Naughty or Nice? Holiday Safety for Pets

UPDATED: Nov 14, 2013

Years ago, the teenage son of a family friend brought home a new puppy. Not just any puppy, but a Great Dane, promptly named Brutus.

Brutus quickly grew to be the size of small pony, but he never seemed to outgrow his mischievous nature. One holiday, he availed himself of the Thanksgiving turkey. Another time, he grabbed an entire head of iceberg lettuce off the kitchen counter, and galloped around the house with his new “toy.”

The holidays are filled with temptations of all kinds for our pets. The sights, smells and tastes that abound are more than most humans can bear, so imagine how mouthwatering your holiday ham or cookies smell to your favorite, four-legged friends?

But the fact is, your home can present problems – and outright dangers – to your pets. There are some things to keep in mind to help keep everyone happy and healthy during the holidays.

Food – Our homes are filled with more tempting food than usual during the holidays. But human food is not always a good fit for Fido or Fluffy’s stomach. For example, turkey bones can easily splinter and pose choking dangers; ingestion of fat-rich poultry skin can cause stomach upsets. And some foods, such as dark chocolate, alcohol and fruits like grapes and raisins, can be downright deadly. Keep people food for your guests, and keep it out of reach from your pets. If you really want to treat your pets this season, consider some of Sergeant’s treats, full of yummy, good-for-them ingredients your dog won’t be able to resist.

Decorations – In my home, there have been many years when the Christmas tree was wired to the wall to keep the cat(s) from climbing it and knocking it over. It doesn’t hurt to think of your cat or dog much the same as you would a toddler – inquisitive, impulsive and possibly destructive. You may need to pet-proof your holiday decorations, securing trees as necessary; putting tempting ornaments out of reach (I’ve had friends who kept the bottom third of their tree ornament-free to prevent breakage); or designating a pet-free zone around your decorations – perhaps keeping decorations in a room with a door, or putting up a pet gate.

Fire and flame – Wintertime and especially the holidays are prime time for use of fireplaces, candles and space heaters. All of these pose dangers to both you and your pet. Make sure that you keep your pets away from any kind of open flame. Not only is pet hair extremely flammable, but dogs and cats can easily knock over candles. Also make sure that your space heaters have safety shut-off features so that if your animal bumps them over, they won’t cause a fire. Remember, too, that your pet can incur burns by rubbing against a space heater.

Pretty but poisonous – Some beloved holiday plants are pretty to behold but are hazardous to our pets’ health. While poinsettias perhaps have the worst reputation, other favorites, such as holly, mistletoe and yew are also dangerous. Consider skipping the use of these plants or use an artificial plant as a substitute. The Humane Society of the United States has a  downloadable list of hazardous or poisonous plants; consider keeping it as a reference before you add these to your decorating scheme.

Gifts and toys – If you have children in your home, their toys can pose a problem for your pets. Any toys with small, detachable parts can be ingested by your pets. Items with cords – such as ear buds and game console controllers, not to mention electrical cords – can be irresistible to pets. And don’t forget the wrappings: ribbon, tinsel, bits of packing material, rubber bands and twist ties all pose ingestion or choking hazards to your pets. Another problem is “ownership.” At our home, it can sometimes be hard for my dogs to understand that a stuffed animal belongs to our daughter, not to them. Keep your pets entertained with  toys that are designed specifically to entertain your dog or cat, and provide safe holiday activity.

Stress and anxiety – Having a houseful of visitors can be fun for you, but stressful for your pet. The hustle and bustle of strangers coming and going may cause your cat or dog to seek shelter, or to act out aggressively. Help calm stress-related behavior with calming collars, room diffusers, or calming sprays that use pheromone-based technology. And if you need an immediate change in behavior, try Sentry Stop That! behavior correction spray. These products are not only safe for pets of all ages and sizes, but are extremely effective.

The holidays don’t have to be a hassle for you and your pets. Keep your four-legged friends safe, happy and healthy with some quick tips and products that can help make the holidays happier for everyone.

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