There are many things that change in your home during the holidays. Packages and visitors come through the door, decorations adorn the house, big meals are made with special foods, and wrapped gifts surround a new tree in the main part of your home. As much fun as this can be, it can also pose some stress and risks to your dogs. Learn some important holiday safety rules, tricks, and tips that can help keep you and your pets happy during this season.
When hosting visitors, keep a leash and collar or harness securely on your pets, with ID tags showing your cell phone number. Be sure your pets are microchipped. Dogs can slip out the door in a heartbeat and be gone. Alternately, keep an exercise pen set up at the door so you can open the door, but your pets can’t escape.
The skinny cords on Christmas tree lights are not well insulated and easy for a puppy to chew into. Electrocution can result, so safety is paramount. Keep the cords covered so pets stay safe. Also, consider keeping the lower branches of the tree free from lights. If you catch your dog chewing on a cord, unplug the cord immediately and move it out of their reach.
Christmas Trees & Decorations
You can easily add a safety measure by tethering your tree to the ceiling with a plant hook and a thin wire. Curious climbing pups or those with enthusiastically-wagging tails will appreciate not having the tree fall over on them. Also, monitor and prevent pine needle and tree water ingestion.
Hang bells on the lower branches to help alert you to your pet’s exploration of the tree. Either keep your special, breakable ornaments at the tops of the tree or in storage the years you have young dogs romping around. Another option is to surround the tree with an exercise pen to remove any temptation to much on ornaments.
Tinsel, yarn, strings, and other items with long strands can be fascinating to pets. Avoid using these products in areas where pets can get into them. Strings of popcorn and cranberries may be especially enticing, so keep these out of reach.
Traditional holiday plants like mistletoe and holly are toxic to dogs. Yew, the evergreen many people have in their landscaping is extremely toxic. As a safety measure, avoid bringing clippings into your home to use as garland unless you can identify the variety. Poinsettias are not toxic, but any plant ingestions can lead to oral irritation, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Several common holiday foods that humans can safely eat are unsafe for dogs. These include chocolate, raisins and grapes, Macadamia nuts, and sugarless products containing xylitol. Avoid putting food-containing gifts under the tree, wrapped or unwrapped, when your dogs will be in the room unsupervised. Alcohol innocently set on a low table or the floor can be quickly raided by a pet, leading to serious consequences.
Gifts under the tree occasionally include meats and cheeses. Too much fat from these can be dangerous. Bones and fats from ham, turkey, and other meats can cause pancreatitis or intestinal blockages. Mesh wrappers and leg holders on meats can also smell tempting but cause bowel obstructions. If you’ve got a dog who gets into trash cans, be sure to empty them when they’re full of food.
Avoid using regular sidewalk salt and instead, use cat litter or pet-safe sidewalk salt products. Wash your pet’s paws if they do track through salt that isn’t pet-friendly.
Ethylene glycol, antifreeze, is highly toxic to pets. It has a sweet taste and remains liquid when other water sources are frozen. Ingestion initially will mimic alcohol consumption, but quickly leads to irreversible and fatal kidney failure. Keep antifreeze wiped up and stored in covered containers. Suspected ingestion should require a trip to the veterinarian immediately.
Make sure pets have an unfrozen water supply available to them when they are outside. Heated water bowls are available, with a wire coil surrounding the cords to keep pets safe from chewing through a cord.
Candles & Oils
Dogs can easily tip candles over or venture too close to the flames. Even potpourri oils are dangerous when licked from the source or off their coats. Place these high or avoid altogether. Consider using plug-in room scent products as an alternative.
Identify which home-made treats are for your pets and which are for your family and friends. You don’t want to be the one who bites into a deliciously-decorated dog biscuit.
Marty Greer, DVM, JD has run the Veterinary Village Small Animal Clinic in Wisconsin since 1982. She is an expert in canine reproduction, is author of Canine Reproduction and Neonatology and a frequent lecturer on the subject. Dr. Greer also studied law at Marquette University and is a partner in Animal Legal Resources, LLC and is a board member of the National Animal Interest Alliance. Director of Veterinary Services-Revival Animal Health President-Society of Veterinary Medical Ethics.