10 Ways to Keep Your Pet Safe During the Holiday Season

December 8, 2021

Over the holidays, we celebrate the joy of coming together in health and happiness. But sometimes in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, we let our guard down and allow our pets to get into mischief. Our family of hospitals see an uptick in pet emergencies around the holidays, from pets with pancreatitis and electrical burns, to those with toxicity and intestinal obstructions.

Stacy Burdick, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)
NVA Compassion-First Clinical Advisor

“During the holidays it is so easy to get distracted, and just like with children, it takes only a second for a pet to get into trouble and land you in the emergency room.  It is of the utmost importance to know the dangers, increase awareness and pay attention, especially this year, to ensure your holiday season is filled with love and joy and not a trip to the ER – human or veterinary.”

Keep your pet out of the hospital, and snuggled up beside you, by following our tips for a pet-safe holiday season.

#1: Don’t share toxic holiday foods with your pet

Your kitchen will be a flurry of activity through New Year’s Day, and your pet will be drooling along with your family as you pull your favorite dishes out of the oven. But, small amounts of some human foods are toxic to pets, and can lead to kidney or liver failure, gastrointestinal (GI) distress, anemia, or worse. Keep these chronic offenders away from your pet’s food bowl:

  • Onions, garlic, and chives
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Sugar-free treats containing xylitol
  • Raw yeast dough
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Caffeinated drinks

#2: Steer clear of high-fat treats

While turkey trimmings, butter-laden mashed potatoes, and gravy are not exactly toxic to pets, their high fat content makes them dangerous treats. Your pet eats the same low-fat food every day, and if you shock their GI tract with a high-fat meal, they can develop pancreatitis. Your pet’s pancreas produces fat-digesting enzymes, and a sudden need to break down rich foods can cause their pancreas to overproduce enzymes, and start digesting itself. Intense body-wide inflammation can result, and affected pets experience vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal pain. Severe cases often require hospitalization, and can become deadly.

“Pancreatitis can be a lifelong, frustrating and painful disease for our pets. We certainly see an uptick in this disease around the holidays because of the rich foods that pets are fed or help themselves to by getting into the trash or stealing treats off the counter.  Please consider locking pets out of the kitchen or dining room and take the trash out often.” – Dr. Burdick

#3: Pet-proof your Christmas tree

Your cat may see your Christmas tree as a special, once-a-year climbing tower or scratching post, whereas your rambunctious dog may get too close while roughhousing. Your pet’s shenanigans can topple your tree, shattering ornaments that can cut a paw. If your pet doesn’t move out of the way in time, the tree can fall on them, and severely injure them. If your pet is likely to cause trouble, secure the tree to the wall with heavy-gauge fishing line or wire, or keep your pet out of the room when you can’t supervise them. If you welcomed a new pet into your home this year, or are fostering a furry friend, and this is their first Christmas with you, you won’t know how they will react to the tree and should err on the side of caution.

#4: Skip edible decorations

Your kids may love to make salt dough ornaments or string popcorn and cranberry garlands, but edible decorations will make your tree more tempting to your pet. Salt dough has a high salt content and can cause salt toxicity if your pet steals their own treat from the tree. If your pet eats a popcorn garland, string and all, it can lead to a linear foreign body. As their intestines attempt to propel the string forward, they can accordion around the foreign body, causing an obstruction, or wear a hole in the intestinal wall, leading to deadly peritonitis and sepsis.

#5: Don’t let your pet drink from the tree stand

The water in your Christmas tree stand likely contains fertilizers that have leached from the tree, bacteria and mold, and chemicals you added to extend your tree’s life. Your pet, who will drink from anywhere, including the toilet and muddy puddles, may decide the tree stand is their own personal water dish, and lap up the nasty liquid. Never add chemicals to your tree water, and cover the tree stand to keep your pet safe, or gate them in another room when you cannot directly supervise them.

#6: Avoid pet-toxic essential oils

Holiday scents, such as pine and wintergreen, give your house that fresh-cut tree aroma. As essential oils have become more popular, pet toxicity cases have increased. While oils typically cause problems for dogs only if they are ingested, cats are more sensitive. Diffused oils can land on a cat’s fur, and be groomed off, or breathed in, and cause respiratory irritation and breathing problems. Oils known to cause toxicity include:

  • Tea tree oil (i.e., melaleuca)
  • Wintergreen oil
  • Pine oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Clove oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Pennyroyal oil

If you use essential oils, keep bottles stored where your pet cannot accidentally knock over and spill them. And, if you share your home with a feline friend, steer clear of diffusing these toxic oils, and save them for personal use only.

#7: Tuck cords out of your pet’s reach

Naughty puppies and kittens can chew electrical cords from your Christmas tree lights, holiday village houses, and other twinkling decorations. Chewing through a cord can cause oral burns or electrocution, or even start a fire. Be sure to tuck all cords out of the way where curious kittens and pups cannot get to them.

#8: Leave toxic plants out of your decor

Fresh garland and a holly centerpiece add holiday flair, but many holiday plants are toxic to pets. Lilies are extremely dangerous to cats, and ingestion of any amount of leaves, flowers, or pollen can lead to acute kidney failure, and is considered an emergency. Other plant varieties that can cause toxicity include:

  • Amaryllis
  • Balsam
  • Cedar
  • Christmas cactus
  • Holly
  • Mistletoe
  • Pine

Poinsettias were once believed to cause severe toxicity; however, ingestion causes only mild irritation, which can lead to drooling, pawing at the mouth, and vomiting.

#9: Plan a separate party for your pet

While you may look forward to family celebrations, your pet may not be much of a party animal and may not enjoy loud guests, tail-tugging toddlers, and hovering, well-meaning pet-lovers. If your pet becomes anxious around guests, they may appreciate a solo party in a quiet room, where they can relax away from the hubbub. Play soft music to drown out party noise, and prepare a special treat, such as a Kong filled with canned food, to keep them busy.

#10: Ensure your pet’s identification is up-to-date

A nervous pet may bolt through your open door as guests file in with food and gifts, or if they are startled by New Year’s Eve fireworks. Keep your pet in another room when the door is open, especially as guests are coming or going. In addition, ensure they have adequate identification, in case they slip past you and get lost. A collar and identification tag can help your pet return home if they are found by a neighbor; however, a collar can slip off, making permanent identification with a microchip invaluable. If your pet has a microchip, check that your information is up to date in the national database. If they do not, schedule an appointment with your primary care veterinarian to have them microchipped, which requires only a quick visit. Should your pet escape, you’ll be happy you added this extra identification layer that will significantly increase their likelihood of return.

We hope you and your pet enjoy a safe and healthy holiday season. But, if your pet gets into mischief, despite your best efforts, contact your local NVA Compassion-First hospital for help.