As the holiday season approaches Christmas could look a little different for many people this year amid concerns of COVID-19 cases surging after holiday gatherings.
While some people may still gather with family and friends in their small social circles, many families may opt out of their travel plans this year. Many of those would be travellers typically board their pets over the holidays and may now find themselves at home celebrating with their pets for the first time this holiday season! And don’t forget all those “pandemic pets”—pets adopted into first time pet families during COVID-19. With quieter holidays on the horizon this year, 2020 may also be the first time many families are experiencing the holidays with their furry friends underfoot!
Here are some tips to help new pet owners – or those who’ve never experienced the holidays with their pet – keep their companions safe and happy this holiday season!
Trees. Setting up the Christmas tree is often the first signal that the holidays have arrived! A colorfully lit and decorated tree sets the scene for the Christmas holidays, but some pets can’t help themselves and will try to climb the tree or play with the ornaments. Be sure to secure the tree so that if your pet does try to climb it, the tree doesn’t come crashing down, damaging your ornaments or worse yet, injuring your pet. Never use tinsel to decorate your tree if you have a pet. If ingested, tinsel can cause a serious surgical emergency called a linear foreign object. Some pets like to chew on electrical cords which can result in burns or electrocution so conceal electrical cords where curious pets can’t get at them.
Plants. While poinsettias have been notoriously known as being a toxic plant, the fact is that they’re not very toxic at all! If pets are exposed to the milky sap, they may develop some skin irritation and if ingested, they may drool or vomit. Amaryllis and paperwhites (and other types of narcissi) are popular gifts during the holidays. But the leaves, stems, and bulbs of the amaryllis contain alkaloids which can cause vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, and respiratory depression. Paperwhites and other narcissi (daffodils) also contain alkaloids that cause vomiting. Pets that ingest any part of the plant can experience severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heart arrhythmias or respiratory distress. The bulbs also contain crystals in the outer layers of the bulbs, which when ingested cause severe irritation and drooling. Mistletoe and holly berries can be toxic to pets. Ingesting large amounts of mistletoe can cause an abnormal heart rate, collapse, low blood pressure, seizures, and death. Holly contains saponins which cause gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea) and the spiny leaves can cause injury to the stomach. Lilies are popular in floral arrangements but are extremely toxic to cats. Exposure to any part of the plant – even the water in the vase – causes kidney failure in cats.
Candles. Kinaras, menorahs, and festive candles are an important part of holiday traditions. However, unattended candles are always a fire hazard, especially with pets in picture. Never leave candles unattended as it only takes the flick of cat’s tail or the wag of a happy dog’s tail to topple the candles and cause singed hair, a burn, or worse yet, a fire. Consider using battery-powered candles and if you do use real candles be sure they’re out of reach of pets and extinguished immediately after use.
Holiday treats. What home isn’t filled with treats during the holidays!? Stockings filled with gum, candies, and chocolates, bowls of candies set out for nibbling on, plates of cookies and other sweets passed around or left for Santa, and mugs of hot chocolate and eggnog while decorating the tree are the norm in most homes, but are no treat for a pet. Xylitol is a product used to sweeten some sugar-free gum, candies, and baked goods, but may also be found in products such as toothpaste, lotions, facial products, deodorant, and skin gels. Even consuming small amounts can cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. If your pet ingests any product containing xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately. Hot cocoa is a nice festive treat on a cold snowy day but keep this beverage away from your pets. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, both of which are toxic to pets. Consuming just 2-3 ounces of dark chocolate can make a 50-pound dog very sick, causing vomiting, diarrhea, elevated heart rate, tremors, seizures, and even death. Call your veterinarian immediately if your pet has ingested chocolate. Don’t let your pets consume foods or beverages that contain alcohol. Rum-soaked desserts, or rum in your eggnog can quickly cause alcohol poisoning.
Holiday meals. Sharing small amounts of your holiday meal with your dog or cat is fine – but not if everyone else at the table is too! Prepare a special “plate” of food for your pet if you’d like to share but be mindful that a sudden change in your pet’s diet can cause serious gastrointestinal upset. Rich fatty foods (like dark meat, skin, and gravy) not only can cause vomiting and diarrhea but can also cause a serious and painful condition called pancreatitis. A small amount of turkey breast is the best type of meat to share but never give your pet cooked turkey bones—they’re brittle and can splinter, puncturing the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, or become lodged, causing choking or an intestinal blockage. Small amounts of plain vegetables are generally okay to share (avoid onions, leeks, garlic and chives). Avoid giving your pet casseroles, dumplings, samosas, fritters, and empanadas as they likely contain ingredients that may be toxic to your pet or are too fatty and may cause pancreatitis.
Garbage. When cleaning up after your festive day, make sure that the garbage is inaccessible to your pets. Tasty strings used in tying the turkey, juices in foil pans, and plastic wrap with icing can be tempting for curious pets. Dispose of ribbons, bows, and gift wrap promptly to avoid a linear foreign object, or intestinal blockage.
Here’s to a safe and happy holiday for everyone in your home!