A Guide to Holiday Safety for Pets
Now that we’ve wrapped up Thanksgiving (and, consequently, the heaps of leftovers we’re bound to be reheating every day for the foreseeable future), there’s only a handful of weeks left in the holiday rush! Are you ready?
For pet owners, being “ready” for the holiday season takes on some added meaning. Between the usual bouts of careful planning and attention to detail, we’re also responsible for making sure our furry family members feel the holiday love… and that means keeping them safe, healthy, and happy in the midst of all the merriment (and occasional chaos)!
But not to worry — this handy guide includes much of the information and key resources you need to succeed, from the lowdown on festive table scraps to which sparkly decor should be hidden from eager dogs and cats. So dig in!
Poisonous and otherwise harmful foods
Bones: Cooked poultry and fish bones are just a few components that pose a risk to your pets, and pork bones can be dangerous even in their raw form. The bones from your holiday protein of choice can break into small pieces, and if ingested by a gnawing pet, present a serious choking hazard. Sharp, splintered bits are also hazardous to the digestive tract and can otherwise cause internal damage. With all this in mind, it’s best to either consult your veterinarian about any uncertainties or opt to feed your dog a trusted store-bought edible or recreational bone.
Turkey and fatty meats: In general, high-fat meats and proteins can be more difficult for pets to digest, but the safety of turkey and turkey skin has sparked much debate. While turkey isn’t outright poisonous, it may be best to avoid feeding your pet these table scraps, as they can contribute to the development of pancreatitis — a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. As always, check with your vet when in doubt! He or she likely knows your pet’s medical history and can help you decide whether or not it’s safe for them to score some leftovers.
Desserts: Chocolate is the obvious villain when it comes to sweets that pets can’t eat, so take great care to leave pies, cakes, cookies, and candy out of their reach. Especially if your dog or cat is prone to jumping on the dining table when no one is looking, be vigilant about clearing dishes when you and the family leave the room. Artificial sweeteners such as xylitol are also lesser-known culprits that are extremely dangerous for pets. If ingested, even small amounts of xylitol can cause rapid and sudden hypoglycemia onset that is potentially life-threatening if untreated. If possible, consider blocking off your pet’s kitchen access during baking and cooking sessions.
Onions: Thiosulfate, a naturally occurring substance found in onions, is especially toxic to cats, but also harmful to dogs and other pets. If ingested, onions can cause potentially life-threatening red blood cell damage — so use extra caution when chopping onions, garlic, or chives for your potatoes, green bean casserole, and other savory sides and mains.
Yeast dough: When you leave your holiday loaves, buns, and rolls to rise prior to baking, the raw dough poses a significant risk to dogs eagerly monitoring the the kitchen floor or cats who are capable of jumping on the counter. Should they ingest any yeast dough, your pets can suffer from a potentially fatal condition called bloat as the dough expands in the stomach. Fermenting yeast can also lead to poisoning as it produces alcohol, which is then rapidly absorbed into the animal’s bloodstream. The most mild cases can still result in gas and intestinal discomfort… so keep that sourdough starter locked away, store unused dough far out of reach, and keep a close eye on the proofing process.
Raisins and grapes: While grape and raisin toxicity is not yet thoroughly understood, largely because only some pets display negative reactions while others seem to tolerate them, owners should veer on the safe side and restrict access to these snacks. If ingested, possible warning signs include vomiting or diarrhea and issues passing urine (sometimes due to kidney damage). If an accident occurs and any adverse symptoms follow, contact your vet immediately.
Decorating: What is safe and what isn’t?
Christmas trees: This is a big one. In general, live trees can be a hazard. Pine is toxic to cats, and even other species are bound to shed needles that can cause internal damage if eaten. The fluid at the base of many live Christmas trees often contains harmful chemicals and resin. An artificial tree is often the safer bet, but these can still cause problems for pets who like to nibble. If chewing is a concern, use bitter apple spray or a similar (and safe) pet repellent to discourage grazing.
Tree accessories: Electrical components such as lights should be kept out of pets’ reach to prevent fire hazards and avoid electric shock from chewing. Tinsel can also be harmful if chewed and digested. Edible ornaments (i.e. – take-home crafts from schoolchildren) and trimmings such as popcorn and cranberries should be left off the tree or used exclusively on unaccessible upper branches. Broken ornaments, and the string or hooks used to hang them, are all choking hazards and can cause internal damage if ingested. All decorations should be secured to the tree, and the tree itself may need to be anchored to the ceiling, floor, or a nearby wall if climbing or jumping is a concern. Some pet parents may opt to keep the tree in a room that is off limits to dogs and cats.
Poinsettias, mistletoe, holly, and other decorative plants: Unfortunately, sometimes a well-intentioned flower bouquet sent from a loved one or the festive centerpiece on your dinner table could spell trouble for your pet. A good holiday decorating rule of thumb is to use caution with live poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly, as these are all toxic to dogs and cats. Before you shop, refer to the ASPCA’s complete list of toxic and safe plants for dogs and cats.
Ribbon and string: Contrary to popular depictions of cute kittens batting balls of yarn, string and cats do not mix! Any type of string is dangerous for pets, including ribbons used for gift wrapping. There’s no debate that it can certainly be an exciting toy for kitties and canines, but if swallowed (as is likely with a curious pet in the heat of playtime), string can cause strangulation or become knotted around the intestines and cause a life-threatening blockage.
Other wrapping materials: Gift bags, bags used to collect and recycle used gift wrap, cellophane… all of these can potentially lead to suffocation in the worst cases. Be vigilant about cleanup during and after wrapping sessions and gift exchanges. Scissors and box cutters should also be securely stored away from pets.
Candles and fragrance diffusers: Your home may smell more inviting than ever, but unattended candles are obvious fire hazards, and fragrance oils are harmful if knocked over and ingested. Position candles and diffusers in areas that aren’t accessible to even the most curious climbing kitty, and blow out candles when leaving the room. Alternatively, opt for battery-operated candles for pet-proof ambiance.
If you’re feeling stressed from the holiday rush, chances are your pet may be feeling the same way. Especially for our more timid friends, the influx of guests and visitors can elevate anxiety. Because anxious, stressed, or fearful pets may feel more inclined to act out or even try to bolt out of an open door, it’s important to stay in tune with your pet’s body language and be an advocate for your animal when necessary. Communicate with your guests, let them know when to leave space, keep exits and entryways secure, and enlist each visitors’ cooperation in enacting the above guidelines (that means no table scraps, no matter how convincing your pup’s begging face may be!).
Traveling? Out and about?
Happy holidays from Sarah’s Pet Care!
Featured image source: MattysFlicks
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