Colorado State University Veterinarians Offer Tips on Keeping Your Pet Safe and Healthy During the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderfully chaotic time for everyone. Extra time and effort are spent in preparation for special meals, parties, holiday guests, shopping and decorating.

Along with preparations for holiday celebrations, veterinarians at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital offer pet owners suggestions on ways to keep pets safe, sane and healthy.

  • Maintain normal diet and feeding times. Resist sharing your holiday dishes with your pet. Turkey fat can cause vomiting and bones can splinter and perforate the intestines or lodge in the throat, making a trip to the emergency room necessary.
  • Encourage your guests not to give in to begging behavior. Rich gravies, cookies, ham and other dishes enjoyed by humans can cause gastrointestinal upset in pets. Advise your guests that, although your pet may be giving the acting performance of his life, people food is not good for animals.
  • Don’t leave food out where pets can get at it. Keep garbage cans tightly covered. Put leftovers away immediately. Dispose of scraps and trimmings in garbage containers with good, tight lids out of reach of pets.
  • Don’t leave glasses of alcoholic beverages unattended. Alcohol can be fatal for pets. Don’t leave glasses of champagne, wine or other alcoholic beverages within easy reach of your pets.
  • Be wary of chocolate and sweets. Chocolate contains theobromine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and even death if swallowed in even small amounts by your cat or dog. Keep all sweets out of reach of your pet.
  • Monitor holiday decorations for safety, especially candles. Burn candles only when someone is in the room to supervise. Pets can accidentally knock over a lit candle with the wag of a tail or the swipe of a paw. Also, some pets see the hot wax as liquid and may try to swallow it.
    • Avoid edible ornaments such as popcorn or cranberry strings or decorated cookies and candies.
    • Skip the tinsel. Cats love to play with it and could swallow it, causing severe problems.
    • Be careful with decorative lights. Tape light cords against the tree to make them less accessible for chewing. For window treatments, tape cord to the wall or the window casement. Encase tree lights in plastic conduits and consider coating them lightly with petroleum jelly, a safe deterrent.
  • Artificial trees are safer than real trees. Many holiday trees have been treated with chemicals that can be toxic to your pet. Additionally, pets can ingest pine needles causing gastrointestinal problems. If you must have a real tree, only allow your pet in the room when there is someone to supervise, or surround the tree with pet-proof fencing. Cover the base so that your pet can’t drink the water.
  • Dangerous plants. Be aware that Poinsettias, Christmas cactus, holly and mistletoe berries are poisonous to pets and can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea and dehydration if swallowed. Fruit seeds and pits, such as cherry, peach and apricot pits, apple seeds, can be dangerous to your pets.
  • Try to maintain daily routines. Pets are creatures of habit. If you stop taking them for their daily walks or regular play times, they will look for alternative ways to blow off that energy. That can mean trouble for your holiday decorations. To keep your pet sane and well behaved, stick to your regular routine, even if it is a little shorter.
  • Toys. When selecting gifts for your pet, look for ones too big to be swallowed. Remove bells or squeakers. Children’s small toys may attract a playful pet but could become lodged in your pet’s mouth or throat.
  • Keep decorating tools out of your pet’s reach. Objects such as scissors, knives, tacks, buttons, sewing needles, pins and other sharp objects can be hazardous, especially to curious puppies or kittens.
  • Consider closing your pets in another room during a party.

Perhaps the best way to keep your pets safe is to put them into another room, well-stocked with toys, food, water and treats for the duration of the party or while you are engaged in installing holiday decorations. Cats and younger animals, especially, can become stressed by noisy crowds. Placing them in a private space, surrounded by familiar objects will help to keep them calm and give them a feeling of safety.

One of the best tips is to know your pet. Being aware of normal behavior and appearance will enable owners to recognize signs of illness and to seek help before a pet’s condition becomes critical.

Another important tip is to avoid medical suggestions from well-meaning friends. If your pet is ill, seek professional veterinary medical advice. Other than you, no one else knows your pet as well as your veterinarian.