1. Small Christmas Decorations and Wrapping Essentials
Cats and dogs love to play, and when they see shiny objects like ornaments and tinsel, it's game on. While tinsel — which is particularly attractive to cats — isn't toxic in itself, it can cause other problems in your pet's system, like getting tangled up in the intestines. Ornaments, on the other hand, can be swallowed whole, or the pieces could get gobbled up when broken. In this case, glass is especially dangerous as it can cause cuts in your pet's mouth, throat, and digestive system.
"Swallowing stuff that's not meant to be eaten can cause very serious problems and be extremely hard to diagnose," says Dr. Phil Baxter, chief veterinary officer at Vet on Demand, a pet care app that allows you to FaceTime with a vet when a problem arises (a great resource when your normal vet is on his or her own vacay, by the way). "Unless you see it being eaten, it's a tough diagnosis. Monitor yours pets that have a tendency to chew."
To prevent these hazards, keep the tinsel to a minimum or forgo it altogether. As for ornaments, hanging them out of reach of pets is ideal, but that's not always practical. Instead, limit your use of glass ornaments and ornaments with toxic paints and embellishments. Wrapping essentials, like ribbons and bows, can be problematic as well. When you're done wrapping and decorating, clean the area, discard scraps, and put everything else out of the animal's reach.
2. Hazardous Holiday Plants
Similar to those fun, shiny ornaments, your pets may find your holiday plants interesting enough to investigate by chewing or eating. This is a big no-no, however, as some plants are poisonous or even deadly.
"If your pet is a plant chewer/eater, position the plants out of reach of your pet. Remember to pick up fallen leaves/needles, limbs, and berries," Dr. Baxter suggests.
Veterinary Pet Insurance also details a few specific plant hazards:
Pine needles from Christmas trees and around your property can result in oral irritation, vomiting, lethargy, trembling, and posterior weakness.
Holly plants and their sharp-edged leaves can cause intense vomiting, diarrhea, and depression if ingested.
Mistletoe can cause significant vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty breathing, erratic behavior, hallucinations, or even death.
Poinsettias, as pretty as they are, can irritate your pet's mouth and stomach and sometimes lead to vomiting.
For more information on hazardous holiday plants, check out VPI's toxic plant guide.
3. All That Holiday Lighting
One of the most hilarious parts of everybody's favorite funny holiday flicks, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, is when the cat becomes a smoking, black cat-shaped spot on the carpet because it decided to make a meal out of the Christmas lights. While this gives us chuckles when we're cuddled up on movie night, it's a very real danger that could seriously injure or kill your pet. Before stringing lights, inspect the strands to ensure there are no frays or bite/chew marks, and use three-pronged extension cords for added safety.
"Electrocution and electrical burns do happen, so if you have a chewer, beware of any cords that might appear attractive to your pet," Dr. Baxter says.
Make certain you pick up any loose bulbs, too. Those extra pieces are easy to lose, and your dog or cat won't think twice about swallowing them.
4. Candles and Open Flames
Animals typically stay away from fire, but pleasant scents may draw your pets to holiday candles, and they're dangerous for a couple reasons. First of all, obviously your pets can get burned if they get too close, but they also can burn themselves if they accidently spill the hot wax and get it on their paws and skin. This is especially important to remember with cats. The biggest hazard with pets and candles, though, is that they can knock them over and start a fire. Thus, it's important to practice common fire sense like never leaving an open flame unattended, and keeping them away from small hands and feet.
5. Revolving Doors That Lead Outside
If you'll have visitors coming and going this holiday season, you run the risk of your animal getting out of the house, which exposes them to many more dangers, including weather, traffic, capture, and other hazards. To prevent this, remember to take extra caution when opening and closing your home's exterior doors.
Rover, a service that helps match pet sitters with pet parents, offers several helpful tips:
Ask someone to sit in a closed bedroom with your dog. If you can spare someone to bring a laptop into a bedroom and sit with your dog, we highly recommend it. Especially if the dog experiences anxiety, this will help keep them calm.
If your dog has a crate, let them chill in there. It'll help them feel comfortable while also keeping them safe.
Place a second barrier (like a baby gate) around doorways to the outside. Front door, back door, side door… all doors to the outside.
Put a sign on the door that says, "Escape artist inside. Please knock, and I'll come answer the door." Greet your guests at the door and make sure you close it behind you.
6. Prolonged Exposure to Winter Weather
It's important to remember not to keep your pets outdoors for long periods of time even when "monitored," in the winter weather. Canine owners, especially, are used to letting the dog out back to play and relax for a while, but in cold weather — even if it's not freezing or below — dogs can become uncomfortable, cold, and even develop hypothermia.
If you have a lot of things going on inside, it's easy to forget about your buddy outside. If you'd rather not have the pet around at that time, think about hiring a pet sitter, or put them in another room where they'll be comfortable.
7. Melting Salt During Snowstorms
The salt we throw down on ice and snow during winter-weather events is very painful to dogs' paw pads. You can buy plastic booties to cover their feet from your local pet store, but some dogs don't like them and/or have a hard time walking with them on. There are other preventative measures you can take, like de-icing products and protective waxes, according to Petfinder.
8. Stolen Food or Treats From Guests
Probably the most common holiday danger of them all to pets (and to humans) is food. There are an abundance of foods on the table this time of year that animals should not eat because they can pose digestive problems or choking hazards.
"As a practicing house call veterinarian for 20 years, I've noticed that my phone rings more often during the holiday season," says Dr. Jeffrey Levy, a holistic house call veterinarian in New York City. "I'm frequently called to see pets with digestive upsets caused by both human foods commonly eaten during the holidays, and/or stress related to changes in routine at this time of year."
The list of human foods that are truly toxic to pets is relatively short, but many more can cause digestive problems or pose choking hazards, according to Levy. Be vigilant in keeping away from your pet away from these foods:
Garlic and onions, even in small amounts;
Chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the higher the potential toxicity);
Bones, especially those prone to splintering like chicken and pork;
Nuts, especially macadamia and moldy walnuts, which can be life-threatening;
Nutmeg, used in holiday baking, can be toxic to your pet;
Raisins and grapes;
Dairy products (adult dogs are often lactose intolerant);
Xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in vitamins and other human ingestibles, including sugar-free baked goods and gum.
9. Wobbly Christmas Trees
Anchor your Christmas and holiday trees that aren't firmly planted in soil. Cats and dogs like to play in that area — especially when there are presents! — and you want to avoid the tree toppling over and hurting your pet.
10. Toxic Snowglobes
Like candles, you'll want to keep snow globes out of reach and off the edge of tables to prevent them from being dropped on the floor and bursting open. Some of them contain water or glycerin, which isn't too harmful, but others may contain ethylene glycol, which is very toxic to pets, and people.
11. General Neglect
Listen, we all want to enjoy the holidays — and that goes for your pets, too. As a pet parent, it's your obligation to provide the best care you can, even when you're extremely busy. If you can't spend time doting on your dog or cat all day every day, that's okay. But if you're gone for extended periods of time, like shopping all day or going away to visit family for a few days, you need to provide proper care for your pet. Make sure your fish and reptiles are fed, your cats have clean litter boxes and water (and someone to stop in from time to time), and that your dogs are with someone you trust to love them while you're away as much as you do when you're home. Otherwise, take them with you, because they'll totally love that, and so will you.