Pet-Proof Your Home for the Holidays

Nesting Cat Decorations

Tinsel and glittering ornaments hang from the tree.

Poinsettias and mistletoe decorate the mantel. Ribbon and bows wrap up pretty presents. All these are joyous signs of the holiday season. They are also potential hazards to your beloved pets.

“The Christmas tree with all its trimmings and gifts aglow with wrapping and bows make for a potential pet disaster,” says Stefanie Schwartz, a veterinary behaviorist in Massachusetts.

Festive family plans can be sidetracked quickly if an inquisitive pet becomes sick or hurt from exploring the holiday environment at your house. Veterinarians treat thousands of pets each year for holiday-related problems such as electrocution, ingestion of foreign objects, burns, cuts and poisoning.

“The responsibility for pets is the same as for a 1-year-old child and rests on us, as adults,” says Merry Crimi, a veterinarian Milwaukee, Ore., and past president of the American Animal Hospital Association.

This year, check out these possible danger zones in your home for your four-footed companions and take preventive measures to help eliminate risks.

Christmas tree stand. Chemicals put in the water to help the tree stay fresh longer may be harmful, or the water may contain dirt or loose bark. Even homespun additions like sugar or aspirin can cause nausea. Also, firmly anchor your holiday tree to withstand power-ful doggy tail wagging or climbing cats.

Candles, real or electric. Pets are intrigued with flames, such as from a menorah or Advent wreath. Never leave a burning candle unattended; a paw swipe can knock it over and start a fire. Electric candles or other windowsill decorations may also have exposed cords that invite chewing or tripping and may put your pet at risk for serious electric shock or burn.

Christmas tree decorations. Kittens and puppies are particularly attracted to these items. Glass ornaments may fall and break, cutting your pet’s paws. Place sharp ornaments or fragile decorations high on the tree, and put knick-knacks on shelves that are inaccessible to your pet. Artificial snow may be toxic, and shiny tinsel is especially dangerous to cats because it can cause the intestines to bunch up or cut the intestinal wall. Pets clamoring for edible ornaments could knock over the tree.

Children’s toys and wrapping ribbons and bows. It may be fun to watch your pet play with these items, but they can be ingested and get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract. Dispose of wrapping items as soon as possible, and keep the kids’ toys away from pets. Give puppies and dogs rawhide bones to keep their mouths busy with safer distractions.

Seasonal plants. Pets like to chew on novel items like plants. Poinsettias, holly, amaryllis and mistletoe all have poisonous components, if a pet eats them. Some lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if eaten, so keep temptation out of reach.

Party foods and beverages not suitable for your pet’s diet. Guests may want to give your pet a nibble, or he may help himself — even rummaging in the garbage for tasty tidbits. Still, it’s best to stick to a normal diet. Bones can cause choking and fatty items like turkey skin or gravy can cause pancreatitis. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance that may cause seizures or even death, especially for dogs. Toxic risk is even greater if your dog ingests bittersweet or baking chocolate. Lorraine Corriveau, a wellness veterinarian at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, cautions pet owners to call a vet or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately if their dog eats chocolate.

Celebrating visitors. Pets can become overly excited, confused or frightened by the chaos of holiday guests. Be sure pets have a safe retreat from possibly rowdy children and well-intentioned adults. Try to follow your pet’s daily routine despite disruptions in yours, to avoid situations that could bring out aggressive behavior or anxiety in your pet. Noise from fireworks, horns, bells and whistles can be frightening to a pet’s sensitive ears, and some adapt better with a tranquilizer from the vet.

Pets as gifts? Holidays are just about the worst time to introduce a new pet into the home, even though many people surprise a loved one with a cuddly puppy or kitten on Christmas morning. If you’re tempted, rethink the notion of giving pets as gifts. A better time would be a week or two later when the pet can be brought into a quiet, safe environment.

Protecting your pets takes vigilance, but taking precautions throughout the season will help ensure happy holidays for all.

Beverly Burmeier of Austin, Texas, writes about healthy living. Her articles have been published in Weight Watchers, Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook, and other national magazines.

Categories: At Home, Family, Home, Pets