That's why the Humane Society for Shelter Pets (HSSP) is reminding all pet lovers that while the holidays are a festive time of year for humans, for pets it can be filled with stressful and even potentially hazardous situations.
Tinsel and wrapping paper, leftovers from the holiday meal and even brightly colored poinsettias are just a few of the seemingly innocuous items that can cause harm to curious canines or inquisitive kitties.
So what can you do to help make sure your pets have a happy, healthy holiday season?
- Decorations -- While the tree would surely look naked without ornaments, tinsel, or brightly wrapped presents, these decorative touches can quickly cause trouble for playful pets. Cats in particular find low-hanging ornaments and crinkly ribbon and tinsel absolutely irresistible, and may decide to attack, chew, and possibly swallow these embellishments. If ingested, any of these items can cause an upset stomach and require a trip to the vet. Your best bet? Skip the tinsel altogether and keep ornaments beyond the reach of prying paws. And once you're done wrapping the gifts, be sure to put the paper and ribbon back in a closet or pet-proof container.
- Food -- Food is everywhere during the holidays, and while there's nothing wrong with treating your dog or cat to a few scraps, some people food can be dangerous for four-legged friends. Chocolate, grapes/raisins, and onions all contain substances that can be toxic to dogs, while seemingly "safe" foods rich in fat can cause an upset stomach and even pancreatitis. Unattended garbage containing bones and other dangerous bits and pieces can also be an accident waiting to happen. Your best bet? Stick to your pet's regular diet. Keep table scraps to a minimum, and if you must treat, try to stick with small amounts of plain, cooked meat. Be sure that food is never left unattended, especially on a low coffee table or other, equally accessible spot, and that garbage is kept covered and away from prying paws.
- Lights and candles -- Nothing says "Happy Holidays" quite like the glow of Christmas/Menorah lights and candles. But candles can be easily upended and lights have cords that can be quite enticing for curious chewers, both canine and feline. Your best bet? Keep candles out of pets' range, and never leave them burning unattended. As for holiday lights, make sure to check the cords for bite marks or other evidence of chewing, and replace them if you notice anything suspicious.
- Plants -- Pine needles, holly, mistletoe, and even poinsettias can all be toxic to pets. While dogs and cats are generally pretty good at avoiding things that might be harmful (at least when it comes to plants), some particularly inquisitive individuals might not be able to resist a little nibble of a new houseplant. Your best bet? Try to keep the festive foliage out of pets' reach. And if your pet does ingest some of these forbidden items, don't worry -- most cases of poisoning from holiday plants are not fatal. Instead of trying to induce vomiting (which may cause more harm than good), call your veterinarian or poison control.
- Rule Breaks and Great Escapes -- With all the family and friends visiting from out of town, there's a good likelihood that even the most pet-conscious visitor will accidentally break a few of your "house pet rules." Doors and gates can accidentally be left open, and forbidden foods might find their way into begging mouths. In addition, if you plan to travel with pets over the holiday, plan ahead. Pets are harder to find when not at home. Your best bet? Make a list of "house rules" for the pets and be sure everyone that comes to visit is aware of what Fido is and is not allowed to eat, where he's allowed to sleep, and so on. Also, because pets can be easily stressed by all the activity, think about making a "safe spot" where your dog or cat can retreat if they're feeling frightened or overwhelmed.
"With a little planning and some common sense solutions, it's easy to make the holidays a most wonderful time of the year for both the two and four-legged members of the family," said Diana Culp, HSSP Director. "And if you want to make the holidays even brighter for those less fortunate pets, consider making a donation to your local shelter."