It's that wonderful time of year again — when homes glow with twinkling lights, the aroma of yummy food fills the air, and Charlotte families gather together in love and fellowship. With all the celebrations and festivity, none of it would be complete without our beloved pets.
The joy and comfort our furry friends bring to our lives are unparalleled, and this is why we want to remind you of several holiday pet safety precautions you can take this season.
The holidays can sometimes pose unexpected risks for our pets — with new foods, decorations, and new people filling our homes. Sometimes these elements that add so much to our celebrations can pose dangers to our pets.
In this blog post, we share a holiday pet safety checklist with invaluable tips and guidance to keep your festivities joyful and safe for everyone, including your four-legged family members.
As you prepare to make your favorite dishes, keep in mind that not all holiday foods are safe for pets. In fact, certain common holiday treats can pose some serious health risks. Let’s go over a few of these potentially hazardous foods and the health risks they carry for pets.
Chocolate and Sweets
While it’s a holiday staple for many, chocolate is well-known to be poisonous for your pet.
Chocolate contains theobromine, a stimulant that dogs and cats cannot metabolize effectively. If your pet eats chocolate, it can lead to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, seizures, and, in severe cases, even death. Keep all chocolate treats well out of paws’ reach.
The sugar content of other sweets can additionally cause severe tummy upset, and in more serious cases, pancreatitis.
An additional and growing concern given its increasing ubiquity is the artificial sweetener xylitol. Many more products are beginning to include this as a sweetener, and even in very small amounts, it can be toxic to fatal for dogs. As such, we recommend products containing xylitol not be brought into the home at all.
Grapes and Raisins
Whether in fruitcakes, stuffing, or on the appetizer platter, grapes and raisins are abundant during the holidays. However, these seemingly innocent snacks can be toxic to pets and can lead to kidney failure even in small amounts.
Onions and Garlic
While adding a flavorful punch to many holiday dishes, onions and garlic contain compounds that can damage your pet's red blood cells, leading to anemia. Pets who consume garlic or onions may experience weakness, drooling, or collapsing, so make sure they steer clear of these foods.
Reminder: If you plan on having close-knit conversations, consider cutting back on your intake of onions and garlic too — or keep some gum handy (for you, not your pet!).
Aunt Linda’s eggnog might pack a serious punch, but alcohol is no joke when it comes to your pet’s health. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause poisoning in cats and dogs, resulting in symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, coordination loss, and, in severe cases, coma or death. And don’t forget that some baked goods and treats during this season may contain alcohol, and these should be kept out of a pet’s reach, too.
Be careful of holiday foods containing nuts. Nuts can cause issues for pets, ranging from digestive upset to severe poisoning.
For a complete list of poisonous foods for pets, visit this resource from the Humane Society.
Tips for Keeping Pets Safe Around Human Foods
- Secure Garbage Cans: Make sure your trash can isn’t easily accessible, as it often contains food scraps that may be too tempting for pets to ignore. If your garbage can can’t be put somewhere out of the way, make sure it at least has a lid or covering.
- Educate Guests About Pet Restrictions: Kindly remind your guests not to feed your animal. It often makes things easier to tell your guests not to feed your pet anything at all; that way, they don’t have to keep track of what is or isn’t harmful to them.
- Use Pet-Safe Treat Alternatives: Provide your pet with their own festive treats. There are many pet-friendly treats available nowadays (like cookies) that help to keep them away from the forbidden foods. Plus, it gives your pet the feeling that they are also part of the family celebration and aren’t being denied anything yummy.
- The ASPCA Poison Control Center maintains a staff of veterinary toxicologists available to you 24 hours a day/365 days a year to help with toxic events. They will collect a thorough history from you, discuss your pets’ situation, and recommend whether or not care needs to be sought. Additionally, they will be available to discuss your pet’s case with veterinary staff around the clock so treatment can be targeted to your pet's needs. They can be reached at (888) 426-4435. There is a charge to open a case with them but they will then be available to you or us as much as needed until your pet is discharged from the hospital.
Decorations and Ornaments
As you deck the halls and make your home festive, remember that many of these decorations can actually create hidden dangers for pets. Keep the following hazards in mind and take precautions to make sure your pet has a safe holiday season.
Tinsel and String
Shiny and sparkly things are highly attractive to pets. However, as fun as these seemingly harmless decorations may appear to be, they can actually be quite dangerous if ingested.
Tinsel and strings can cause blockages in the digestive tract, leading to the need for surgery to remove them. Opt for alternatives like pet-friendly garlands, or keep these decorations out of reach.
Poinsettias and Other Toxic Plants
Many holiday plants, like poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe, are toxic to pets when consumed. Poinsettias can irritate your pet's mouth and stomach, while holly and mistletoe can be even more dangerous, potentially causing severe digestive distress, cardiovascular issues, or worse.
Consider silk or artificial plants as a safe, festive alternative, or place live plants in locations your pet can't access.
Lit candles and inquisitive pets are a combo you don’t want to see in your home. Cats and dogs might inadvertently knock over candles or singe their fur while playing or exploring.
To maintain a cozy vibe without the risk, opt for flameless, battery-operated candles, or place candles in higher places where your pet can’t reach them.
The oils from potpourri can be both very attractive to and highly toxic for your pets. If used, they should remain entirely out of reach to your pets.
String lights and other electric decorations create a charming and cozy atmosphere, but they’re also quite tempting as chew toys for pets. Biting through cords can result in burns or even electrical shock.
To pet-proof your holiday display, make sure your cords are fastened against walls and floors, or use protective coverings to keep them out of reach.
By taking these steps to pet-proof your holiday decorations, you can create a happy and beautiful atmosphere while keeping your pet safe at the same time.
Visitors and Socialization
The holiday season often means more visitors, more gatherings, and more socializing. While this can be an exciting time, it's crucial to remember that the hustle and bustle of festivities can sometimes overwhelm our animals.
To make sure your pet remains comfortable, safe, and happy during this often hectic time, here are some essential tips to keep in mind.
Create a Safe, Quiet Space for Your Pet
With the increase in visitors and activity, it's a good idea to provide your pet with a quiet, safe space where they can retreat if they feel anxious or overstimulated. Prepare a cozy corner with their bed, toys, and fresh water, and consider playing calming music to create a soothing environment.
Bonus tip: Get your pet a new toy, too, to help them feel special and not “punished” by a safe space that might be hidden away.
Communicate Your Pet's Needs to Guests
Make sure your guests are aware of your pet's preferences and boundaries. If your dog doesn't like to be picked up, or if your cat prefers not to be petted too much, just tell your visitors. This will help avoid uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe situations.
Keep a Watchful Eye on Open Doors
Guests may unintentionally leave doors ajar while entering or exiting. This is often a prime opportunity for curious pets to finally make a run for it. Keep an eye on doors, especially if your pet is known to be an adventurer.
Set Pet Etiquette for Visitors
Encourage your guests to follow some basic pet etiquette. As we’ve mentioned before, remind them not to feed your pet table scraps, and discourage them from leaving food and drinks within your pet's reach. Small bones, chocolate, and alcoholic beverages are common holiday items that pets love to sample, so do your best to not let those opportunities arise.
With these considerations in mind, your pet can enjoy the holiday season as much as your human guests. A little preparation and communication go a long way in creating a harmonious and joyful atmosphere for everybody.
Managing Pet Anxiety
As fun as the holidays can be, they can be a huge source of stress and anxiety for pets.
This time of year often disrupts their familiar routines; there’s an influx of visitors, loud noises, and unusual decorations. Often furniture gets moved around, which adds stress to a lot of pets — especially cats, who are notorious creatures of comfort and routine.
It's crucial to recognize signs of anxiety in pets. These may include becoming more vocal (like barking or meowing), pacing, hiding, trembling, or any other unusual behavior. Pay close attention to your pet's cues, as these behaviors are their way of communicating their discomfort.
Strategies to Help With Pet Stress
- Stick to Routines: As much as possible, maintain your pet's daily routines for feeding, playtime, and walks, if needed. Consistency helps provide a sense of normalcy during holiday disruptions.
- Provide Safe Distractions and Toys: Offering engaging toys and safe distractions can help keep your pet occupied and less focused on the chaos around them. Puzzle feeders and treat-dispensing toys are excellent options.
- Consider Pheromone Diffusers or Calming Supplements: Pheromone diffusers emit synthetic pheromones that mimic those that are naturally produced by pets. These can have a calming effect and reduce a lot of the stress that your pet experiences during the holidays. Always consult with your veterinarian about using calming supplements or medications if your pet's anxiety is severe.
- Consult With a Veterinarian: If your pet's anxiety is unmanageable or becomes a significant concern, again, consult with your vet. They can provide in-depth and personalized guidance to help your pet feel better during the holidays.
The root cause of pet anxiety sometimes goes deeper than just stress from the holidays. Discover how you can best help your pet with anxiety, not only during this season but long after the Christmas tree and lights are stored away.
The Key to a Happy Pet During the Holidays
As responsible pet owners in the Charlotte area, it's our duty to protect our pets from potential hazards and bring as much joy to them as they bring to us. Following the guidance above, you can keep your pet safe and happy throughout this busy time of year.
Remember, communication goes a long way: Tell your guests to avoid feeding your pet, and don’t forget to pet-proof your home before the celebrations begin. We hope that this information helps you have a safe, memorable, and wonderful holiday season.
For any pet health concerns or questions, or to schedule an appointment, reach out to us at Ballantyne Veterinary Clinic. Our dedicated team is eager to provide the best care for your beloved pet.