Rich and decadent foods, beautifully-decorated and lit Christmas trees and other decorations and plants celebrating the season, much-anticipated visits from family and friends, and gift-wrapped packages chosen especially for that special someone (or special pet). These are all familiar parts of holiday celebrations. However, they and other aspects of the holidays can also result in potential safety issues for our favorite animal companions. Here are some Pet Safety Tips which are especially important to remember during the holiday season:
The holiday foods that humans love are not intended for pets, and rich foods (such as turkey, gravy, and desserts) are not recommended for dogs or cats because they can cause discomfort, vomiting, and/or pancreatitis (a very dangerous condition for pets that can be fatal). Therefore, alert all visitors (and members of your own household) that 1) pets should never be fed from the table; 2) they should be given no rich foods, no bones, and no desserts; and 3) chocolate, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts are particularly dangerous foods for cats and dogs and, therefore, should not be given (even in small amounts) to pets!
Alcohol is toxic to pets, so not only do you need to refrain from giving any alcoholic beverages to your pets, but you also need to watch that guests do not give them any.
Tinsel on trees and string or ribbon on packages are all very dangerous if swallowed by pets.
Keep glass tree ornaments hung out of the reach of cats and dogs, and do not allow pets to drink from the water source under live Christmas trees.
Although generally not poisonous, when eaten by a pet, poinsettia plants, holly, mistletoe, Christmas cacti, the leaves of amaryllis, and Christmas tree needles can definitely irritate the pet’s stomach, so a good rule of thumb is to keep these and other plants out of the reach of pets. (A more in-depth list of plants that can be poisonous or harmful to pets, can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com).
If decorations require electrical cords, use the shortest possible cords, and be watchful that pets don’t start chewing on them.
Flickering candles can be especially attractive to curious pets. Make certain that pets are nowhere near lighted candles—and don’t burn citrus-scented candles in a home where there are cats as felines are extremely sensitive to the citrus scent, which can cause them discomfort.
Extra traffic in your home during the holiday season gives your pet more opportunities to sneak through an open door and get outside. Monitor the door when guests (including delivery personnel) arrive and depart. Also, don’t hesitate to take a moment to teach your visitors (especially those who don’t have any pets of their own) how to best approach, greet, and play with your pets. Remember that dogs and cats see things differently than humans, so stretching out a hand, as humans do to shake hands, running toward them with open arms, or reaching out to hug them may be frightening to them. (Think of how you would feel if someone you weren’t familiar with ran toward you!)
Also, when walking dogs in the winter, you may want to inspect their paws for snow, ice, and salt between the toes. Of course, the snow and ice melts eventually, but, upon first coming inside, it can both irritate the dog’s paws and leave a mess on your floors. Cleaning paws with a damp, warm cloth after going for a walk not only rids the paws of any ice, snow, or salt application from sidewalks and streets, but also gives you and your special companion extra bonding time together after their walks.
Avoid subjecting your animal companions to fireworks and/or holiday noisemakers, as both can be very distressing for pets.
Another winter hazard to pets is antifreeze. Be sure to clean up any spills immediately!
When buying gifts for pets, choose carefully! No nylabones for dogs (as broken teeth can result), no balls with bells or squeakers inside that can be swallowed. Laser lights make excellent toys for cats, and sweet potato treats are excellent chewies for dogs. These treats are good for the dog's teeth. Dogs also enjoy the rope chewy toys… large, thick cotton-type ropes with knots tied in the ends. You can throw this toy for the dog or play tug o' war with your dog. Kong toys are great for dogs, too. Fleece fabric cut into a strip about 8-10 inches wide, folded, and then with knots tied at the ends are fun toys for dogs, but don't make them longer than about 24 inches to prevent it accidentally wrapping around your dog's neck when you are not present to help prevent a problem. The best toys for birds include smooth pieces of wood or tennis balls; do not give them anything made of breakable plastic, glass, or synthetic fibers. And don’t give toys of any kind with strings (including string tails) or wire attached to ANY pet! Cat's love the Cat Dancer toy almost as much as the Laser Lights! Beware of catnip toys… some cats get aggressive when exposed to catnip. A scratching device for cats is a good gift… cardboard styles are fun. Treats for cats? Ask the cat's human companion what treats the cat enjoys. Be sure the treats are made in the USA.
Finally, find some extra time to spend with your pets during the holiday season. Yes, it’s a busy time, but taking the time to play with your cat and its favorite toys, to take your dog on an extra walk, or just to hold, talk to, or cuddle with your animal companions will help all of you to experience the peace, joy, and love that makes this such a very special season of the year!
Happy Holidays from the Ocooch Mountain Humane Society. May you and your pet(s) enjoy a safe and fun holiday season—and don’t forget to visit the RC Rotary Lights in the Park exhibit, which will include a tree decorated by OMHS! Watch for the OMHS logo as you drive into the Park.
Thank you, OMHS member Mari Sue, for writing this article!