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How To Keep Your Pets Safe During The Holidays

A woman getting licked by a dog wrapped in Christmas lights

The holiday season can be the most wonderful time of year, but it can also present a dangerous atmosphere for dogs, cats and other household pets. It’s easy to forget about the small hazards posed to your four-legged friends in the midst of decorating, cooking and entertaining.

As tasty foods and shiny decorations fill your home, it’s still important to keep your pet on their normal eating routine so they’re not tempted by new items. It’s also important to keep them safe, healthy and exercised despite your busy schedule.

Dogs and cats might eat almost anything that looks sparkly, fun or even gross. They are curious animals and don’t always know the difference between eating something good and eating something harmful. While ingesting harmful items during the holidays is not the only potential hazard, it is one of the most common. Signs will vary depending on what your pet consumes, but lethargy, malaise, gastrointestinal blocking, vomiting, diarrhea and drooling are general symptoms. More severe signs include tremors, seizures, agitation and possible coma.

At the University Animal Clinic, we understand your pets are a part of your family. In situations where your dog or cat becomes ill or endangered, we are here to help. As an American Animal Hospital Association, or AAHA, accredited veterinary clinic, we offer general wellness services and a full range of surgical procedures and diagnostics. Our team of knowledgeable and compassionate professionals provides the highest medical quality and standards.

Read the following holiday tips for pets to ensure a fun and safe season. By taking certain precautions, you can prevent pet emergencies and take time to enjoy the festivities.

Keeping Pets Safe On Thanksgiving

Food, food and more food.

The Thanksgiving holiday season presents risky temptations not only for people but for dogs and cats, too. With mashed potatoes and turkey shoved on your plate with a ton of other sides, sometimes we overestimate how much we can consume. And when we aren’t able to finish what’s on our plate, we usually make the mistake of giving our leftovers to the begging noses below.

Feeding people food to your pets can cause harm to their digestive system, and they can become sick from not sticking to their regular diet.

  1. Prevent Human Food Consumption
    Whether you give your dog or cat food or if you leave it in vulnerable places they can access — such as the kitchen counter — the dangers are worse than some may consider.

As you know by now, you should never give your dog chocolate. Depending on how much your pet consumes, chocolate can cause seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased thirst and an increased heart rate.

While you should avoid feeding your pets sweets and chocolate, it’s also advised to prevent them from eating food garnished with garlic or onions. Sweet, fatty and spicy foods don’t mix well with cats and dogs. Feeding them leftovers from your Thanksgiving meal can cause upset stomachs or other life-threatening illnesses. Keep food away from the edges of tables and seal all garbage disposals.

If you have company over to celebrate the holiday, leave a note to your guests reminding them not to share their Thanksgiving food. No matter how much your dog begs, people at your party need to understand it not okay — even with cute puppy eyes.

While food plays a significant role in harming your pets, so can alcoholic beverages. Keep cups out of reach and place unattended alcohol in a secure location. If an animal ingests alcohol, they can become weak and ill and possibly go into a coma. Large quantities of alcohol may be fatal.

It’s a smart idea to give your pets an early dinner before you entertain for Thanksgiving. While it may not prevent begging all together, it may make it less likely to occur.

Certain foods, like chocolate, can be toxic in the smallest amounts, leading to a low blood cell count and anemia. Candies containing xylitol can also cause a drop in blood sugar, and ingestion may result in seizures or the loss of coordination.

2. Choose a Chew Toy, Not a Bone
After you carve the turkey, another common mistake is to offer leftover bones to your pets. You may think it’s like any other chew toy, but letting them bite on animal bones can damage their teeth. Meat bones have the potential to shatter or splinter your pet’s intestinal tract or cause intestinal blocking. Obscured or large bones can get lodged in their throat and cause them to choke.

Avoid offering turkey bones to your pets as toys — instead, keep a new or special toy available to intrigue your pets.

3. Continue Your Pet’s Regular Diet
As tempting as it is to sneak your pets a few snacks here and there, don’t do it! Continuing your pet’s regular diet and exercise schedule is vital in avoiding risky emergencies. Although giving them a piece of turkey here and a few licks of mashed potatoes there may seem harmless, it all adds up — especially if you aren’t the only one slipping treats.

Ensuring garbage can lids are secure prevents your dog or cat from rummaging through the trash and getting into food, wrappings, plastic, bones and other harmful materials. Climbing on the tables is a typical tactic dogs and cats use to reach food. But if you store the food away and out of reach, there won’t be any problems.

Again, feeding your pets a little before any festivity will keep them in their routine and help prevent them from begging. And despite your house being full of guests, don’t neglect your dog’s habit of taking a walk, playing or other rituals they may have. Keeping them on a schedule will reduce their stress.

Keeping Pets Safe During Christmas

Christmas is the time of year for lights, ornaments and trees that help you get into the holiday spirit. While it’s one of the most decorative holidays, Christmas poses many dangers to cats and dogs. Lights and decorations may cause hazards or how a tree and baking cookies can be risky. But it’s important to realize how you can take precaution to keep your pets safe.

  1. How to Keep Pets Away From the Christmas Tree
    Holiday pet safety can begin by securing your Christmas tree to prevent it from falling. If your Christmas tree is not secured in place, it may tip and cause injury to your pets or other people in the room.

Anchoring it down will keep playful dogs and curious cats from causing harm to themselves and your family. People often drill their tree to a metal stand or tie it to the ceiling with fishing line. Both are valid ways to secure your Christmas tree and keep your pets safe.

Keeping your pets away from tree water is also essential. The water may contain fertilizers, and if your cat or dog drinks the water, it can cause them to have an upset stomach. Stagnant Christmas tree water also forms bacteria that can cause nausea or diarrhea.

2. Choose Proper Christmas Decorations
Holiday dangers for pets multiply by the hundreds when ornaments line every inch of your Christmas tree. Broken glass can cut your dog’s or cat’s mouth and damage their digestive tract if swallowed. If your pets usually get into mischief, either keep your breakable ornaments out of reach or replace glass ornaments with plastic or non-breakable ones.

With hundreds of lights strung around your tree, a power strip is the source of all the sparkle. But without covering the bundle of wires, your dog or cat can chew through them and experience an electrical shock. Keep batteries out of reach as well. Punctured batteries can burn the mouth and esophagus of your pets and cause severe damage.

As a safety precaution focused more on cats, avoid using tinsel, yarn, ribbons or string. Because felines love to play with sparkly decorations, they are attracted to your tree, wrappings and other presents featuring playful material. Cats can ingest any of these decorations and suffer from severe vomiting, intestinal blocking and dehydration, and may need surgery.

We all want to give our four-legged family members Christmas presents, too. However, avoid giving toys with beads inside or small, glued-on decorations. Dogs and cats will chew off the eye of their new teddy bear or the nose of their mouse toy and ingest those small pieces — or the stuffing inside. Don’t buy tiny ingestible toys. Instead, give them ones big enough to minimize choking hazards. You can also stuff their stocking with chew toys and treats, or stuff heavy-duty chew toys with healthy food treats to keep pets entertained.

Other Christmas decorations to be aware of are candles and potpourri. Never leave candles unattended — animals can burn themselves or knock candles over and cause a fire. Consider replacing your candles with flameless ones or use appropriate candle holders and place them on stable surfaces. Keeping your festive Christmas potpourri out of reach is crucial too because it can be poisonous to your pets.

3. Avoid Toxic Christmas Plants
You hung the mistletoe, placed the holly around your home and decorated your Christmas table with poinsettias. But these holiday plants may also pose harm your pets. Holly, mistletoe and lilies can easily result in a trip to the veterinary emergency room.

Avoid festive plants during Christmas, or at least keep them far from the reach of your dog, cat or other animals. If ingested, holly can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Mistletoe can result in upset gastrointestinal tracts and cause cardiovascular problems. While the two plants are the perfect festive decorations, you won’t feel merry if your four-legged family member eats them.

Lilies and amaryllis are other favorite plants during Christmas, but if your cat ingests them, they can suffer from kidney failure. The initial signs of plant ingestion develop within six to 12 hours and may get worse as time passes.

Unlike mistletoe, holly, lilies and amaryllis, poinsettias are not harmful. While the plant doesn’t pose any immediate threats to your dog or cat, it’s still a good idea to keep it out of reach from curious paws and snouts. Choose pet-safe plants to decorate your home during the holidays.

Keeping Pets Safe On New Year’s

New Year celebrations often involve firecrackers, sparklers and noisemakers. While it’s all fun and games for humans, loud noises and messy confetti can prove harmful to your pets.

  1. Desensitize Your Pets to Loud Noises
    Fireworks can traumatize your cat or dog and cause severe stress. Fireworks may even damage their ears. The best way to prevent trauma is to desensitize your animals. Desensitizing your pets to loud noises means you make them accustomed to natural sounds, smells and sights.

With dogs, gradually introduce them to unfamiliar people and places such as the dog park and local areas. By taking them to new places, they will become accustomed to various stimuli. Confident dogs can better endure fearful experiences. Instead of reacting with running away, hiding or aggressive behavior, desensitized dogs will be calmer.

Desensitizing cats is similar, but it’s suggested to use a stimulus gradient. A stimulus gradient is when you present outside stimuli, starting with the least fear-provoking item. From there, you introduce things that will cause a stronger reaction. For example, starting with toys and whistles and progressing to loud TVs and firecrackers is a slow and progressive process. By reinforcing positive behavior with treats, this will lead to desensitization.

2. Create a Safe Room
Small pieces of confetti are other hazards during New Years. Glitter and small plastic can get stuck in your dog or cat’s intestines, resulting in possible surgery. Noisy poppers can scare your animals, too. To prevent your dog, cat or other pet from becoming scared or attempting to escape the house, secure them in a safe area. Whether you place them in your bedroom, kitchen or basement, you don’t want them getting frightened and escaping at midnight.

A designated safe room for your pet to retreat to will help decrease their stress among all the commotion of your holiday party. With people petting them, talking and walking around, your dog or cat may feel overwhelmed and stressed. Place food and water in the safe room as a place for your animals to get away from the chaos and petting hands.

3. Inform Your Guests
Informing your guests of proper behavior during New Year’s can prevent holiday dangers for your pets. Whether you send out a quick message before your party, talk to guests as they enter or leave small notes for them, expressing what you expect can save you a trip to the emergency vet room.

Animals are often territorial in their home. Different smells of your guests may put your dog into protection mode, especially if there are scents of other animals. Encouraging people to wear fresh clothes that haven’t been around other animals may eliminate the possibility of aggression over your dog’s or cat’s territory.

But planning a safe New Year’s party doesn’t mean to avoid your pets. Allowing your guests to take your dog outside for fresh air and to go to the bathroom will prove helpful. While it’s easy for your dog or cat to sneak out as people are entering, you should make sure everyone is closing the door behind them and knows to check for pets.

If you and your guests are taking your pets outside throughout the night, it’s also important to consider the weather. After walking your pet, wipe their paws with a warm cloth. Winter often calls for rock salt, ice and chemical ice, but these materials can chap your dog’s paws. Small cats and dogs will feel the cold sooner than large animals, and it’s crucial to never leave your pets outside for extended amounts of time. They can suffer from frostbite or hypothermia. In the case it’s too cold for your smaller pets, consider a heated bed to keep them warm.

As a final tip when notifying your guests, make sure you supervise interactions between your pets and children. Sometimes children don’t know how to pet a cat or how to interact with a dog. It’s up to you and your guests to keep an eye out for signs of distress and growling.

Additional Pet Safety Tips

Although you might like to keep your pets at home in their comfortable environment during the holidays, traveling long distances may necessitate taking them along with you or boarding them in a kennel. Refer to these additional tips for keeping pets safe during the holidays.

Traveling With Your Pets

Traveling with your pets for the holidays can be stressful for both parties. When making traveling decisions, choose the most comfortable and safest option for your dog, cat or other animal. As a rule of thumb, cats and dogs are usually better off in their home unless you will be traveling for several days. If you can’t find someone to take care of your pets while you’re away, consider the following guide whether you are traveling by car, plane, ship or train.

Car Tips

  • Keep your dog or cat in a secure crate.
  • Don’t put your pets in the front seat in case an airbag deploys.
  • Keep their heads inside the car to prevent injuries from debris and cold air.
  • Never leave your pets alone in the car.

Airplane Tips

Because air travel is risky for pets, consider alternative means.

  • If there is no other way, choose to sit in the cabin.
  • Ask questions about your animal’s flight.
  • Be cautious when taking your pet through airport security.
  • Understand the possible dangers of flying your pet in the cargo hold.

Ship Tips

Contact your cruise line in advance to understand pet permissions.

  • Most pets are only welcome on ocean crossings.
  • It’s common for cruises to confine your pet to a kennel.

Train Tips

  • Amtrak allows some pets on select trains.
  • All lines permit service animals.
  • Some smaller train companies may authorize animals on board.

Whether you are traveling via car, plane, ship or train, be sure to consider your pet’s safety and comfort. When possible, avoid traveling long distances.

Boarding Your Pets While You’re Away

If you are unable to find a family member, friend or neighbor to watch over your pets while you travel, many people choose to use a boarding facility. There are many options available, and each varies in the services they provide. Refer to the following considerations before boarding your pets during the holiday season.

  • Ask for Referrals: Inquiring about other peoples’ experiences with boarding facilities to help you make a list of pros and cons. Ask your vet for suggestions as well.
  • Visit Your Possibilities: Check out your list of boarding kennels and make sure to read the rules. You will want to meet the staff and know the ins and outs of where your pets may be staying.
  • Get a Single Room: Some kennels place two dogs per kennel. You will want a single room for your pet to avoid stress and confrontation.
  • Keep Them Healthy: If your pets need medications, make sure the staff will administer medicine or other drugs.
  • Tag Your Pets: Don’t forget to keep your pet’s collar on with their ID or an updated microchip.

While most people choose to board as the last option, educating yourself on how each facility operates is the best way to ensure your pet’s safety.

Contact University Animal Clinic For Emergency Holiday Mishaps

If your pet happens to eat something harmful during the holidays, follow these steps to prevent severe illness or possible death.

  1. Remove your pet from the source, whether it’s human food, decorations or harmful plants.
  2. If your pet is in extreme danger, call University Animal Clinic. Inform us of the situation to help us prepare for your arrival.
  3. Check to see if your pet is breathing. If not, perform CPR.
  4. If your pet begins to convulse or have seizures, move them to a safe location, avoiding steps and furniture.
  5. Transport your animal to the vet in a safe and precautious manner.

In dangerous situations, we may pump your animal’s stomach or administer substances to rid their stomach of toxins.

Regarding less time-sensitive emergencies, if your dog has a history of running away or it’s scared of fireworks, their first instinct may be to make a break for it. We encourage you to update their microchip information beforehand. Because of the comings and goings of family and friends during the holidays, it’s an easy time for pets to sneak out of the house. With an updated microchip, the odds of finding your pet are much higher.

However, if your pet doesn’t have a microchip, start searching your neighborhood and other familiar locations. For example, any local restaurants, parks, gas stations, etc. Continue your search by contacting your local animal shelter and advertise via social media, the newspaper and fliers. Be persistent in your search and know that an animal wearing a collar with tags is more likely to return. Without proper identification, people may mistake your dog or cat for a stray.

In the unfortunate case where your dog or cat experiences an emergency situation during the holidays, contact University Animal Clinic online or call us at 941-355-7707. Our team, which specializes in companion animals and exotics, will diagnose your pet and take the proper steps to help it recover. No matter the situation, we will provide our expertise and care to each animal.

As an AAHA accredited veterinary clinic, we offer drop-off appointments for urgent needs and our dedicated experts care for the health of your four-legged family members. Besides emergency care, University Animal Clinic has Wellness Plans available. Wellness Plans cover your pet’s wellness services and offers peace of mind with unlimited office visits. We show our passion for preventative care in all situations to all animals.