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Home holiday safety tips for pet owners

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: three ailing dogs, two sick cats, and a bill with a largish vet’s fee.” These lyrics suggest a nightmarish scenario, one that you, as a pet owner, certainly want to avoid during the festive season.

If it’s a choice between babysitting a sick puppy and attending a lively holiday party, it’s no contest: the party wins hands down. You’ll have nothing to worry about as long as you give some thought to your pet’s health and safety at a time of year when decorations and rich foods are everywhere in your home.

By following these handy tips, you can stay at home by a toasty fire, rather than trekking to the vet clinic in the middle of a frigid night.

Decoration dangers for pets

Cute kitten in a small box for Christmas

Decorations can be hazardous to your pet’s health if ingested. It’s important to select tree ornaments that are too large to be swallowed in a single gulp by a dog or cat.

As lovely as they are, glass ornaments are also a danger. If they break, your pets may decide the pieces look like delicious treats and could eat them with disastrous consequences: cuts to the throat, digestive system, and mouth.

Tinsel is another decorative item that is wise to forego if you have pets. In addition to getting tangled in it, pets may choke on it or get it caught in their stomachs.

“Swallowing stuff that’s not meant to be eaten can cause very serious problems,” says veterinarian Phil Baxter. “Unless you see it being eaten, it’s a tough diagnosis. Monitor your pets that have a tendency to chew.”

In addition, ornaments may be painted with or created from substances that are toxic to pets. Hang them high enough off the ground that your pets can’t reach them.

Christmas plants toxic to pets

Poinsettias with Christmas decorations and ornaments around it.

Ah, the smell of Christmas greenery—how enticing! Unfortunately, many of the plants associated with the holiday season aren’t pet friendly.

Among the varieties that can spell disaster are:

  • Holly. These pointy plants may provoke depression, diarrhea and intense vomiting if ingested.

  • Mistletoe. Kissing under the mistletoe is fine, but having the plant itself anywhere near your pet’s mouth is a recipe for illness. If ingested, it has the potential to cause excessive drooling and digestive upset, while larger quantities can prompt heart arrhythmias or neurological issues.

  • Pine needles. If eaten by your pet, these fragrant needles may cause oral irritation, lethargy, trembling, or posterior weakness.

  • Poinsettias. Oral and stomach irritation, including vomiting, may result if a pet nibbles on these festive flowers.

  • Lilies. These lovely white blooms can cause kidney failure in cats—and not only the flowers. The pollen and the water in the vase pose dangers as well.

Avoid pets chewing electrical cords

An older golden retriever laying down with Christmas lights around his body, looking cute.

Pets love to chew on all kinds of odd objects, and electrical cords are no exception. Check your lighting cords for bite marks or fraying, and replace those that are wearing out. Use three-pronged plugs for additional safety.

If you can keep the cords out of reach, so much the better. Pets can get electric burns or be electrocuted if they chew through the insulation of a live wire. They can also have seizures or suffer from dangerous levels of fluid building up in their lungs.

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Christmas foods bad for dogs

A Jack Russell dog on the table about to eat the Christmas food.

We all enjoy the decadent treats of the season, including fruitcake, plum pudding, and liqueur-filled chocolate truffles. However, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and the darker the chocolate, the deadlier.

Alcohol can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation, seizures, and cardiac arrest in dogs. Fruitcakes and plum puddings soaked in rum are definite no-nos. Keep your bottles of alcohol hidden away in cupboards just to be safe.

Raisins are also toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure in some breeds, so beware of where you set out the butter tarts or mincemeat pies. Keep your baking supplies hidden away in overhead kitchen cupboards. Beware of chocolate treats in stockings that your pets may knock down and paw through. On the bright side, since your pets can’t share your holiday treats, there’s more for you!

Candles: a holiday hazard for pets

A cute cat sits on a pillow with Christmas presents, candles and ornaments around it.

Candles produce a lovely light and often a fragrant smell, but they are also fire hazards. Pets may unwittingly knock them down and start fires if they are within reach. They can also burn themselves or spill hot wax on their paws. Don’t leave candles or open flames unattended and keep them away from curious paws.

Keep an eye on your pets, especially during gatherings at your home. If you suspect a pet has ingested something dangerous, don’t hesitate; take him or her right to the vet. Accidents do happen, but there’s no reason that you and your pets can’t enjoy the holidays together; it just requires adding a few extra items to your home holiday checklist.

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