By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Without a doubt, 2020 has been a pretty stressful year. Now that the holidays are upon us, we deserve the chance to relax, unwind, and enjoy this magical season with our closest loved ones—and for nearly 85 million families in the US, that includes one or more beloved pet.
Unfortunately, this time of year, common holiday décor like Christmas trees, mistletoe, ornaments, and even holiday foods can pose a threat to our animals. Nothing puts a damper on good times quite like having to rush your dog or cat to the vet or hospital due to a holiday-related mishap.
So, here are some common holiday dangers for pets to keep in mind, so you can plan and decorate accordingly—and celebrate with a little less stress and worry.
Holiday Danger #1 – Plants, Trees & Decorations
Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely (and enticing!) are thy branches—especially for cats!
If you have a cat, you know how mischievous they can be around trees. But dogs can be just as tempted as cats to get a little too personally acquainted with tree water, pine needles, and ornaments. Here’s what you can do to make the Christmas season less dangerous for them.
- Secure your tree. If possible, place your tree in the corner of your room—away from furniture and other “launching zones”—and anchor it to the wall so it doesn’t tip or fall over. You can do this by wrapping fishing line or twine around the trunk and/or top of the tree, the securing each end to the wall with hooks.
- Use safe deterrents. Cats hate aluminum foil. The sound of walking on it, and the texture of it, is uncomfortable for them. For these reasons, it can act as a great deterrent. Wrap some foil around as much of the tree trunk as you can. To make it even more displeasing, add some orange or lemon peels—or use some citrus scented essential oils—around the area. Cats tend to dislike these scents.
- Cover the base. If you use a real tree, the water bowl at the base can make your pet sick if they drink it. Cover the area with a tree skirt and place some presents or other weighted items on top of they can’t access the water.
- Choose decorations wisely. Kitties love sparkly decorations, and dogs are attracted to plush or ball-shaped ornaments. So, tinsel is a big no-no. It’s easy to nibble and swallow, which can cause an intestinal blockage that may even require surgery. As for ornaments, try to use only non-breakable ones so that your pet doesn’t ingest broken glass or plastic, and hang them out of their reach, if possible.
- Watch for wires. Your dog or cat may chew through the wires of tree lights, causing potential electric shock. To prevent this, tape exposed wires to the wall with electrical tape. Any wires that extend away from the wall should be wrapped in hard protective plastic.
- Beware pine needles, mistletoe, and more. If you use a real tree, make sure you clean up fallen pine needles daily, as they can cause upset stomach or even puncture your pet’s intestines. Additionally, holly and mistletoe are toxic to both dogs and cats, causing gastrointestinal and/or cardiovascular problems. If you want to hang these in your house, opt for silk or plastic varieties. Poinsettias have long been rumored to be poisonous as well, but in reality they cause only minor stomach or mouth irritation if ingested. If you have a pet that just loves to eat plants, it’s probably best to keep poinsettias out of your home. But if your animal is largely disinterested in plants, it’s ok to have a few around the house (but still keep an eye on your pet to make sure he stays away).
Holiday Danger #2 – Human Foods & Bevvies
Just as we humans tend to gain a couple extra pounds around the holidays from eating too many treats, dogs and cats can too.
Make sure to keep your pets away from unattended food, as well as the dinner table so they aren’t chowing down on endless fallen scraps. Additionally, fatty foods and anything sweetened with xylitol or made with chocolate should never be fed to your pets. (Learn more about human foods that are and are not safe for dogs and cats.)
Be careful with unattended drinks like coffee and alcohol too, which can make your pet very sick if ingested (same goes for marijuana – the THC in it is toxic for pets; if you do keep edibles in the home, make sure they are safely hidden).
If you want to give your dog a special gift or two, stick with balls, indestructible chew toys, Kongs stuffed with healthy treats, or dog-safe bones. Cats love balls and plush toys too, or kongs stuffed with catnip.
Holiday Danger #3 – Too Cold Weather
Finally, as much of the country is now experiencing colder weather, please remember to be mindful of your dog’s safety in chilly temperatures. Most dogs can handle temps above 45°F without much of an issue, but temps below 20°F can become problematic. You don’t want your pup to develop frostbite or hypothermia.
If he is getting in the way of present opening or are under your feet while you prepare your holiday feast, move him to another closed off room in the house, instead of outside. As a matter of fact, it’s a good idea to give your pet a quiet, peaceful place to retreat from the hustle and bustle, especially if he’s shy or gets anxious when there’s too much commotion.
Keeping all these tips in mind, I wish you—and your pets—a very safe, very happy holiday season!
- ASPCA. Holiday Safety Tips. ASPCA.org, last accessed Dec. 8, 2020.
- PETA. How to Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree. PETA.org, last accessed Dec. 8, 2020.