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By Alyssa Mages, BS, CVT,
Education and Development Coordinator, Metropolitan Veterinary Associates

Tis the season for holiday joy and celebration – from dinners and parties, to gifts and sparkling decorations. We urge you to consider the items below while planning your festivities to keep your pets safe!

Decking the Halls

All those items that make the holidays festive, can lead to risky temptations for our pets. Being aware of these can hopefully prevent any injuries, or ingestions of anything other than food!

  • Christmas trees & water reservoirs
    • TIMBERRRR!!! Those lovely pines, firs, and spruces can tip over if your cat decides to climb on them or your dog barrels into it while playing. Anchoring your tree to the ceiling, wall, or a doorframe with fishline & mounting hooks is a quick & easy solution.
    • A novel water source (like Christmas tree water) plus a curious pet can lead to serious illness. Don’t add aspirin, sugar, coins, or anything else to the water for your tree.
  • Ornaments
    • As much as possible, keep any tantalizing, breakable, or otherwise non-pet friendly ornaments out of reach, and/or out of sight.
      • If eaten, an ornament can cause a GI obstruction, necessitating emergency surgery.
      • If broken and stepped on, an ornament can cause wounds needing emergency care.
      • Climbing the tree to get to attractive or shiny ornaments can cause a serious fall and potentially broken bones and emergency surgery for stabilization and repair.
  • Tinsel / Garland
    • If it’s shiny and dangly, this can be a lethal combination for your pets – particularly cats – to eat. Tinsel & garland can cause intestinal blockages, which more often than not will require surgery to remove.
      • If you see any shiny strings dangling from your pet’s hind end – DO NOT PULL! There could be a larger/longer amount higher up in their intestines and pulling on the farthest end can cause serious internal damage.
  • Electric lights 
    • If your pet is a chewer, be aware of where the cords are!
    • Electrical wire guards are available & highly advisable.
  • Flowers and festive plants 
    • Listed below are some of the more common holiday plants that can be dangerous or toxic to your pets and will likely necessitate an ER visit if ingested. For a more comprehensive list of toxic plants & their effects please visit the ASPCA’s website:
      • Mistletoe
      • Poinsettia
      • Amaryllis
      • Balsam, pine, cedar
      • Holly
  • Candles 
    • Candlelight is an integral part of many holiday traditions, but NEVER leave a candle burning unattended. And it’s an even better idea to never leave pets unsupervised in an area with lit candles.
  • Diffusers, Potpourri, etc.
    • Anything that has hot wax, essential oils, or any other chemical ingredient should definitely be kept out of reach of inquisitive pets.
      • Liquid potpourris & diffusers are potentially hazardous because they typically contain essential oils that can severely damage your pet’s mouth, eyes and skin.
      • Solid potpourris – wax, dried plants, etc. can cause GI upset or other adverse reactions should your pet ingest them. 


Happiness & Merriment  

It wouldn’t be the Holiday season without the parties but being aware that your visitors can upset your pets is a critical element in your event planning. The extra/unexpected people, the accompanying noises, and overall excitement can cause pets that aren’t normally anxious to become so in the energy that these gatherings can bring. The following tips should help lessen those stressors on your pet and help keep everyone in the party mood!

  • Happy Places
    • All pets should have free access to a quiet, comfy place where they can ‘hide’. Ensuring your pet has a room or crate somewhere away from the festivities – where your guests aren’t – will enable your pet to choose if they want to be the life of the party, or not!
  • Guest List
    • Make a list and check it twice! Do so well in advance so that you can notify friends/family that you have pets or if other guests may be bringing pets to your house.
      • Why? There may be some attendees that have allergies or compromised immune systems who MUST be made aware of ANY animals in your home, so they can take the necessary precautions (if needed) to protect themselves.
    • Specify if this is a pet friendly event – or if your fur babies prefer being the ONLY children.
    • The last thing anyone wants, or needs, is for an altercation of the animal variety, so if your guests ask to bring their own pets and there haven’t been previous play dates, there are two options:
      • Politely decline their request.
      • Schedule some time prior to your event allowing the pets to meet & mingle with each other.
        • Supervise their interactions, monitor body language for signs of how the interaction is progressing, and rewarding good behavior with praise and/or pet friendly treats.
        • Should this go well, include them in the final invite, BUT be prepared to intervene if needed to avoid injuries to ALL the guests.
  • Anxious Pets (pre-existing)
    • If you know that your pets are already dealing with any form of anxiety or nervousness – on prescription medicine, reactive to storms/fireworks/etc., have aggressive tendencies towards other animals or people – taking proactive measures at this time of year is highly advisable!
    • It’s likely best to keep your pet(s) in another room or in their crate if that’s their happy place, and provide them with a favorite toy, or treat.
    • If your pet isn’t regularly on any prescription medicine or other stress relievers such as pheromone sprays or diffusers, please talk to your veterinarian about other recommendations they may have for you.
    • These recommendations aren’t just for our furry family members, but our feathered, or scaly ‘kids’ can be sensitive to overstimulation as well. Move their enclosures if necessary, and gently inform your guests that they’re not to be bothered.
  • For Your Convenience, the Exits are Located… 
    • Even if your pets are comfortable around other people, do make sure you keep an eye on them – your pets that is!
    • When people are entering or leaving your home, this provides the perfect opportunity to make a break for it – even for the best-behaved pets.
    • While you’re welcoming your friends & family, collecting coats, and all the activity that accompanies a holiday gathering – please be mindful of your four-legged family members so they don’t get out the door and become lost.
  • May I see your ID please?
    • When us humans reach a certain age, we actually enjoy getting ‘carded’, but our pets don’t have this option – they rely on us to make sure that our community knows that they’re a part of our family.
    • Collars with ID tags – and that rabies tag! – are one part of this equation, but the other is a microchip. A microchip is small (size of a grain of rice), radio-frequency implant imbedded under your pet’s skin that cannot fall off like a tag or collar.
    • A microchip is inserted in a procedure similar to that of a routine vaccine and doesn’t require sedation or anesthetic.
    • But getting the microchip in place is only the 1st step; you must then register your pet TO YOU to ensure that if they do get out and become lost, when they’re taken to a veterinary office or shelter and are scanned, your information is retrievable, and a happy reunion will take place.
  • Human Food for Humans ONLY
    • We know you hear this everywhere, but it’s so important to keep food, drinks, and the containers/wrappers well out of your pets’ reach to prevent GI upset, obstructions, and/or other potentially harmful situations!
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • It’s not just the food scraps that need to be contained, but the gift wrappings as well. Leftover paper & ribbon should be rewound – if possible – and stored in containers and please recycle the paper if possible.
    • Any waste receptacle – recyclable, general trash, or compostable – MUST have a firmly seated lid that will not allow your pet to gain entry.
    • Keep it outside for the duration if you must, but a good mantra in this instance is “A place for everything, everything in its place.” – Benjamin Franklin


Holiday Travel & When You Leave the House

Whether your pets are your traveling companion, or their guarding the roost while you’re away, these are some precautions that will safeguard them whenever & wherever your travels may take them, and you.

  • Traveling Papers
    • International AND Domestic travel regulations require any pet you bring with you to have an up-to-date health certificate from your veterinarian – even if you are traveling by car.
    • This means that a physical exam was performed within the past 6 months, and that your pet is fully vaccinated.
    • It’s best to determine what the specific state or country requirements are BEFORE your visit and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian well in advance to get the needed documentation.
  • Road Trip!
    • Cats & dogs should always be safely restrained – either in a carrier on the floor of the back seat, or with a pet specific harness & seat belt – and they should never be left alone in a car in any weather.
    • Why the back seat? Airbags. These safety devices are meant for humans, and even we have to be of a certain height for them to be effective.
    • Buckle your pets into the middle seat, and again, place smaller pets in their carriers on the floor to keep them as safe as possible.
  • Leavin’ on a Jet Plane
    • Air travel with pets has been front & center in the news lately, so being hyper vigilant with your pets’ care is very important!
    • Touch base with your veterinarian prior to travel and ensure the airline you’ve selected has clearly delineated protocols for pet transport.
    • Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you regarding your own pet’s ability to travel; please do not administer ANY medications without first speaking with your vet and be your pet’s advocate as well to ensure their safety is paramount while in the air.
  • Make a checklist
    • Keep in mind that in addition to your pet’s food and medications (if any) you’ll need to bring copies of their medical records, ID information (tag numbers, microchip #, etc.), 1st aid supplies, and any other items to make traveling easier.
    • Please refer to the AVMA’s website for their “Traveling with Your Pet FAQs” for a more complete listing.
  • Home-away-from-Home for the Holidays
    • If it’s easier for your pets to remain at home while you travel that’s perfectly fine!
    • Talk with your veterinarian to see if they offer boarding services, have any other boarding facilities they utilize, or if they know of any pet sitters that would come to your home that they’d recommend.
    • It’s also a good idea to discuss immunization coverage if you select a boarding facility. Kennel cough & canine flu are real & it’s important to touch base with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule for your individual pet.
  • Keepin’ it Real – at Home
    • When the cat’s away, the mice will play…or when YOU’RE away, your pets will!
    • Please ensure you’ve pet proofed your home for when you’re not around.
    • Cats, dogs and other pets are often tempted to get into all the things they’re not supposed to – trash cans, holiday decorations, electrical cords, anything & everything else you can think of!
    • Put things away, close doors to rooms, whatever you need to do to ensure that when you return home, it’s how you left it.
  • Kick it to the Curb!
    • Take out the papers & the trash…!
    • Make sure your pets can’t get to any scraps/trash, especially if it contains potentially harmful food/scraps, or any other items that could get ingested and cause issues.

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