Recognizing Holiday Hazards: 5 seasonal safety tips for pet owners

(Family Features) The holiday season presents opportunities for celebrating with loved ones, and for many families, that includes their dogs and cats. However, holiday foods and decorations can pose health risks for pets and the hustle and bustle may be overwhelming.

To help keep your pet safe amid the jolly chaos, consider these potential hazards from the experts at VCA Animal Hospitals, which has more than 1,000 locations across North America that cared for more than 4.5 million pets last year.

Decorations are part of almost every holiday celebration but making some pet-proofed choices can make your home safe for four-legged guests as well. If you put up a tree (live or artificial), ensure it’s set up securely and use shatter-proof ornaments, ideally hung above tail height and out of paws’ reach. If you have kittens less than 1 year old in your home, they sometimes like to climb up the tree trunk to the top, so extra care may be needed. Hang smaller ornaments toward the top of the tree to reduce potential choking hazards and avoid salt dough ornaments, which may look like a snack to pets but can cause electrolyte problems, and tinsel as it can become lodged in a pet’s gut and cause issues.

Additionally, consider battery-operated candles instead of real ones, which can be easily knocked over by curious pets and burn them or lead to more serious fire risks. Dangling cords from seasonal decor can also appeal to pets, and if chewed while plugged in could result in electrical shock or burn to the tongue, so secure them out of sight and unplug when not in use.

With the holidays comes a delicious variety of baked goods, chocolate confections and other rich foods. However, some of those seasonal goodies can present problems for pets. For example, chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine that’s highly toxic to both dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but large amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.

Other traditional holiday mainstays such as fruitcakes, breads and cookies that contain grapes, raisins or currants can cause kidney failure in dogs. Sugarless gums and candies may contain xylitol, a natural sweetener, which can cause serious conditions like dangerously low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. Leftover fatty meat scraps can produce severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), leading to abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

Although live trees are non-toxic, their needles do not digest well, and their water may contain bacteria, mold or fertilizer that should not be ingested. Additionally, poinsettias, which often have a bad reputation among pet owners, can cause upset stomachs if the leaves are ingested though it’s typically milder than the symptoms associated with holly, mistletoe and amaryllis. Daffodils, lilies and narcissi are also toxic to pets.

An increase in visitors, ringing of the doorbell and extra excitement of the holiday season can be stressful for pets. Try to keep your four-legged friend’s feeding and exercise schedule as regular as possible, and make time for additional stress-relieving playtime and snuggles. To help avoid overstimulation, it may be best to keep your pets in their own crates or a quiet room with food, water and comfortable bedding while you have company. If you need additional assistance, consult with your veterinarian.

Holiday travel with your four-legged family members requires some extra packing and precautions. If traveling by car, make sure your pet is safely restrained using a secure harness or carrier and placed away from any airbags. Make sure pets are microchipped and their registration is up to date in case you become separated. Never leave pets alone in a vehicle or transport them in the bed of a truck. Also be sure you have updated health certificates from your veterinarian, if required by any states you will visit or pass through, and pack copies of medical records, first aid supplies, food and medications, leashes, collars and favorite toys.

For more tips to make the holidays safe for pets, visit


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VCA Animal Hospitals