It’s that time of year again – how quickly the long hot days of summer turn into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season! We will soon be welcoming many pets to our kennel while their owners travel to visit family and friends.
If you don’t travel during the holidays and are enjoying time with your pets at home, there are always a few more things to look out for during the Christmas season. From holiday decorations, surprise gifts under the tree and rich food, you can probably name dozens of things that curious pets would find appealing. I wrote this post as a reminder to be especially vigilant this time of year, especially if you have brought a new puppy or kitten into your home.
Before we get into more depth in this post, I would like to list some emergency clinic numbers for the greater Toronto area in case you experience a pet emergency. Most are open on weekends and holidays, when your vet is most likely unavailable. They are as follows:
Veterinary Emergency Clinics: 280 Sheppard Ave. E., Toronto (416) 226-3663
920 Yonge St., Toronto (416) 920-2002
1210 Journey’s End Circle, Newmarket (905) 953-5351
404 Emergency Clinic: 510 Harry Walker Parkway S., Newmarket (905) 953-1933
Huronia VEC Clinic 115 Bell Farm Rd., #110, Barrie (705) 722-0377
Animal Emergency Clinic of Durham: 1910 Dundas St. E., Whitby (905) 576-3031
National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435 (a fee may apply)
I’ve used several sources to compile the following list of holiday hazards. These include a pet first aid course I took last year, as well as personal experience with my own pets and stories my clients have told me, and, of course, a search of the ubiquitous world wide web. Let’s hope your pets have a safe holiday season!
Food and Drink
Most people know dogs cannot have chocolate – dark chocolate is particularly bad for them. But did you know onions and raisins are also toxic to your pet? Keep in mind that onions are found in many holiday foods including stuffing, gravies, soups, etc. Raisins are in many favourite holiday baked goods, including minced pies, butter tarts, fruit cakes, cookies, etc. Grapes are often a staple on a festive fruit tray. Some nuts can also be toxic to your pet, especially macadamia nuts.
Many pets may have food allergies. For instance, wheat allergies, sensitivities to dairy, and intolerance to chicken are quite common. I recently boarded a dog who was on a kangaroo-based kibble as he was experiencing sensitivities to many other protein sources.
The artificial sweetener, xylitol, is extremely toxic to pets. It is used to flavour, for example, candies, and gum.
It’s not a good idea to let your dog or cat “lick the plate”. Rich gravies and sauces can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. In severe cases, a sudden intake of high fat foods can bring on pancreatitis, a serious inflammation of the pancreas, which would require a visit to the vet. Avoid giving your pet high fat foods, such as pastry, poultry skin, and, of course, cooked bones, which can splinter and cause severe internal problems.
It may seem obvious, but do not give caffeinated or alcoholic beverages to your pets!
The Christmas Tree and Holiday Plants
A live Christmas tree is a wonderful part of the holiday season. But make sure it is securely anchored, as curious pets can easily topple a tree if they decide to climb it or try to reach an interesting ornament. Also, pine needles can pierce your pet’s intestines if chewed or eaten and they also can become stuck in their paws. We have caught our dogs drinking the tree water on numerous occasions, which can harbour bacteria, as well as pesticides and fertilizers used to grow the live trees. Reluctantly, I have been converted to an artificial tree and am learning to love it!
Holiday plants such as poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, lilies, daffodils, and amaryllis bulbs are also toxic to pets in varying degrees. Many people give these festive plants as gifts, so avoid placing these under the tree.
You may want to avoid using edible decorations, such as ornaments made from dough, as well as popcorn and cranberry strings.
Many people avoid tinsel altogether these days due to the severe problems it can cause if ingested by your pet.
Decorative Christmas ornaments can easily shatter if played with by your cat or dog and cause severe intestinal problems if ingested. Your pet may think the many decorative items you place around the house are actually new toys for them to play with!
Moving decorations may frighten pets, as can holiday “crackers”.
Pets may sever electrical cords risking a shock, or chew batteries, exposing themselves to toxic materials, such as acid and heavy metals.
Do not leave lighted candles in the room. Our lab’s “otter tail” is great at knocking things over – we learned our lesson one night after placing some glasses of red wine on our coffee table!
As noted above, wrapped gifts, such as bulbs, chocolates, baked goods, etc. can be very toxic to pets. Your pet will also know if there are treats for him under the tree! Leave these packed away until Christmas day then surprise them with their tasty gift.
Outdoor Concerns and Other Dangers
Most people know that anti-freeze is toxic to your pet, so make sure it is out of reach if you decide to put you pet in the garage or basement while you have guests over. This holds true for any toxic items in the basement (ie. paint, paint thinner, bleach, detergent, etc.).
Salt used on icy driveways and walkways is an irritant to your pet’s paws.
Make sure you are aware of the weather and/or don’t get distracted by your party guests and leave your pets outside for too long.
Remember that garbage is a big temptation to pets! I caught my dog with the entire turkey carcass in his mouth once and, on another occasion, he pulled the string from around the bird out of the garbage. Fortunately, I caught him in the act before any damage was done. I’ve heard stories from more then one of my clients of their pets eating diapers, socks, panty hose, gloves, Halloween candies, to name a few, often resulting in very costly vet visits.
Visiting Guests and Children
Many people, as well as children, who have never owned pets are not aware that certain foods can be toxic. Also, your pet may have food allergies, so that small piece of cheese could result in a big mess to clean up the next morning. You may want to make sure your guests know what your pet can and cannot have to eat. My dad used to secretly toss our labs pieces of meat and fat under the table. We would always wonder why they would end up with diarrhea the day after a family meal, before we caught him in the act one night.
Ensure purses and coats are kept out of reach – a curious puppy could always inspect them and end up ingesting prescription medication, chewing lighters, consuming artificially flavoured candies, or any number of dangerous items.
Thanks again for reading and I hope you found this post informative. What started as a short list of things, quickly became one of my longer posts – I certainly learned a few more things to watch out for with my pets this Christmas!
Wishing you and your pets a very happy and safe