Holiday time is family time…and who is a more beloved family member than your dog or cat?
That’s why you need to ensure your pal’s continued well-being at this time of the year by protecting him or her against potential holiday-related dangers, knowing what people food pets can (and can’t) eat, preparing for the arrival of visitors and making pet-minded travel plans.
Protect Your Pet from Holiday Hazards
Decorating for the holidays can give your home a sense of warmth and cheer. However, all those pretty things can be problematic for your pet; for example, try searching “cats in Christmas trees” on YouTube.
Ways to reduce your pet’s risk include:
- Securing your tree to the ceiling or a door frame with fishing line
- Keeping your pet from ingesting tree water, which can contain toxins and bacteria; consider putting up an artificial tree instead
- Avoiding glass ornaments or anything that can be bitten into (such as salt-dough decorations); for heirloom ornaments use a small display stand, set in a place your pet can’t reach
- Not decorating with tinsel or popcorn strings, which can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed
- Placing lights where pets can’t reach them (including wrapping only the top part of the tree with lights) to avoid shocks caused by chewed cords; always unplug lights when you leave the house
- Using lower-voltage LEDs instead of incandescents; consider switching to rope lights, to which you can apply a pet deterrent such as Bitter Apple
- Not leaving batteries where they can be eaten; pets may be especially attracted to the small button batteries often used in toys, games and remotes
- Not decorating gifts with bows and ribbons; if you do use such accessories, keep the gifts in a secure place and put them out just before opening
- Not decorating with such potentially hazardous plants as amaryllis, balsam, cedar, holly, mistletoe or pine (the ASPCA lists plants that are toxic to dogs and cats); poinsettias can irritate your pet’s GI tract if eaten
- Placing candles or potpourri where pets can’t reach them; never leave a pet alone with a lit candle (electric candles make good alternatives)
Should accidents happen, “make sure you know how to get to your 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic before there's an emergency,” says the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
The association suggests keeping the contact information for your vet and emergency clinic in an easy-to-find location along with following numbers:
- ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 888-426-4435
- Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661
People Food Your Pet Can’t—and Can—Eat
The longing look at your plate, the whine: If you have a dog or cat, chances are your friend has begged for some of what you’re having.
And those begging eyes can start working overtime during the holidays, when there are so many enticing aromas coming from the kitchen.
However, a lot of holiday foods shouldnotbe on your pet’s menu.
For one thing, things such as turkey skin and other meat scraps “can cause a life-threatening condition in pets known aspancreatitis” because of their fat content, warns the AMVA, which adds that even small amounts can be hazardous. Don’t give your pet bones, either.
Chocolate is another food you shouldn’t be feeding to your pal. “Although the toxicity can vary based on the type of chocolate, the size of your pet and the amount they ate, it's safer to consider all chocolate off-limits for pets,” the AVMA advises.
Another item that’s fine for humans but hazardous for pets isxylitol, a low-calorie sweetener used in sugar-free candies, gums and mints as well as diabetes-friendly foods (including baked goods) and oral-care products.
In fact, some types of fresh produce—which people are actually encouraged to eat—are also hazardous for furry family members. Your pets should never have:
- Garlic and onions (and others in that family, such as leeks and shallots)
- Grapes, including raisins
- Lemons, limes and other citrus fruits
Almonds and macadamia nuts are also on the no-no list, as are alcohol, coffee and tea. (Visit the ASPCA’s People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets page for more information.)
On the other hand, you can give your pet the following foods in small amounts:
- Apples (no seeds)
- Carrots (cooked for cats)
- Corn (off the cob)
- Eggs (cooked)
- Fish (full cooked, no bones, up to 2x/week)
- Green peas (not canned)
- Lean meats, poultry (cooked, no fat or bones)
- Popcorn (unsalted/unbuttered, air popped, fully popped)
- Shrimp (fully cooked, no shell)
- Tuna (small amounts, canned in water)
Of course, pets will be happy to help themselves to people food; check that they aren’t surfing tabletops and windowsills. And they have no problems stealing from the garbage either, so make sure your trash is tied up securely.
Help Your Pet Prepare for Visitors
Some pets bask in the extra attention when you open your home to family and friends. However, the AVMA notes that “even pets who aren't normally shy may become nervous in the hubbub that can accompany a holiday gathering.”
It helps to know when your pet is becoming overwhelmed. Signs of stress in dogs include barking or whining, cowering, tucking the tail and hiding or avoidance. Stressed cats will also hide or they may meow excessively. (Go here for more information on helping stressed pets.)
For a pet who just doesn’t want to socialize, set aside an area when he or she has free access to a safe place, such as a crate or covered bed, and ask visitors to not enter.
On the other hand, if your pet is the life of the party, that’s great…but make sure he or she doesn’t escape through doors that are constantly opening and closing.
Holiday Travel and Your Pet
When preparing to travel for the holidays, making arrangements for your pet needs to be on your to-do list.
Dogs to be boarded at a kennel “should be current on their vaccinations, heartworm and flea preventative, and be in good health,” say the folks at VCA Animal Hospitals. “Most boarding kennels will require written proof of vaccination from a licensed veterinarian and all applicable pet licenses prior to boarding.”
Dogs can also be visited at home by a family member, friend or professional pet sitter. And while cats can be boarded, they vastly prefer staying at home in familiar surroundings.
Is your pet accompanying you? According to the AVMA, “Interstate and international travel regulations require any pet you bring with you to have a health certificate from your veterinarian—even if you are traveling by car.” (Learn more here.)
When driving with pets, keep cats in their carriers at all times; dogs should be secured in some sort of harness, booster seat or crate. Don’t forget to pack sanitary supplies and water for the trip (single-use food trays can serve as traveling litter boxes).
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.