The holiday rush is officially upon us. There are menus to plan, presents to buy and trees to decorate. It’s easy to get caught up in the festivities, but before you do, take some time to ensure that your favorite party animals are safe. The holiday season is a time to relax, indulge and have fun with friends and family. Pets often love Christmas and New Year’s Eve too, as they get lots of attention and spend more time with their loved ones. However, from the bar cart to the guest room, the most wonderful time of year ushers in potential pet dangers along with all that good cheer. Here, pet health experts share their essential holiday tips:
Keep an Eye on the Bar
If you’re hosting this year’s holiday party, be mindful of stray beverages.
“Dogs, cats and ferrets may try to drink these, particularly if the beverage was made with milk or cream,” says Dr. Charlotte Means, director of toxicology at the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. Alcohol, she adds, can be toxic to pets.
And don’t forget that rum-soaked cake. Although a small slice wouldn’t be enough to cause any symptoms in a human, you dog isn’t exactly counting calories. Scarfing down a large amount could be dangerous.
Be Careful in the Kitchen
We all know not to leave a box of chocolates next to the dog bed. But plenty of other holiday foods are potentially dangerous to pets, including the innocent-seeming garlic and onions that are about to go in your signature stuffing.
Means’ holiday hazards list also includes fatty foods, foods that are high in sugar and macadamia nuts, which are uniquely toxic to dogs and can cause everything from muscle tremors to depression.
Educate Your Guests
The most popular guest at any holiday party? The dog, of course. Unfortunately, your pup may not enjoy being a celebrity. To avoid overwhelming him, ask guests to play it cool and observe some basic A-lister rules.
“When guests arrive, ask them to ignore your dog until he first approaches them,” says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary of the American Kennel Club. “Assure them that your dog may be a bit shy, so it’s best to give him time to warm up—and if he doesn’t, not to take it personally.”
Additionally, be sure to supervise any interactions between pets and children, she advises. No matter how gentle your pet usually is, little hands can be scary and unpredictable to a dog.
Provide a Time-Out Room
When you want to leave a holiday party early, you can simply fake an emergency text. But your dog isn’t so lucky to have a “roommate with a flat tire.” Because of this, make sure pups have a place to go if they start to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable.
“Offer your dog the chance to escape the chaos and excitement of the party for a bit,” says DiNardo. “Place him in his crate or a room that isn’t being used with some toys, and ask guests to leave them alone for an hour or so.”
Place Ornaments out of Reach
Decorations pose a number of hazards to pets. Antique ornaments may contain lead, glass ornaments can lacerate the stomach if ingested and tinsel can cause an obstruction in the intestines—unfortunately, all of these potential hazards resemble cat toys.
“It’s important to keep these materials out of reach of any animals,” says Means.
Sweep up Those Tree Needles
It’s difficult to ask your pets to ignore the large tree that’s suddenly in the living room. But discourage nibbling on Christmas tree branches and sweep up needles regularly, as ingesting them can be harmful.
“Tree needles can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea and drooling,” says Charlotte Flint, a senior consulting veterinarian with the Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour animal poison control service. “With large ingestions, there could be potential for obstruction of the GI tract and, rarely, perforation.”
Even if you have a fake tree, be vigilant—plastic needles can also cause stomach irritation and obstruction if enough are ingested, says Flint.
The Tree Isn’t a Water Bowl
If you have a real Christmas tree, make sure that the water isn’t accessible to your pets. Tree water—although seemingly irresistible to cats and dogs—may contain fertilizers, pesticides and bacteria, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, says Flint.
Secure Your Wires
Wires are fun to chew on, so it’s your job to make sure the opportunity never presents itself. After you get the holiday lights just right, spend some time making sure your décor is puppy-proof—chewing on wires and extension cords could cause electrocution, says Means. Tape indoor wires to the wall and outdoor wires to the side of the house where your dog can’t reach them.
Dough is a No-No
Technically, no one should eat raw cookie dough. But while plenty of humans take this risk, it is one holiday treat you should never share with your dog, no matter how sad the puppy eyes.
“If an animal ingests raw dough, the dough will continue to rise in the stomach and could lead to a gastric obstruction or intoxication,” says Means.
Beware of Holiday Plants
Christmas trees aren’t the only hazardous holiday greenery. Holly, mistletoe, Christmas cactus and amaryllis are all potentially poisonous, says Flint. Keep these popular plants out of paw’s reach or, better yet, skip them all together.
Although you’ve probably been warned about them, poinsettias barely make Flint’s list.
“It’s a myth that poinsettias are a highly toxic plant,” she says. “Poinsettias contain a milky white sap that can cause mild vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea when ingested by pets, but more serious toxicity is not expected.”
Mind the Medications
If guests are spending the night, so are their medications. Whether prescription or over the counter, pills pose a problem to nosy pets who like to investigate suitcases.
“Pills should be kept in a drawer to prevent exposure, and as an additional safeguard, keep the door to the guest’s room firmly closed where possible,” says Means.
Skip the Salt Dough Ornaments
Cookie and bread dough can be problematic, but salt dough is an especially toxic holiday hazard. A popular arts-and-craft project for children, salt dough ornaments are made from a mix of salt, flour, and water. This may sound bland to people, but dogs will happily snack on these homemade decorations.
“When dogs eat salt dough, the salt has the potential to cause very high sodium levels in the blood,” says Flint.
Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea followed by neurological problems including changes in behavior, poor coordination, shaking and seizures. Salt toxicity can be fatal, Flint says, so seeking immediate treatment is critical.
Pass on the Potpourri
With a strong smell and curious mix of textures, dried potpourri is plenty interesting to pets, and it can also be dangerous. Wood chips or pine cones can cause a stomach obstruction, says Means, and poisonous plants can sneak in the mix. As for liquid potpourri and scented oils, these can cause oral and esophageal burns if a curious pet rubs up against the dispenser and then grooms.
Don’t Be Surprised by Wrapped Gifts
It’s a lovely idea to wait until Christmas morning to open all the gifts, but if you receive a wrapped present from a friend or neighbor, don’t put it under the tree and walk away. While you might not be able to smell those caramels through the box, your dog most certainly can.
“Every year we have cases where people receive a wrapped gift from a well-meaning friend, put it under the Christmas tree, and are dismayed to discover their dog smelled, chewed into and ate the gift, which was a big box of chocolates,” says Flint.
And don’t forget to protect your loved ones’ pets. If you bring an edible hostess gift, give friends with pets a warning.