- Rachel Doran
Have a Pet Safe Christmas
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
It’s not just a beloved holiday song lyric, it is a fact! There is nothing better than Christmas. The decorations, the presents, the charity, the hot cocoa, the endless supply of homemade cookies and the big man in red. What’s not to love?
For our pets though, the song lyrics should go something like this: “It’s the most dangerous time of the year.” Unfortunately, there are countless holiday hazards for our pets. We’re going to break down the top potential dangers and help you to be prepared for a safe and happy winter holiday season.
But First - Create An Action Plan
Our first piece of advice is to have a two-step action plan.
Step 1: Educate yourself about the hidden dangers of the holiday and work to avoid them. You’re well on your way in that regard just by reading this blog!
Step 2: Have a backup emergency plan. Know your vet’s holiday hours. Find out if they have emergency after-hours or holiday appointments. If not, find and contact a 24-hour emergency vet near you, and find out if they are open during the holidays.
The goal here is to be prepared in the event you need to seek emergency medical attention for your four-legged companions. It is not likely you will not need to use this knowledge, but in a moment of crisis, it is always better to be prepared.
Pet Hazard #1: Food
Just like with most holidays, Christmas is all about the food. There’s cookies, nog, candy canes, gingerbread houses, roasted chestnuts, and even fruit cake - if you’re into that. And that’s not even taking into consideration the holiday meal. There is a lot of opportunity for pets to sneak some goodies. Here are the main holiday foods to watch out for.
Grapes and raisins. Grapes and their dried counterparts are very dangerous for pets, particularly dogs, cats, and ferrets. Even if you aren’t preparing or buying anything that contains grapes and/or raisins, watch out for their presence in foods guests may bring. Fruit cake is a big harborer of raisins.
Chocolate. Chocolate is TOXIC to dogs and cats. The darker the chocolate the more dangerous; but chocolate in any quantity is still very toxic. If you have chocolate in the house during the holidays, and who doesn’t, be sure to keep it put away in a safe place.
Candy, sweets, and treats. Sweets are not as dangerous as some other common food hazards, but be aware that sweets can absolutely harm your pets.The first more immediate concern is Xylitol. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that hides in a lot of common sweets. It is also a poison to pets.
The second concern is more long-term. An abundance of sweets can cause your pet to become obese, develop diabetes, or have digestive issues. Since there is no nutritional benefit to sweets, it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Bones. Most Americans were warned of this danger over the recent Thanksgiving holiday. In case you missed it, here are the highlights. Cooked bones can splinter, which can cause nasty ripping and tearing of the digestive tract. As you can imagine, it is very painful; but avoidable. Do not feed your pets cooked bones. Also be sure to take the trash out if you throw any cooked bones away as your pet will seek them out.
Alcohol and yeast dough. Keep all spirits out of reach of your pets. If you are having a party and they may be tempted to sneak some alcoholic nog (I’m looking at you kitties!) be sure to put them in a room where they are not tempted. There is no safe amount of alcohol for pets.
Curiously enough, yeast dough falls under this warning as well. If your pet consumes any amount of uncooked yeast dough, it can start to produce alcohol in their little bodies. Pets have died of alcohol poisoning after eating yeast dough that wasn’t cooked. So if you’re rising bread on the counter, be sure to keep an eye on it.
Pet Hazard #2: The Tree
What’s Christmas without a beautiful tree, twinkling with lights and shiny balls? Not any Christmas I want a part of, that’s for sure! But if you have both pets and a festive tree in your home, here are some things to watch out for.
Tinsel. Tinsel is a big no-no. It’s beautiful, that’s true, but this is one of those things that is simply not worth the risk. Pets can eat tinsel, intentionally or otherwise. These shiny little pieces of plastic can then get tangled up in their digestive tract, causing severe pain and occasionally death. Save yourself the worry and just skip the tinsel. Especially if you have cats as they often cannot resist playing with the shiny material.
Real Trees. We’re not going to advocate for giving up your fresh cut trees if that is how you do Christmas in your home. However, there are some unique precautions you will have to take.
Real trees will leach some of their chemicals into the water in the bowl under the trees. Pets may then drink some of this water. We know pets aren’t picky about where their water comes from, am I right toilets of America? But unfortunately, tree water can be mildly toxic to pets. Make sure the bowl is covered and your pets do not have access to the water.
The needles can also be mildly toxic, and cats, especially, have a habit of chewing on them. Be sure to pick up any fallen needles daily and monitor your pet’s behavior if they have consumed any.
Ornaments. Be careful with breakable ornaments because broken glass is dangerous for all creatures. Also, be aware of tiny ornaments that may be swallowed. Try to teach your pets to stay away from and out of the tree if possible. And if it isn’t possible, at least try to secure the tree and it’s ornaments as well as you can, and do not leave pets unsupervised around it until you know how they will behave.
Pet Hazard #3: Plants
All pet parents are aware that certain plants are toxic to animals so we’ll save you the refresher course.
Here is a list of holiday plants that should be avoided if you have pets in your home:
A complete list of hazardous plants can be found on the ASPCA website.
Pet Hazard #4: Runaways
Similar to Halloween or the Fourth of July or any holiday with a lot of commotion, it is possible for pets to either sneak out or run away after being overwhelmed or frightened. Before the holiday season is in full swing, be sure to update your pet’s tags. Consider getting a microchip. And if you are having a large party, it may be a good idea to secure your pet in a quiet room away from the commotion.
Final Pet Hazard: Letting the Fun Pass You By
This may seem like a lot of work. And it is. Pets are a big responsibility and their safety and wellbeing should always be at the top of mind for every pet parent. But the good news is making these small adjustments will become second nature over time. Ask any pet parents if they would rather have a fancy tree full of glass bulbs or their pup, and they won’t even hesitate.
Educate yourself on all potential hazards, including ones we weren’t able to cover. Be prepared in case of any emergency. And most importantly, be sure to enjoy the season. It is the most wonderful time of the year, after all, and before we know it, it will be January, and we’ll have to wait a whole year to experience the magic again!