“In planning for this season’s holiday festivities, it is important to keep your pets in mind,” said Katherine Simkins, a Reno-based dog behavioral therapist with Bark Busters USA. “Holiday festivities can interrupt a dog’s routine and present a potentially unsafe situation. But by following a few common-sense tips, the holidays can be cheery for everyone.”
As decorations come out of storage, pets might be tempted to play or nibble on holiday goodies. Pets should be kept away from holiday plants, such as holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, amaryllis and potpourri, all of which are poisonous if ingested.
“Snow globes can contain antifreeze, which is toxic to dogs,” Simkins said. “If there is an antifreeze spill, keep your dog out of the room while you clean up the liquid. Dilute the spot with water and floor cleaner to ensure your dog does not lick the area later.”
Lighting of all kinds also can be dangerous to pets. Unattended candles can be knocked over and catch furniture or pets on fire. Electrical wires and batteries can cause shock or burns if chewed or bitten and should be kept out of reach of pets, Simkins said.
Christmas trees also can be dangerous to pets and should be anchored to the wall or ceiling to prevent them from tipping over. Ornaments that are breakable should be hung on the top of the tree so pets do not knock them off. Simkins said fallen pine needles should be swept off the floor because they can puncture a pet’s intestines if they are ingested.
“Don’t let your dog drink the Christmas tree water,” Simkins said. “The water may contain preservative chemicals, which can trigger severe indigestion in dogs. Stagnant plain water can breed bacteria and cause nausea or diarrhea to the pet that imbibes.”
Diane Blankenburg, executive director for the Nevada Humane Society, pointed out additional hazards that come with pets and Christmas trees.
“Glittery items such as tinsel, ribbon and ornament hooks are attractive playthings to some pets,” Blankenburg said. “Ingestion can make them sick, possibly leading to gastrointestinal blockages and ultimately surgery. So be sure the floor is picked up after decorating your house.”
Blankenburg said human treats also are very tempting to animals but can be dangerous and should be kept off the floor out of reach of pets.
“It’s natural that you’d want to share holiday treats with your dog,” Simkins said. “While a little taste of turkey or sweet potatoes can make your dog happy, don’t overdo it. Too much of a good thing can make him sick.”
Dogs and bones are thought to go together, but cooked poultry bones can easily splinter and cause choking, get stuck in a dog’s gums or damage their intestines. Instead, treat your dog to bones specifically designed for him to chew.
“Avoid giving your dog fatty or spicy foods, bread dough, fresh herbs, alcohol beverages, caffeine and sweets of all kinds,” Simkins said. “Especially those with chocolate or xylitol, an artificial sweetener.”
For pets that get nervous around company, Simkins said it is important to have a quiet room for pets to stay in away from guests with a pet bed and fresh water. Walking or playing with dogs for 30 minutes before guests arrive also migth help to relax them before guests arrive.
“Help your dog stay busy and out of the holiday trimmings by giving him fun, safe gifts,” Simkins said. “The Buster Cube and Kong are virtually indestructible puzzle toys that reward your dog with treats and keep him well entertained.”
As important as it is for pet owners to be conscious of dangers during the holidays, Blankenburg said there are ways to make sure your pet enjoys the holidays as much as everyone else.
“Make holiday bandanas for your dogs to wear as you go on walks or hikes,” she said. “They will love the extra attention.”
Blankenburg also suggested filling stockings for pets with their favorite treats to eat at a special time, or even wrap catnip toys in tissue paper. Cats will have a great time tearing them open to get to the surprise. Pets can be included in gift opening, Blankenburg said, because dogs love to sniff new items and cats go crazy attacking gift wrap and jumping in boxes.
“If you don’t have your own pets, give a holiday gift to one of the many animals in your local shelter: a new toy, a special treat, a cozy bed, a fun walk, a beautiful grooming or just lots of warm hugs,” Blankenburg said. “Or better yet, give yourself a gift by giving them a new loving home this holiday season.”
While it might be OK to buy yourself a pet, Simkins said it’s important not to give a pet as a surprise gift because animals given as gifts often end up at the shelter.
“Owning a dog takes a genuine commitment of time and responsibility and adoptive owners must be ready to participate in training and other activities,” Simkins said. “If someone you know seriously wants a dog, consider giving a leash or collar. This helps ensure the lucky person gets just the right pet to bring into the family.”