Protect Your Pets During the Holidays

By Jennifer Phillips

Dog in a Dress Costume

A dog prepares to Trick or Treat!
Courtesy of

The holiday season is upon us.  Many of us are probably looking forward to spending time with family and friends, and enjoying good food and drinks.  Some of us may have company come stay at our homes, while others might be doing the traveling.  Although it is a time of fun and celebration, it can also be stressful.  It is important to remember that our pets may also experience stress during these hectic times.  They might also be exposed to harmful situations that even the most caring owner may overlook.

Holidays can mean that there are guests coming to visit, which can be intimidating for shy pets.  The extra traffic through your home can also lead to more opportunities for pets to accidentally get outside.  If you are doing the traveling for the holidays, your pets may become lonely if you’re away for too long.  Another source of holiday stress is fireworks, which can scare pets into running away from home.

With Halloween just around the corner, many people are ready to put on their costumes and have a good time.  Pet costumes have even become an increasingly popular way for people to have fun with their pets.  It is important to choose a costume that is safe and appropriate for your pet.  When choosing a costume, make sure that you avoid any costume that could become tight around their neck.  Also try to select one that does not hang on the ground, so they are not getting caught on or tripping over it.  Try to find a costume that your pet is comfortable in, and if that is not possible, it may be best to let him go as himself.  There is no reason why you can’t have a great time dressing up your pet as long as you stick with a safe, comfortable costume.

As with Halloween, and most other holiday events, food and drinks are an important part of the celebration, but pet owners must remember that what is safe for us is not always safe for them.  Chocolate, especially dark or baking chocolate, can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which can affect the nervous and urinary system, and can cause damage to the muscles of the heart.  Xylitol is a commonly used sugar substitute in candies, mints, and sugar-free chewing gum that is toxic to cats and dogs, and may cause hypoglycemia very quickly.

Grapes and raisins may also be harmful to pets because they contain toxins that can cause kidney failure.  Although it might be tempting to share the holiday dinner, rich, fatty foods, such as turkey skins or gravy should be very limited if given at all because they can cause pancreatitis.  Bones from the bird can be a danger also, because they can tear or obstruct your pet’s intestinal tract.  Onions and onion powder, part of many stuffing recipes, may cause anemia should be avoided.  The string that is often used to tie around turkey legs, as well as the included “pop-up” timers, may be tempting for dogs and cats to eat, potentially causing intestinal blockage.  Any alcoholic beverages that are enjoyed during the holiday celebrations should be kept away from pets.

Many people enjoy decorating for various holidays throughout the year.  Since pets enjoy exploring their environment with their mouths, and possibly taste test things as they go, it is very important to keep this in mind when choosing and placing decorations.  The cords from lights that are strung can be a hazard if you have a pet that has a tendency for chewing, so make sure to safely secure lights out of pets reach, cover the cord, or use a spray such as Bitter Apple that is designed to deter chewing.

Candles may also be enticing to investigate due to their interesting smell, so it is best to place them up out of reach.  For the same reason that candles may attract pets, fragrances used in liquid potpourri and sachets can also be appealing, but are harmful if ingested.

Christmas trees can be a challenge for pet owners for a variety of reasons.  Excited tails wagging into the tree, or curious pets that may attempt to climb it, can make it difficult to manage, so be sure to securely secure the tree into position.  Hang breakable, glass ornaments, tinsel, ribbons and garland well out of pets reach, or avoid them completely. These could be knocked down and stepped on or even swallowed by your pet.  Make sure to keep pine needles, which are toxic, cleaned up regularly to prevent ingestion.  It is also important to keep your pets from drinking the tree water, especially if you added any chemicals, but even chemical free water may become stagnant, acting as a great host for bacteria, and a source of potential illness.

Plants are another commonly used decoration for the home during the holiday seasons.  Some common houseplants are poisonous and, depending on the type, can cause symptoms ranging from stomach upset to death if eaten by pets.  Lilies, which are a problem for cats in particular, can lead to kidney failure and death.  Mistletoe, especially its berries, is another highly toxic plant that can cause stomach upset and can even lead to fatal heart issues.  Some types of ivy, such as English ivy, can also be very dangerous if ingested.  Other plants that can cause problems in the digestive system are holly, amaryllis and hibiscus.  If flowers and plants are a must have in your home decoration, consider safer alternatives such as roses, marigolds, orchids, or daisies.  You might also consider silk or plastic flower arrangements.  For a more extensive list of both toxic and nontoxic plants, visit the ASPCA’s plant database at the link below.

Animals are sometimes given as gifts to our loved ones, with bunnies and chicks being a popular Easter gift.  While it may be tempting to give animals as gifts, it is a big decision that should be made by the person who will be responsible for caring for the animal.  It is also important to consider the consequences for the animal in the event that their new owners are not prepared to take care of them.  If you are still thinking about getting a pet as gift, whether it is for yourself or someone else, consider adopting from a shelter.

Although it may seem like maintaining pet safety during the holidays is a daunting task, it is simply a matter of being aware of the needs and behaviors of your pet, and adjusting your celebrations accordingly.  As long as you and your guests are mindful of these needs and behaviors throughout the holiday, you, your guests, and even your pets will have a better time. Happy Holidays!

For more information:  ASPCA Plant Database –



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