The holiday season is in full swing. Whether we’ve decorated a Christmas tree, lit a menorah, or welcomed winter with warm candles and pine cone wreaths, most of us have added some seasonal decor to our homes by this time of year. Gatherings of friends and family around food-filled tables are also a widespread holiday season tradition. For those of us who count four-legged friends among our beloved family members, the winter season is also a time for us to be aware of the holiday hazards from which we’ll want to protect our precious pets.

As our homes fill with the holiday spirit, our pets will most likely be intrigued by the new sites, smells and tastes that surround them. To be sure that our furry friends enjoy the holiday season as much as we do, we can protect them from some of the most common health concerns for pets during the holidays.

Seasonal Plants to Avoid
Some of our favorite holiday plants can pose dangers to our pets if ingested. We can either keep the following holiday plants well out of reach of our pets, or opt for artificial plants.

  • Mistletoe ingestion has the potential to cause cardiovascular problems in pets. However, mistletoe usually only causes gastrointestinal upset.
  • Holly ingestion could cause gastrointestinal upset and lethargy.
  • Lilies, which can be found in many holiday flower arrangements, can be fatal to cats. Many types of lilies, such as Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Easter, Stargazer, and the Casa Blanca, can cause feline kidney failure.
  • Poinsettias, if ingested by dogs or cats, can be irritating to the mouth and stomach.

Festive Foods to Keep Out of Reach
Ingestion of any foods that our pets are not used to can cause upset stomachs, but those mentioned below may cause more life threatening conditions in our pets.

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate (baker’s (dark), semi-sweet, milk chocolate)
  • Coffee (grounds, beans, chocolate covered espresso beans)
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Onions, onion powder
  • Salt
  • Yeast dough
  • Moldy or spoiled foods
  • Fatty foods

Aside from avoiding the aforementioned foods, we want to be sure that our pets do not overindulge in any human food during the holidays. Well-intentioned family and friends may want to share holiday foods with pets, which can lead to upset stomachs. To control our pets’ festive food intake – while meeting our guests’ desires to feed the pets – we can keep healthy dog or cat treats handy and encourage our guests to dole out these more appropriate goodies.

Christmas Tree Hazards
The shiny strands of garland, glittering lights, and glossy ornaments that adorn the Christmas tree can be an understandable attraction to animals, but are also a potential holiday hazard. Keeping the following tips in mind can ensure that this holiday tradition does not lead to a trip to the vet.

  • Pets are often enticed by a new source of water, so they may try to drink from the Christmas tree stand. If chemicals are added to the water to keep the tree fresh longer, be sure to read the label to make sure it is safe for pets. Stagnant water and pinesap are also dangerous if ingested, so keep the water in the stand covered and inaccessible.
  • Secure the tree to a wall or the ceiling with fishing line and a hook to prevent pets from knocking it over.
  • Unplug the tree lights when they’re not in use. Electrical shock may occur from defective cords as well as from pets chewing on cords. Check for any signs of bite marks, loose or frayed wires, proximity to the tree’s water supply, or evidence of short circuits.
  • Once the tree is decorated, pick up all tinsel, ribbon and ornament hooks from the floor. These glittery items are sure to be attractive playthings to pets, but they can cause major problems if ingested. If a gastrointestinal blockage occurs – which is especially common with tinsel and ribbon – surgery may become necessary.
  • If pets express interest in playing with the decorations on the tree, decorate the bottom third of the tree with wood or plastic ornaments that won’t break. Glass ornaments can cut the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract if ingested.
  • It may be difficult to curb a pet’s fascination with all those sparkling decorations. Child gates can be used across doorways to keep pets away from the Christmas tree when they cannot be watched closely.

Additional Winter Weather Warnings

  • Burning candles can also be a concern at this time of year. Put burning candles in places that are inaccessible to pets and don’t let candles burn unattended.
  • Liquid potpourris make our homes smell festive, but may tempt pets to help themselves to a drink. Make sure that potpourri pots are covered or otherwise inaccessible to pets. Exposure of pets to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe mouth, skin, and eye damage.
  • Antifreeze has a pleasant sweet taste, but can be lethal even in small amounts. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can be deadly to a cat or dog. Low Tox™ brand antifreeze is less toxic and is recommended to use in pet households – but any type of antifreeze should be stored in an airtight container out of the pet’s reach.
  • Ice melting products can be irritating to the skin and mouth. Signs of ingestion can include excessive drooling, depression and vomiting.

If you suspect that your pet has ingested something poisonous, seek medical attention immediately by contacting your veterinarian, a local emergency veterinary service, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-4ANI-HELP.

A Happy, Healthy Holiday Season for Our Pets
Aside from the physical precautions mentioned above, some pets might feel mentally strained during the holiday season. While some may relish the extra attention from visiting relatives and friends, others might seek solitude in their favorite hiding spot. Make sure pets are given some personal space if they want to get away from the holiday commotion. We can support our pets’ mental health by spending a little extra quality time with them, assuring them that they have not been forgotten.

The holiday season is a perfect time for us to enjoy the company of our closest family and friends. Many of us feel that our pets hold a special spot in our hearts and in our families, and are therefore a central part of our holiday celebrations. If these few simple steps are taken, the winter holiday season can be as happy and healthy a time for our furry family members as it is for all of us.