Winter can be a magical time of year for family, friends, and furry companions alike. To keep everyone happy and safe, consider which holiday traditions might be potential hazards for your pet and take proper precautions— before the season begins.
DECK THE HALLS
Jingling bells and other holiday decorations can offer a host of new toys for pets to play with or explore, which may put them in danger. Dr. Karen Todd, a New Jersey veterinarian experienced in emergency medicine, cautions, “Pets are curious and observant. They can find things you may not even notice.”
Therefore, decorate with safety in mind:
- Place ornaments higher on the tree, away from playful cats or dogs.
- Move surface decorations that pose a choking hazard out of reach. Bite-sized adornments, such as dreidels or nativity scene pieces, may cause severe internal injury if ingested.
- Tie back or tape down electrical cords so animals who love to chew won’t nibble and get a jolt. Loose cords can also tangle around a pet, posing a risk of strangulation or possibly capsizing heavy decorations, such as a Christmas tree.
- Keep open flames inaccessible. Open chimney fires, menorahs, and other flame sources can burn animals or cause a house fire if disturbed.
During holiday feasting, pets should not participate in the gluttony. Feeding a pet scraps can cause serious stomach and intestinal upset from overfeeding or more severe illnesses if the foods are toxic to animals. Pets hanging around the kitchen should be kept away from any alcohol, chocolate, macadamia nuts, or raisins that may have been left out. For a more comprehensive list of toxic foods and poisonous house plants, visit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center’s website at www.aspca.org/ apcc.
Owners can dole out dog biscuits and other healthy treats such as carrots and green beans. That way, pets can enjoy the gastronomic aspect of the holidays without their health being put at risk. Even wholesome pet snacks can be unhealthy if given too often, so avoid overindulging a pet’s appetite for treats.
As little as 1 Tbsp of antifreeze could be lethal to a 10-pound cat and 2 oz of dark chocolate can harm a 10-pound dog.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
There are few silent nights with holiday guests constantly coming and going. Although many pets enjoy the added attention and activity, the noise associated with gatherings can make some animals anxious. “Pets tend to become accustomed to a certain routine. Any disruption can be stressful for some pets,” Dr. Todd explains.
For that reason, give your pet a quiet area where it’s possible for him to take a nap or hide safely. A pet’s natural curiosity may draw him out when he is ready to participate in the festivities.
Don’t let these precautions dampen your holiday spirit—you can still enjoy visitors without being a grinch. Mary Leake Schilder of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) says, “Some guests may not know proper animal etiquette in a house with a pet.” Therefore, when company arrives, explain the rules for the house pet, including his diet and habits. Let guests know that it is okay to show the pet attention, but that it should be on the pet’s terms. Also, visiting children should be supervised when handling an animal.
LET IT SNOW!
The weather outside can be frightful, and pet owners who are staving off the cold during the holiday season should be watchful of certain hazards while their pets are enjoying the great outdoors:
- Antifreezes can contain certain chemicals that are highly toxic to animals if swallowed; pets may lick the sweet-tasting chemical from surfaces or during selfgrooming. Pet-friendly alternatives (containing propylene glycol) are available.
- Dehydration can still occur during the cold and wet weather. Pet parents should remember to keep their pets properly hydrated with fresh, clean water after outdoor exercise.
- Extreme weather conditions may be hazardous if a pet is exposed for long periods. In addition, cold weather can intensify arthritis discomfort in older and overweight pets. Make sure pets that live outdoors are kept out of the wind and have warm bedding. However, avoid using heaters and heating pads (they could burn pets or cause a fire).
- Ice can be dangerous for a variety of reasons. Pets can fall through thin ice or slip on icy surfaces. In addition, sharp ice can cut the pads of a pet’s feet, so always brush off the pads after a pet has spent time outside.
HOLLY JOLLY SEASON
Pet-proofing a home during the holidays doesn’t have to limit seasonal celebrations. “Just be aware of the potentially harmful circumstances that can come with the holidays, and be proactive to prevent mishaps,” Schilder recommends. After all, the holidays are all about family . . . including the fourlegged members.
DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?
Pet owners should be aware of what ASPCA experts are calling the top dangers for pets during the holiday season:
- Antifreeze—Some formulas contain hazardous chemicals that can be poisonous to pets if ingested either directly or by grooming residue from their paws or coat.
- Christmas tree water—Bacteria in standing water, as well as tree food added to the water, can result in severe gastrointestinal irritation.
- Confetti and balloons—These colorful decorations pose a choking hazard and may cause internal distress if swallowed.
- Dough—Uncooked dough with yeast will still rise if ingested, which may cause severe bloating, pain, and vomiting.
- Electric cords—Exposed wiring in chewed or worn cords can cause an electric shock; decorated trees with string lighting or extension cords may topple if animals become entangled.
- Fatty foods—A diet that is overly rich in fats may result in gastrointestinal irritation or, in severe cases, pancreatitis.
- Holiday plants—Poinsettias can cause only mild stomach irritation, but other plants (e.g., holly, lilies, mistletoe) are highly toxic and may cause kidney failure.
- Ornaments—Glass ornaments and metal hooks may look like shiny toys to playful pets, but they can cause serious damage if broken or ingested.
- Poultry bones—Small bones fracture easily, posing a serious threat of internal injury.
- Tinsel, ribbons, and yarn—Never let pets play with decorations that contain string. Strings can cause severe internal trauma if they are swallowed or choking if they become tangled around a pet’s neck.
NAUGHTY OR NICE?
The cost of adopting a pet around the holiday season can be high—and we’re not talking about money. A house full of noise, decorations, and guests may not be the ideal conditions for an untrained pet. In addition, the stress of the season may not allow owners to dedicate their time to training a young pet. Waiting until after the start of the new year can allow new pet parents to devote the proper care and training for their newest family member.
As for giving a pet as a gift, it is not a good idea.Veterinary technician Dana Farbman of the ASPCA says, “Adding a pet to a home should be a family decision. Animals are not inanimate objects” that can be returned after the initial excitement has passed. Everyone in the household should be able and willing to take care of an animal.
If you would like to help bring the joy of a new pet into a family, you can put together an adoption kit as a gift. Staples to include are a leash, collar, and food dish. Just be sure that the entire family has first discussed and agreed on the responsibilities of pet ownership. After the holidays have passed and the home is pet-ready, new owners can go together to adopt a puppy or kitten.