The malls are filled with Christmas tunes, the houses are covered in lights and the sky seems like it’s ready to snow. That’s right: it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
We know you can’t wait to experience all the festivities with your best furiend by your side. But while you’re preparing for all the fun, it’s important to also be aware of holiday pet safety. From toxic foods and poisonous plants to dangerous decor, the Christmas season brings many holiday hazards for pets — some of which you may not be expecting!
Celebrate safely by following our holiday safety tips to keep your four-legged friends out of harm, so you can relax and focus on what matters most this Christmas.
Many of our favorite holiday foods are unhealthy or even dangerous for our pets if consumed. Practice good holiday food safety by being mindful of what Rover finds on the floor or steals off the table!
The most common and dangerous foods for your pet during the holiday season are raisins and grapes, onions and garlic, xylitol (sugar substitute) and chocolate. All of these are highly toxic for pets and can be fatal if not treated right away. Take any cases of vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and lethargy seriously. Call your vet or the ASPCA Poison Control Center 24-hour hotline (888-426-4435) if your pet has consumed any of these foods.
We know it’s tempting to share the holiday feast with your best bud, but for your pet’s sake don’t sneak them any nuts, meat trimmings or other fatty table scraps. Eating too much fatty food at once can trigger a dangerous condition in your pet called pancreatitis.
You should also keep your pet away from cooked bones (which may splinter and injure your pet’s throat or stomach) and raw dough (which can cause painful bloating if consumed). Finally, try not to let your dog or cat have any nutmeg, caffeine or alcohol, which can also cause trouble for them if consumed in large quantities (for example, if your pet eats a used tea bag from the trash or drains the sangria bowl).
In general, it’s best practice to keep human food for humans and pet food for pets!
The holiday season means a change of scenery — even indoors!
After you’ve put up all the holiday decorations, the house will be filled with things that aren’t usually there and will likely be fascinating or downright irresistible to your curious kitty or pup. So before you let your creative spirit sweep you away, be mindful of how accessible these items are to your pets — and how dangerous they may be if a pet pulls them down!
Christmas Tree and Ornaments
The most classic of all Christmas decor is the Christmas tree, the centerpiece of your living room. Make sure the tree has a heavy base and is secure enough that it won’t fall over — even if Whiskers decides it’s an excellent climbing post! You may even want to consider attaching the top of the tree to the wall or ceiling with a wire or see-through attachment.
If you do use a live tree, don’t let pets drink the tree water or ingest any tree fertilizer. Ingested pine needles or pieces of branches can also cause irritation and vomiting for your pet. Even fake trees have risks: eating plastic needles isn’t good for your pet, either!
As you’re decorating the tree, be mindful that glass or porcelain ornaments can fall and shatter if your pet sniffs them or bumps into the tree. Particularly beware of edible ornaments like sugar cookie ornaments, gingerbread ornaments or other edible decor such as strings of popcorn.
Tinsel, Ribbons and Garland
Sparkly, dangly items like garland, tinsel and ribbons often tempt pets to bat at them or pull them down — ruining your hard work decorating your home, and also putting their own health at risk.
If ingested, such items can possibly wrap around a pet’s stomach or intestines and cause serious intestinal damage. Keep these decorations tied down securely in a place pets cannot reach — and don’t underestimate a dog or cat’s impressive ability to access somewhere they shouldn’t.
Lights and Electrical Wires
There’s nothing like the cheerful twinkling of lights to put you in a festive mood. Unfortunately, our pets tend to be as fascinated by flashing lights as we are — and they investigate this new phenomenon by pawing them, chewing on them, and pulling them down! Keep all plugs and electrical wires covered and check them regularly so that you know immediately if any of your pets do manage to get at them.
Candles and Potpourris
Many pets, especially cats, tend to get too close when investigating an open flame and end up singeing their whiskers. Take care not to put your scented candles, menorah or kinara somewhere a pet can knock them over and start a fire.
Liquid potpourris are highly toxic if your pets ingest them. In fact, many of the commonly used oils are toxic to your pets to even breathe in, so we strongly recommend avoiding all potpourris this holiday season.
Some snow globes may contain antifreeze (ethylene glycol), which is not only extremely toxic to pets, but also smells sweet and interesting to them. Do not let your pets lick the floor if a snow globe shatters!
Fire starter logs or other fire additives (such as color-changing chemicals, fire starter liquid or a box of matches) are another possible source of poisoning, if your pet decides to chew on them. Keep all chemicals locked up where your pets can’t get to them — at Christmas and year-round!
Before you deck the halls with boughs of holly, ensure any real plants you put up are out of your pets’ reach. (And remember, even hanging plants aren’t necessarily safe, as a determined cat can jump higher than you may think!)
Some common holiday plants are surprisingly toxic for your pets. Even if your plants aren’t on this specifically, be aware that any pesticides a plant is treated with could present a danger worse than the plant itself.
When it comes to toxic houseplants, lilies (particularly tiger lilies and daylilies) are possibly the most dangerous. They can quickly cause kidney failure when consumed, and as with many toxins, cats are even more susceptible than dogs. If your pet eats any part of a lily, contact your vet immediately.
It’s also important to be mindful of your Christmas wreath: the evergreen yew is extremely toxic, causing seizures and even death in pets. Finally, be aware that daffodils can cause kidney failure and ingestion of azaleas may be fatal without treatment.
While these plants are less likely to seriously harm your pet, it’s still best to keep mistletoe, holly, poinsettias and the popular Christmas flower amaryllis (also called belladonna) out of your pet’s reach. All four can cause nausea and vomiting if consumed, and mistletoe can also cause cardiovascular problems. Pine needles off the Christmas tree or wreaths can irritate a pet’s stomach as well.
Perhaps surprisingly, Christmas cactus is in fact non-toxic (though of course, letting your pet have a nibble is still not recommended).
4. Presents and Toys
As the holidays approach and presents begin to accumulate, your chief concern is probably making sure the recipient of the gift doesn’t see you smuggling it into the house! But while you’re trying to find a hiding spot for the new TV, be aware that presents also bring new hazards for your pets.
Don’t let pets get into the shopping bags, and try to keep your “wrapping station” out of your pets’ reach. That means all bows, ribbon, packaging, scissors and tape. (Then again, if your pet does discover the wrapping station, you could always have a little fun with it!)
Once wrapped, monitor presents closely for stolen bows or chewed ribbons. While some pets will simply play with a bow, others will actually chew on or eat them, which can cause intestinal blockage or other serious problems. During the unwrapping and cleanup on Christmas morning (or whichever day you break into the presents!), watch out for stray scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon that may hide under furniture, to be discovered by your pet later.
Opening all those presents means an influx of new items in the house for your pet to be curious about! Kids’ toys may look like pet toys in your fur-baby’s eyes — and excited children are likely to leave plastic pieces, dreidels, doll clothes or other toys scattered on the floor. Be especially aware of electronic components like batteries, which can be quite dangerous for your pet to chew on.
Our advice is to keep your pet distracted while the humans are opening their presents with a VE RAW BAR safe chew like a Pig Ear or Pig Snout. Let your pet “open” their present first, and then they should be content to stay in their bed gnawing at a Pig Ear while the rest of the family continues opening gifts!
Finally, when it comes to holiday costumes like Santa hats and ugly sweaters, watch out for dangling jingle bells or other components that a pet can get a hold of and pull off. If your pet wears a costume themselves, make sure it’s not restricting their breathing or causing them to overheat or be stressed. As cute as the photos are, it’s important for the whole family to be relaxed and comfortable on Christmas morning!
We know Grandma and Grandpa would love to see their grandkitties and granddogs! Traveling with your pet for the holidays does involve additional hazards, but planning and preparation can minimize these risks.
If you do decide to take your pet with you this holiday season, pack extras of everything your pet could need: food and treats, water, medications, toys, poop bags, an extra leash in case one breaks, a pet first aid kit and anything else you know your pet needs to travel.
Make sure your pet’s ID tags and the contact information registered to their microchip are all up to date. The last thing you want if the worst happens and your pet disappears is for an animal rescue to scan their microchip, but end up calling your old phone number and being unable to reach you.
If you’re driving with your pet, happy visions may be filling your head of your dog in the front seat howling along to Christmas tunes on the radio. However, it is safer for your pet to travel in a secure crate or a buckled dog harness than loose in the car — so if Buddy’s riding shotgun, make sure he can’t jump out the window!
Stop regularly for potty breaks and give your pet a chance to stretch his legs. Remember to never leave your pet alone in the car for more than five minutes at most. Not only does winter bring dangerously freezing temperatures, but unfortunately pet theft at gas stations is not unheard of. Plan your overnight stops in advance so you can make sure the hotels you stay at are pet friendly, and so that you’re familiar with any breed and size restrictions or other stipulations.
When traveling with your pet, we strongly suggest you travel by car if you can. Airline travel can be extremely stressful for pets, even if they’re in the cabin with you. Flying with your pet can even be very dangerous if your kitty or pup is forced to travel in the plane’s cargo hold, where temperature, pressure and oxygen levels can fluctuate wildly. Often, layovers are even more dangerous than the flights themselves, with your beloved fur-baby being forced to wait in extreme temperatures on the tarmac while all cargo is unloaded.
Consider that your pet may be much safer and happier being spoiled by a trusted pet sitter or boarding center at home rather than coming with you. And then that sets you up for a joyful reunion when you get home!
You’ve made it to your destination, or your family has made it to you, and now the house is full of hubbub!
There’s doorbells ringing, people coming and going, and all the activity can be stressful or overwhelming for your pet. Make sure your buddy always has a quiet room they can go to with a soft bed and a few yummy Vital Essentials snacks for when it’s all just too much.
The holidays mean family, and quite often family means children! Whether it’s your kids, your family’s kids or the neighborhood kids, your pet may find themselves surrounded by children they don’t know or aren’t used to.
Small kids in particular may not have learned how to interact with pets safely and think pulling ears or riding on the doggy’s back is all in good fun — even when Fido clearly wants them to stop. Never leave pets and young children alone together. Even if you think your pet would never hurt a soul, it’s better for you to supervise so you can step in if the children are stressing out your pet (or vice versa!) and stop the situation from escalating.
As people come in and out of the house (possibly smuggling in large stacks of presents, piled too high for them to see in front of their face) every open door is another opportunity for your pet to escape.
Before the holidays truly get under way, ensure your pet’s microchip and ID tags are up to date with your current contact info. You should also spend some time each day working on your pet’s recall training, so that they have the discipline to return to you if they do wander out the door and take themselves on a Christmas walkabout!
With so many people filling the house, be aware of any purses and bags left somewhere your pet can get at them by relatives who may or may not be as pet-aware as you. The last thing you need is for your dog or cat to eat Aunt Maggie’s makeup or chewing gum, especially if it contains the dangerous substance xylitol.
Finally, although we know it’s hard to believe, the truth is that not everyone is an animal-lover! Never force your pet to interact with a relative if it’s not wanted by both parties. (Yes, that goes for Santa Claus, too; pets can be freaked out by the big man in red!).
Ice Melt or Sidewalk Salt
Sidewalk salt is important to keep people (and pets!) from slipping on the ice outside, but after your pet comes back indoors, they may lick their paws and accidentally ingest some. Consuming a small amount of ice melt (like licking paws) can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
This can be prevented by thoroughly wiping your pet’s paws off when they come back inside from their daily walk (don’t miss the area between the toes!). Do this even if you have “pet safe” ice melts, as the salt can still cause an upset stomach. The other option is to get your best furiend some winter-safe booties, for protection from salt and ice and added cuteness!
If your pet manges to break into a bag of ice melt in the garage and consume a large amount, that can cause tremors, seizures or even chemical burns depending on the type of ice melt. Call your vet or ASPCA poison control right away if this happens. Make sure to keep all bags of sidewalk salt out of pets’ reach.
Generally, your pet would have to consume a large amount of sidewalk salt to cause real harm; but antifreeze is an entirely different story. Even a small amount of antifreeze is deadly. A teaspoon of antifreeze is fatal to a cat or small dog, and even a large dog can’t consume more than a few tablespoons without serious effects or death. Unfortunately, the primary component of antifreeze (ethylene glycol) smells and tastes sweet — luring pets to eat it when they find it.
If your pet has consumed antifreeze, you will see them act “drunk” or “wobbly.” Once your pet’s kidneys metabolize the toxin, these symptoms may go away, fooling may pet parents into believing their pet is recovered — when actually, the metabolized toxin causes kidney failure and ultimately death if left untreated.
While antifreeze is deadly to all pets, cats are especially vulnerable to it. Even a couple licks of antifreeze can kill a cat. According to Dr. Sarah Steinbach, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine in the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine:
“[A cat] might get into the garage and go under the car where the antifreeze could be dripping. When they clean themselves, they may ingest it and that is enough.”
Be aware of unusual sources of antifreeze this winter. Street puddles may contain antifreeze runoff, and vehicle radiator fluid also contains this deadly component. Ethylene glycol can also be found in latex paints, printer and pen inks, the base of portable basketball hoops, eye masks and snow globes. Sometimes it is even added to toilets to keep plumbing from freezing — so don’t let your dog drink toilet water!
Antifreeze poisoning kills many dogs and cats every winter. Keep antifreeze securely locked up or on a high shelf in the garage, far, far away from your pets’ reach, and be mindful of unexpected sources.
By being aware of these holiday dangers for pets and taking steps to prepare for them, you can make sure the holiday season is safe and fun for the whole family — including your four-legged family members!