It is critical for all pet guardians to take precautions to keep their pets safe during the winter holidays. While we are all busy ringing in good cheer and the New Year, pets can have access to potentially dangerous food and holiday decor. Dogs and cats are easily stressed by changes in their routine, environment, or unfamiliar guests who may not know how to interact with them.
Family and guests and pets – oh, my!
Holidays can be a particularly stressful time for dogs and cats: changes in their routine, more and often unfamiliar people around the house, or even a new environment if you are traveling from home and taking your pet along. These basic tips can help reduce your pet’s stress level – and yours as well:
- Remind your pet about manners: whether you are the visitor or the host, take time a few weeks or even days before a holiday gathering to help your pet brush up on his basic manners, such as no table begging, jumping on people or stealing food from around the house. If your pet will not be able to help himself, find a safe, quiet room where he can relax during the festivities. Let other guests know that this room is off limits.
- Treat your pet: make sure you are not the only one having a good time. Pick up a special treat that you know your pet loves and that can occupy her during the festivities. Not only will she enjoy that wonderful bone or chew toy, but busying herself with it will help reduce her stress.
- Walk it off: exercise is a great, natural stress reliever for both you and your pet. Unless the weather is inclement or dangerous, there is never a bad time to grab the leash and go for a nice walk.
- “Train” your guests: make sure visitors to your home know and abide by your pet’s rules, such as no table food, not leaving the door open, etc. This will help your pet avoid behaviors that are generally unwanted. And always make sure that interactions between small children and your pets are supervised. Not all children are familiar with good pet etiquette, and animals who are stressed may act out.
From ‘ho ho ho’ to ‘no no no:’ indoor holiday threats
- Baking chocolate: a single ounce of baking chocolate – known as baker’s chocolate – can be lethal to a small dog or cat. While all chocolate is dangerous to your pets, baking chocolate contains a higher concentration of a stimulant that dogs and cats are unable to digest. Never leave this or any other chocolate – even boxed or wrapped – within your pet’s reach.
- Christmas tree: a few simple changes to how you adorn your tree can make this holiday tradition safer for your pet:
- Tinsel and ornaments: pretty to look at, but not so pretty if your pet eats these decorations from your Christmas tree. Either can block their intestines, a condition usually requiring surgery.
- Tree lights: go ahead and light the tree, but not the lower branches or those reachable by your pet. Potential hazards include burning, tangling, strangulation, or shock if your pet chews through the wire.
- Pine needles: if you have a live tree, clear the area continually of pine needles, which can puncture your pet’s intestines if swallowed.
- Tree water: poisonous to pets because it likely contains pesticides, fertilizers and other harmful agents. Use a covered tree water dish and empty it frequently.
- Holly, mistletoe, poinsettia and other holiday plants: all are poisonous to dogs and cats; keep them far out of reach. Common symptoms associated with toxic plant ingestion are vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress. Ingestion of certain berries can cause seizures, coma and can be fatal.
- Burning candles: lit candles should always be placed far from pets and children, and should be fully extinguished before you leave the house or retire for the evening.
- Gift wrapping: paper, string, cloth, tape, ribbon, etc., can all cause intestinal blockage if your pet eats them. Keep these items far away from your dog or cat. The same goes for scissors, box cutters, and other sharp utensils.
More information from the Pet Poison Helpline
- General guide to pet safety, including signs of poisoning
- Alphabetical list of poisons, including environmentals, foods and household items
- Emergency actions if you suspect your pet is poisoned
For live help 24/7, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 800-213-6680
Outdoor winter safety
Just because your pet has a fur coat does not mean that he can withstand any weather. Just like people, animals are susceptible to dehydration and frostbite. Your dog’s or cat’s particular tolerance for winter weather will depend on a variety of factors, including breed, age, size, medications, and general health.
Read our article on how to keep your pet safe in winter weather for more on the following quick tips:
- Do not leave your pet outside unattended for any length of time
- Provide shelter for “outdoor” pets that is warm and has a supply of fresh, unfrozen water
- Ask your veterinarian about increasing your pet’s caloric intake slightly during the winter months
- Check under the hood before you start your car; cats are notorious for camping out in car engines to stay warm
Have a safe and happy holiday from the pack at Pets for Patriots!