Tis the Season: Avoiding Holiday Hazards for Your Pet

holiday hazards for pets

The holiday season brings joy and excitement, friends and family, and for pet owners, a few risks. Here is the latest in avoiding holiday hazards for your pets.

Holiday Hazards: Costumes, Coats, and Christmas Sweaters

Do your dogs really need coats and sweaters for a winter’s day walk in the park? Probably not. The rule of thumb to keep your dog from overheating in coats and sweaters is to only use them with seniors, toys, and sick dogs; only if they are short-haired, like Chihuahuas and Greyhounds; and then only if the weather outside is below freezing. Be particularly careful about coats and sweaters that wrap around the neck, as these can get tangled in tree branches and become choking hazards. In addition, avoid small bells and buttons that can become tangled or caught around the neck.

It might be more prudent to change walks to shorter or more frequent jaunts outside if there is snow or ice on the ground, rather than wrapping a dog up in extra warm layers. By paying close attention to the dog’s behavior, you should be able to tell if he is getting cold, or if paws are becoming affected by snow, ice, or salt on sidewalks. Try to keep dogs away from streets and sidewalks treated with chemicals for ice, as they will lick their paws after walking on these surfaces. These are classic, and often overlooked, holiday hazards.

There is a food-grade paw wax called Musher’s Secret. This safe, absorbent wax prevents some of the damaging effects of holiday hazards like snow, salt, and other chemicals from impacting dog’s paws. This soft wax is designed for dogs who spend a long time in the outdoors during winter, such as dog mushing teams or winter camping.

For family pictures, if you want to put a costume on the dog or cat, ensure it is not dangerously tight around the neck, tangled with collars, and don’t expect too much. Our pets don’t really understand the idea of costumes, and don’t know better than to freeze in place or chew their antlers to pieces. If you can get the costume in place, and get the picture, take the costume off when the picture is done.

Make sure any holiday collars are safety or breakaway collars, especially for cats. If cats are taken out for walks, they should have a walking harness, rather than a leash attached to the collar.

Tree Tips

Holiday decorating is one of the most enjoyable part of the season. A few best practices will make sure your pet doesn’t choke on tinsel, or set the house on fire by knocking over a lit candle. (These are two of the worst holiday hazards!)

A few holiday plants are mildly to moderately poisonous to dogs and cats. Keep holly, holly berries, mistletoe, and poinsettias away from dogs and cats who like to chew. Signs of lip smacking, drooling, and shaking head should be considered as possible signs the dog has ingested something poisonous.

Cats especially love a lit candle. To make sure a tail doesn’t sweep a candle into the curtains, keep them out of reach, such as on a mantle or tall shelf. Use fire screens if a fireplace is part of holiday traditions. If the dog eats a candle or two, it is usually not very dangerous, but watch for signs of choking. Most candles are made from beeswax, soy, or paraffin.

Safe trees do not include anything electric at a level the pet can reach and chew; in addition, keep garlands, lights, and ornaments in the upper branches. Cats especially are in danger if they eat tinsel, and both dogs and cats can have serious consequences if they develop intentional blockage from tinsel that requires surgery. For pet’s sake, keep tinsel out of the house! If a holiday tradition is popcorn or fresh cranberry garlands on the tree, expect the pets to dive in and snack on the decorations.

The Holiday Buffet

The cookie and cranberry smells of a holiday party have been known to drive kids and dogs wild, and seems to encourage sneaking treats off the holiday buffet. Here are a few rules of thumb for safe holiday treats:

Don’t let any dog chew on cooked turkey drumsticks. Those bones, while no doubt delicious to people and dogs, can splinter under even small teeth. Cooked bones in general are not a good idea because of the splintering risk. Many farmers at local farmer’s markets sell bones as well as fresh meat, if you want to give your big dog a holiday treat.

While most people know that chocolate can be toxic to dogs, other chemicals in prepared foods such as Xylitol, a sugar substitute, can also be toxic. Keep purchased cookies away from dogs and cats.

Onions and garlic are very toxic to dogs and cats, so avoid sharing holiday table food that may include these ingredients. In addition, cookies that contain macadamia nuts are a no-no for dogs. Most nuts can be a choking hazard for small dogs and cats. A small amount of turkey is usually safe, though some dogs are particularly sensitive to too much fat. Keep treats lean.

The ASPCA maintains an animal poison control number, 888-426-4435.

Healthy Holiday Snacks

Avoid the temptation to share a bit of bubbly with a pet, as they cannot manage alcohol. Alcoholic drinks are holiday hazards to avoid. Also, keep cat nip and other greenery in a safe place where cats cannot overindulge.

To share in the holiday spirit with the family pet, some healthy snacks include dried sweet potato slices, or dog treats made from cooked mashed sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and a bit of molasses. These little balls are like cookie dough for dogs, and kids like them, too.

When making holiday treats for pets, remember to avoid the salt, sugar, and spices. We don’t need to flavor treats to human taste. We should also avoid extra fat and wheat flour, as some dogs are sensitive. Garbanzo bean flour is a good substitute in dog cookie recipes, if your dog is sensitive to wheat.

Has your pet overdone the holiday spirit? Contact us for next steps, or for an appointment.

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