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A Vet’s Guide to Holiday Pet Safety

dogs lying in sheets of bed

Written by Dr. Sam Parker, DVM

We all know the holiday season will not look the same for most of us, but we will likely still be decorating and making favorite holiday foods. Listed below are holiday safety risks for pets and holiday pet safety tips to minimize them during these festive times.

If there is suspicious or concern that a pet may have consumed something toxic, please call the pet poison helpline at 855-764-7661 or the ASPCA poison control at 888-426-4435. These lines are available 24/7 to help pet parents assess if a pet has ingested a toxin in a large enough quantity and needs emergency care. 

Holiday Safety Tips for Pets

Cat jumping from table to stove

Many people have calm, “normal” pets who may have no interest in the issues discussed in this article, but some of us have trouble-makers or pets who are always on the look-out for snacks. Dogs, for example, are notorious for getting too nosey in the garbage can.

(However, cats can forage, too! I have a “garbage cat,” who once had to fend for herself. She still tries to get snacks from the counter, sink or even our garbage can.)

All toxicities are dose-dependent. If you believe your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t have, we recommend you reach out to a veterinarian, poison hotline, or contact Hello Ralphie.

Now, here we go with holiday safety pet tips to keep your “howlidays” happy for all!

Holiday Lights, Fire and Scents

Cat with candle

lace candles out of the reach of curious pets. Candles are very common during holiday weather for Diwali, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas. As everyone knows open flames are a bit of a fire risk, and a curious cat can get burns from wax or fire. Dogs can also knock candles off tables with their happy tails.

Keep pets away from holiday lights and wires. Holiday lights and wires used to set up holiday displays can be new and fun for a cat to play with. However, playful kitties can get entangled in lights, or worse, they could chew on the cords and end up with burns to the mouth. Sadly, this is also true for dogs, especially puppies. There have also been instances of puppies getting caught up in cords and accidently strangling themselves.

Cat parents should avoid oil diffusers. If you like to use oil diffusers to scent a house be aware that aerosolized oils can cause respiratory issues in cats, especially asthmatic cats. The ingestion of the concentrate could be toxic as well.

Holiday Plants and Flowers

Supervise pets around Christmas trees. As we all know cats love to drink from anything except their designated water dish or fountain, so be careful of kitties who drink stagnant Christmas tree water. We also know it is sometimes hard to keep kitties out of the tree, but please be vigilant, as Christmas trees and pine garland may have preservatives or fertilizers that are toxic to cats.

However, dogs are also curious and perhaps not the wisest when interacting with Christmas trees. A not-so-coordinated dog can go running to investigate a new tree and scratch or poke an eye. Veterinarians often see pets with corneal scratches and ulcers by running into brush and brambles, and an indoor Christmas tree is often too fun not to investigate.

Contact Hello Ralphie for any holiday pet question or issue

Others Holiday Plants and Flowers to Avoid

  • Holly can cause stomach upset including vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Mistletoe can cause all the above and, sometimes, cardiac issues.
  • Amaryllis are pretty to keep inside during a cold and bare winter but they can lead to vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, or respiratory distress.
  • Poinsettias are probably the best-known holiday plant, but if eaten by a dog or cat, can cause burning to mucus membranes (gums), and also burn GI tracts of cats. 
  • Lilies are also a well-known toxic flower so if they are in an arrangement from a well-meaning guest, make sure to remove them from a cat’s reach, as they can easily and quickly cause kidney failure with small amounts ingested.

Holiday Food and Beverages

Dog with turkey

We all love the comforting foods and tastes of the holidays! But a special meal can turn into an urgent call to a veterinarian if pet parents are not careful. Be aware of the following foods and drinks which are dangerous to pets:

Bones and string from briskets and roasts. If cooking roasts with butcher’s string be aware that cats love both tasty meat-flavors and string. These can be ingested and cause a foreign body that may need surgical removal. If stringing popcorn, this is another linear foreign body to worry about as pets love popcorn.

Onions, garlic and leeks can all lead to anemia in cats as they cause red blood cells to be destroyed. The anemia can be serious and present as lethargy or weakness or pale gums.

Chocolate and caffeine can lead to tremors, seizures, cardiac issues, vomiting and diarrhea.

Sugar-free candies containing xylitol can lead to dangerous hypoglycemia in dogs after ingesting even small amounts.

Dogs should not eat macadamia nuts. Be aware of nuts in cookies or cakes, as they can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, and tremors.

If there is a turkey, or a big bird, on the menu, know that cats may be laying-in-wait for unsuspecting cat parents to leave the carcass on the table. Cats can quickly pounce and run off with bones and fatty skin. Excess fat ingested can lead to pancreatitis and bones can lead to foreign bodies that get stuck in the intestines. Dogs love these cast-off bones, skin and fat at the holidays so always be careful of finished plates on the table within reach.

Less common in cats than dogs, but ingestion of yeast containing bread dough can cause a toxicity due to the alcohol during fermentation. 

Creamy eggnog can be something appealing to cats, so keep those alcoholic beverages out of reach! Dogs may be even less discerning than your cat and have interest in the new smells.

Other Holiday Pet Safety Tips

Cleaning and cleaning products. In frantic cleaning for guests to arrive remember that many cleaning agents can be toxic to pets, so keep curious dogs and kitties away from active cleaning areas and be sure to clean up any spills of cleaning chemicals. Pets can step in a puddle of floor cleaner or drink toilet water that still has chemicals in it that could lead to problems.

Salt for crafts or used for entertaining. If homemade ornaments are in the schedule, be aware that salt dough can cause “salt toxicity,” which leads to electrolyte imbalances that can be very dangerous for pets and sometimes lead to seizures. Note that if you live in a cold climate and use salt for melting ice, that can be very dangerous for pets! If your pet goes outdoors, then licks their paws, it can cause salt toxicity. 

Antifreeze and snow globes. Yes, you read that right, those two go together! Antifreeze (or Ethylene Glycol) is used for vehicles and is toxic to cats, who like it for the sweet taste. But did you know some snow globes also contain this chemical? If a snow globe breaks be sure to clean it up and keep them out of curious kitty paws who live to knock things off the edge of tables.

Contact Hello Ralphie for any holiday pet question or issue

cat with ribbon

Tinsel and ribbon are not toys. We all know how cats love to play with string! Tinsel is basically a sparkly string, meaning that it’s even more attractive to curious kitties and fun to play with. Tinsel, gift wrap ribbon and string can form linear foreign bodies that can get caught inside the intestines or even lacerate them.

Houseguest Hazards. With guests also comes purses, coats, umbrellas, suitcases, and any number of fun, new things for pets to investigate. Cats and dogs love to investigate new things and especially belongings which come from guests who have their own pets. Purses and luggage can contain medications or other hazards so make sure to close your pets out of coat or guest rooms. As always, check with your veterinarian before giving your pet any medication.

Strangers or crowds in your home creates extra noise and can be very stressful for your pet if they are not used to it. Shy or anxious pets would appreciate a space away from the party or gathering for themselves.

Pets and children should also be supervised. Dogs who may not be used to children could feel nervous, trapped and show fear aggression. “Fear Aggression” is the term used when a dog becomes so frightened that they feel trapped and may feel the need to fight their way out of a situation, possibly causing a nip or bite.

This added stress may also lead to them seeking open doors as people come and go and nothing ruins a gathering like a missing pet, or one who ran into a road.

Remember, supervision, education, and being mindful of your pet’s well-being is the best way to give them a happy, healthy and even “meowy” holiday season!

By Dr. Sam Parker

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