During the holiday season the house fills with the warm scent of baking; shiny, glittering decorations; and wrapped and ribboned gifts sure to tempt the curiosity of most pets, especially cats and dogs. As we deck the halls and feast upon treats it’s important to be aware of potential dangers to your pet. Here are some safety tips to help your pet enjoy the holidays:
Tip 1: Prevent your pet from sneaking sweets
Holiday sweets with chocolate are not for pets – chocolate contains theobromine which can be poisonous to many animals, such as dogs, cats and ferrets, depending on the amount ingested. And, the less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it could be. For example, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine as milk chocolate. Vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate can be seen with the ingestion of as little as ¼ ounce of baking chocolate by a 10-pound dog.
Tip 2: Don’t pass the platter to your pet
Maintain your pet’s regular diet – just one “special” meal during the holidays may give your dog or cat severe indigestion and diarrhea. This is particularly true for older animals that have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. Holiday dinner leftovers also have lurking dangers for pets. For example, poultry bones can splinter and cause blockages. Greasy, spicy and fatty foods can cause stomach upset; spoiled or moldy foods could cause food poisoning, tremors or seizures. And don’t forget to store the garbage safely out of reach from your pet.
Tip 3: Prevent accidental alcohol consumption
Don’t place alcoholic drinks in reach of pets. If your pet ingests alcohol he can become very sick and weak and may go into a coma, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure.
Tip 4: Keep toxic florals out of your pet’s reach
Caution must be used when choosing to decorate your home with holiday florals such as mistletoe and holly berries, which can be potentially toxic to pets. Should a cat or dog eat mistletoe, they could suffer gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. Holly can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and lethargy if ingested. Common holiday plants such as poinsettias are considered to be very low in toxicity, but they can still cause mild vomiting or nausea if ingested by your pet, and can irritate your pet’s mouth. Lilies, appearing in many holiday floral arrangements, can cause kidney failure in cats. Beware of toxic varieties including: Asian, Casa Blanca, Japanese Show, Stargazer and Tiger. You may want to consider silk or plastic floral arrangements as a safe alternative, or placing plants out of reach of your pet.
Tip 5: Use Christmas trees with caution
From top to bottom, Christmas trees pose many dangers to pets. Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers, and if ingested, can cause stomach upset. Stagnant tree water may be full of bacteria, which could cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in your pet. Decorations such as ribbons are very attractive to pets, especially cats, and if ingested can cause intestinal obstruction. Sparkly lights are equally attractive, but can become life threatening if your pet decides to chew the cords. Consider decorating your tree, or at least the bottom third, with ornaments that are less likely to attract your pet’s attention, such as dried non-toxic flowers, wood, fabric or pinecones. Ensure any tinsel, ribbons, ornaments and ornament hooks that fall to the floor are picked up immediately and secure your tree so that it can’t be toppled or knocked over. Supervise your pet and use barriers (e.g. baby gates) and topical pet deterrents (e.g. bitter apple spray, a bad-tasting substance available from most pet stores) as necessary to keep your pet safe from holiday temptations.
Tip 6: Be watchful of toys that present choking hazards
If you have children’s toys under your tree, be as cautious with your pet playing with them as you would a child. Toys with removable parts or small pieces pose a serious choking hazard for pets as well as children.
Tip 7: Take precautions to avoid pet escapes
With guests coming and going during the holidays take extra care that your pet does not escape outside and become lost. Cats in particular are prone to hiding and/or bolting when guests, especially a large number of them, visit your home. Dogs should also be carefully supervised as they may become over-excited with all of the holiday celebrations. One solution is to place your pet in a quiet, safe and comfortable part of the house away from all of the guests, but with access to food, water, litter box, etc. Alternatively, you may wish to use a crate, baby gate or x-pen (a metal exercise pen for dogs that comes in a variety of sizes) for short periods to keep animals from getting underfoot during the festive frenzy while allowing them to be part of the celebration.
Tip 8: Think carefully before giving a pet as a present
In addition to these precautions, also remember that the holiday season may not be the ideal time to bring a new animal into your home. If you have planned to add a new pet to your family during the holidays, ensure that you will be home to provide the care and attention your new family member will require as he adjusts to his new environment. Alternatively, you could adopt your pet before Christmas, but wait until after the holidays to bring him home – honour your family’s pet adoption by placing a photo of him under the tree, or a stuffed animal representative of your new pet, or pet products and accessories for when he does arrive. While planned pet adoptions as gifts are great, it is not recommended to give pets as “surprise” gifts to friends or family members.
If you have questions related to holiday hazards, please contact your veterinarian.