7 Tips for Pet-Safe Holidays

Dec 3, 2021

The holiday season ushers in good cheer and fresh hopes for the new year. To keep spirits bright, remember to prioritize pet-safety amidst all the hustle and bustle. Check out this sensible advice from the industry’s top vets to make sure your furry friends enjoy the season!

#1 Shut the Front Door!

We mean this literally. Holidays often mean lots of action at the entrance to your apartment or house: package deliveries, the arrival of guests, more foot traffic than usual as you shop and entertain. All of this coming and going may present more opportunities than usual for your pet to slip out and get lost.

If for any reason your pet is not microchipped, give yourself and your pet the gift of taking this step. Many humane societies will microchip for free. Even if you can’t accomplish this before the holidays, make it a priority for the new year. In anticipation of this risk, take special precautions to contain your pet this season. Crate your dog, and place your cats behind a closed door with a clean litter pan, food and water. They may complain, but this is far better for all concerned running the risk of an adored fur-baby bolting out into the street unleashed. Consider mild sedatives or natural calming agents for situations like parties and guests to minimize your pet’s stress levels and the physiologic effects that can result. Talk to Airvet for advice on what might be best. As a general rule, be sure that your pets have a safe place to relax in private, a dark, quiet area with bedding, litter and water. In particular, take the time to kindly inform children and their parents about your pet and pet’s preferences. Take care to help children understand that your pet may feel shy, and may not want to socialize immediately.

#2 Ornaments Can Be Dangerous.

Cats in particular are attracted by shiny, dangling, swinging, clinking, glittery, sparkly, crackly things like bead garlands, ribbons and tinsel, and may be tempted to chew (and swallow) them. Plastic strands, as well as other small parts that may be part of your holiday decor, can cause serious trouble if ingested by your pets, so be sure to keep anything that qualifies as a “choking hazard” far away from your cat (and dog). Chewing an electrical cord can result in shock, and a broken glass ornament can slice a delicate paw or muzzle. Be sure to pick up all gift-wrapping and other shimmery debris during party-season, so your pets don’t get themselves into trouble by munching cast off decorations.

#3 Fire Danger.

“Cats love to paw at moving objects like the flickering flame of decorative candles. They might suffer burns or cause fires if they knock over the candles while playing,” Dr. Jeff Werber warns. Keep a watchful eye anytime candles are lit. Try flickering LEDs instead!

#4 Pretty Poisons.

Some of our favorite holiday plants are poisonous! Mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum, American mistletoe, and Viscum album, European variety) is among these. Hang it high in a doorway where no pets can reach it, and be sure it doesn’t drop toxic berries as it dries out. To be 100% on the side of the angels, snap up a faux-mistletoe from a craft shop.
The pointed leaves of holly can deliver a sharp jab, and the berries contain soap-like saponins which cause stomach upset if consumed. The brilliant red Poinsettia, produces a milky white sap that may result in tummy-trouble and irritation of the mouth and throat when eaten. The experience is unpleasant, but rarely fatal — but again, why risk it? Treat yourself to some silk flowers for indoors, and enjoy the real thing in a pot on your step. Although these plants are generally not deadly, eating them or even chewing them may produce signs of poisoning, typically drooling and vomiting. If you observe these behaviors, contact Airvet immediately.

#5 Pet Safety Under the Tree.

Whether your Christmas tree is freshly-chopped or faux, use good judgment when celebrating with your pets. Live trees — fir, spruce and pine — are generally non-toxic, although chewing the needles can irritate a pet’s mouth and stomach. Also, prevent your pet from lapping at the water in the stand for your live tree: it may contain mold and bacteria, and the chemicals you may add to keep your tree fresh are toxic to pets. Fake trees seem harmless, as long as your pets don’t decide to chew on those twinkly synthetic branches.

#6 Keep human foods away from your pet.

“Holiday sweets and treats can be dangerous. Raisins, macadamia nuts and chocolate can all be very toxic to pets. Dogs are more likely to gobble these up than cats. Some stocking stuffers like candy and gum contain xylitol which is very dangerous to pets. It can cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar which can cause seizures and long-term liver damage. If you suspect your pet has eaten any of these items, contact a veterinarian immediately,” said Dr. Stephanie Lantry, co-owner of Animal Medical Clinic of Gulf Gate in Sarasota, Florida.

Sugar is a common ingredient in dog treats, and should be avoided. Read more about the risks of feeding your dog sugar here. And note that many brands of peanut butter, often a dog-favorite treat, contain xylitol.
Chocolate in particular is a definite no-no (and not because it’s fattening and bad for their teeth!). Chocolate is toxic for both dogs and cats due to the presence of the chemical theobromine, as well as caffeine. As a general rule of thumb: the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to pets. So, while baking chocolate and dark chocolate are highly concentrated with 130-450 mg of theobromine per ounce and are very dangerous, milk chocolate only contains about 44-58 mg/ounce and white chocolate has only 0.25 mg of theobromine per ounce so they are considered less dangerous. The level of risk depends on the size of your pet and the amount and type they digest. As an example, a medium-sized dog weighing 50 pounds would only need to eat 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate, or 9 ounces of milk chocolate, to potentially show signs of poisoning.

Pets may lick their chops as you rip into a freshly cooked salmon, turkey, or leg of lamb, and VERY occasionally offering a tender morsel (about the size of your thumb) is probably fine. Just be sure that there are no hard bits attached, and that the treat is lean, soft meat with no hidden bones, gristle or cartilage. As with all treats, less is more. Vets discourage offering your dog actual bones, since raw bones may contain harmful bacteria, and cooked bones may become brittle and shatter into dangerous splinters.

#7 Check out treats and toys first.

Of course your friends mean well, but carefully check out any gifts presented to your pets. Someone who doesn’t have a dog, for example, may choose something that actually isn’t safe or wise. Note that toys for humans are not ideal for your pets. Toys for our kids are easy for pets to rip open, and this means that your pet may swallow stuffing, as well as small plastic parts that tear off easily. Also be aware of soft vinyl toys made with phthalates, toxins that can build up in your dog’s body, suppressing immune function. Even tennis balls can present problems because your dog can probably rip them apart and swallow the pieces. And the “fuzz” and dye of a tennis ball may be irritating to your dog, so a sturdy rubber ball of the same size is much safer, and more durable. The famous KONG toy embeds the “squeaker” noise-maker that drives dogs wild in a safe construction. Cheaper dog toys are made in such a way that the squeaker may easily be swallowed when your dog rips the toy apart. If friends and family love to give your dog holiday presents, consider posting or emailing your pet’s wish-list, a friendly way to share the toys and treats that are safe for your pet!

What does your pet really want this holiday season? The truth is, your pet just wants you. If you’re able to take some time off during the holiday season, treat yourself and your pet to some dedicated quality time together. Take your dog on extra walks, or on an exciting new adventure. Spend more time with your cat, grooming and playing. It’s the least you can do for the unconditional love our pets give us every day of the year!