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Keep Your Pets Safe and Happy during the Holidays

There’s nothing better than spending the winter holidays with the whole family, including the four-legged furry ones. We may fail to see some of the hazards our pets face during the holidays amidst all the non-stop festivities. Here are some helpful tips for keeping your pet safe to make your December a memorable one.

Guests visiting for the holidays

Who’s at the door? From parties with friends to relatives visiting, you may have people young and old coming and going over the holidays. Your pets may know some of these folks, while other times, they’re strangers to them. Some pets are naturally friendly and comfortable around just about anyone, but some take time to get used to new faces.

“It’s important to know your pet’s personality before people visit,” said Dr. Allison Allukian, a staff veterinarian in Emergency and Critical Care at the MSPCA-Angell. “Are they a “people pet” or do they like to keep to themselves?” If they’re the latter, you should provide your pet with a quiet place to retreat to when it gets a bit much for them, like a crate or quiet room inside the house. Include items your pet enjoys, like toys, their favorite blanket, and access to food and water. “And it’s always a good idea before anyone visits to let them know you have a pet that isn’t comfortable around many people, just so they’re aware.” Nothing dampens the holiday cheer for an animal lover than trying to make friends with the family dog, and they run away scared!

If giving your pet a secluded, quiet space to chill out doesn’t work, talk to your veterinarian about medications that may help calm your anxious pet. Of course, no one wants to give pets medication if they don’t need it, but it’s a reasonable last resort if your pet is having difficulty adjusting to new stimuli. Gabapentin is frequently prescribed to dogs and cats who struggle with anxiety; it takes about two hours to work, so plan accordingly and dose your pet before friends and family arrive.

On the other hand, if you have a dog who loves humans or a cat that craves attention from just about anyone, it’s also a good idea to let your guests know how they interact and what to expect, just in case your friend or family member isn’t too keen on a lapful of dog or cat hair!

Holiday eats and treats

Eating and drinking are a big part of holiday festivities. But what may be suitable for us is only sometimes good for our pets – and sometimes not good at all. Avoiding a digestive emergency should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when your favorite fur friend comes begging for holiday food.

Greasy and fatty foods are the two biggest red flags. Fried turkeys have been increasingly popular over the past few years, and while it’s almost certain your dog (or cat) would love some of that tasty fried turkey, it’s not advised. “High-fat meals cause pancreatitis, which is painful for your dog, and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy,” said Dr. Allukian. “If you plan to give your dog turkey along with the family dinner, it’s best just to bake the turkey in the oven.” Skinless, unseasoned white turkey meat that’s been adequately cooked is okay for dogs to consume in small amounts. So no matter if your dog is sitting there during dinner giving you sad eyes, skip the table scrap snacks.

Chocolate is another food that is toxic to cats and dogs. This sweet holiday treat contains caffeine and theobromine, which are harmful and can cause death if too much is consumed. If your pet does get a hold of chocolate, keep in mind that dark chocolate is worse than milk. For dogs who consume milk chocolate, ingesting more than 0.5 ounces per pound of body weight may put them at risk for chocolate poisoning. For cats, signs of toxicity can occur when consuming 0.7 ounces of milk chocolate per pound of body weight.

Below is a list of additional food items you should keep away from your pets.

Alcohol – Humans know that too much alcohol is never good. For your pets, it’s worse. “I’ve seen some pets come into the Emergency Room because they got into alcohol,” said Dr. Allukian. “Their blood sugars and blood pressure drop. They’re basically intoxicated, so if they consumed a large amount – and that depends on the animal’s size- it can cause seizures and respiratory failure.” So, keep an eye on that glass of wine on the table or the beer you left in the kitchen – your curious pets may try taking a drink.

Citrus – This includes lemons, limes, and grapefruits. The oil from the citrus skin and the seeds in the fruit are toxic to your pets.

Bones – Whether chicken or steak, no bone is 100 percent safe for your dog to gnaw on. Bones splinter, puncturing the stomach or intestines if ingested, and can ultimately block the GI tract.

Grapes and raisins – Eating these sweet treats could cause sudden kidney failure in your pet.

Nuts – It’s best to keep all nuts away from your pets. Not only are they oily and high in fat, but they can cause GI obstruction if consumed. Macadamia nuts are highly toxic; your pet only needs to eat a small amount to experience vomiting, diarrhea, and hind-end weakness.

Onions – The same goes for leeks, garlic, chives, and shallots. Garlic is five times more toxic than onions for dogs and cats!

Salt – The key is too much salt. As an electrolyte, salt is an essential mineral in a pet’s health. But more than 41 grams of salt is toxic for a cat – and for dogs, anything more than 1.5 grams per pound of body weight can be lethal.

Raw or undercooked eggs, fish, and meat – Raw diets for pets are a popular trend, but veterinarians don’t advise hopping on this bandwagon. Cooking raw eggs, fish, and meat before consuming helps stave off pathogenic organisms that can cause illness, like salmonella, listeria, and staph. If your dog or cat does sneak in a bite of raw salmon, it’s not wholly toxic, but it’s a good idea to watch them for a while to ensure no vomiting or diarrhea occurs.

Table scraps – One Christmas, an older dog of mine snuck downstairs into the kitchen after we all went to bed and dug through the trash to find duck scraps from our holiday dinner. As said above, turkey or even duck skin is high in fat and can cause pancreatitis if your dog or can consumes too much. It’s a good idea to keep the trash bin away from your pets or have a receptacle with a lid that locks.

‘Tis the season to decorate

Decking the halls with holly and berry and everything merry is a tradition for many families. But if you have a dog or cat, it’s an excellent idea to pet-proof some of that holiday magic.

Electrical cords and strings of lights can not only cause your dog or cat to get little burns in their mouths but can also lead to significant trauma if they start gnawing through the cords. “It’s called noncardiogenic pulmonary edema – basically, they’re being electrocuted,” said Dr. Allukian. Make sure you tape down the cords or use cord covers to help deter your pet’s urge for an afternoon snack.

If you have a Christmas tree, the colorful baubles hanging on the branches can intrigue a curious pet (especially a cat). Use plastic decorations if you can; glass can shatter and end up embedded in their tiny toe beans – or worse, ingested. Tinsel is especially dangerous for cats, depending on how much she ingests. A strand or two would probably pass fine without worry, but if she eats a lot, the tinsel can wind itself into a ball and create a massive obstruction in her intestines.

Plants and flowers are popular during the holidays. If you’re hoping for a Christmas kiss and have some mistletoe hanging up, it’s best to keep it there and away from your pets. Mistletoe contains lectins and phoratoxins, which can affect the heart and cause low blood pressure if consumed. Again, it all depends on the amount, but if your dog or cat eats a lot of the mistletoe, you can expect GI problems like diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.

One of the most favorite winter houseplants is the poinsettia – and believe it or not, these bright holiday flowers are not toxic to pets! If your dog or cat happens to nibble on a leaf, they may experience drooling or vomiting, but that’s about it. Still, it’s wise to keep an eye out for the curious cat sniffing around the poinsettia. (Cat owners have cleaned up enough vomit already!)

From peppermint to pine, the smell of the holidays is intoxicating, and sometimes it can harm your pets. “People burn a lot of candles or scented oils during the holidays,” said Dr. Allukian. “The smoke can irritate your pet’s respiratory system and worsen any preexisting issues like asthma or tracheal issues.” Scented oils can be harmful, too, especially for cats. A cat can ingest the oil after licking it off its fur, which causes digestive and sometimes neurological issues – and this is in addition to the skin irritations that may occur.

Lastly, ornate, beautiful snow globes also pose a hazard to your pet. While you may think the water in the globe is just that, some snow globes are filled with ethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze and windshield wiper fluids. “Ethylene glycol is sweet, so it’s an attractive liquid for pets to drink,” said Dr. Allukian. “Even a small amount is toxic and could cause kidney failure.”

While it’s difficult to completely pet-proof your home for any impending danger that may be out there, it is important to think of your pets and look out for their well-being, especially during such a hectic time. Try to take extra care – no one wants to spend any moment of this festive season in the emergency room. We at the MSPCA-Angell wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday!

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