • If your dog eats all or part of a glass ornament, immediately feed the dog bread soaked in milk or cream (or in a pinch, just soak cotton balls in the milk—they’ll accomplish the same thing); the soft mushy texture will gather up all the sharp pieces and safely expel them.

Christmas lights and wires on the tree and around the home are an invitation to chew for both cats and dogs. For wires that are easily accessible to curious teeth (especially young animals), run them through inexpensive foam pipe insulators that you can find at any home improvement or hardware store. The potential for fire is greatly increased if the wires are damaged!

Metal tinsel is rare these days, but mylar tinsel and garlands can also pose a swallowing hazard. Its sharp edges can cause serious damage to a pet’s intestines. Consider a beaded garland instead.

When unwrapping presents, make sure all ribbon and string is safely discarded. Because of the backward-facing barbs on a cat’s tongue, all sorts of strings, laces, and other long skinny stuff is easily passed into the tummy when chewed, where it becomes a surgical emergency.

Parties and visitors increase the risk of a pet slipping out through an open door; make sure all your pets are microchipped and wearing collars and ID tags. It’s wise to provide a “base camp” for your pet that includes food, water, and familiar pet bed; for cats, add a scratching post, and litterbox, in a room that’s less likely to be disturbed. No decorations in that room, please, especially lit candles! (Of course, unattended burning candles are a serious hazard any time of year!)

Take it easy on the treats. Too many fatty treats like turkey skin or ham can cause serious tummy upset; in dogs, they can even trigger life-threatening pancreatitis. Ask dinner guests to refrain from feeding “under the table”—or even better, keep pets safely confined during the festivities. Chocolate, of course, is toxic to both dogs and cats.

A little extra care and attention will make this holiday season a safe and happy one for the whole family!

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