Make sure your holiday preparations keep pet safety in mind. Dr. Ashley Mitek, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, offers tips to prevent accidents and injuries that could dampen the holiday spirit.
Hosting lots of guests can be stressful for you, and even worse for a pet that is not accustomed to company (or just isn’t very sociable). “You can minimize this stress by giving them a safe space to relax in,” advises Dr. Mitek. “Pay particular attention when unfamiliar children come into the home if your pet is not used to kids.”
Another great pet stress-buster is exercise. “During the winter holidays we tend to not exercise our pets as much because of the cold weather and busy schedules,” she notes. “But throw on your coat—and maybe a jacket for your pup too—and go for a walk or a trip to the dog park.”
Lastly, as people get time off and go on holiday breaks, switching a pet’s schedule around can also bring about stress. Even on your days off, try to keep a consistent schedule for your pet.
Refrain from Food Sharing
It can be tempting to include your pet in the holiday feasting, but some foods can be toxic to animals.
“Ideally you will give only pet-safe treats and avoid human food,” says Dr. Mitek. “Sweets that contain chocolate or xylitol are toxic to pets. And many traditional holiday foods contain high levels of fat, which can cause pancreatitis or stomach upset in pets.”
If you do slip extra food to your pets, keep in mind the pet’s size when you determine the portion. A five-pound Chihuahua can easily get sick from a small amount of human food.
“We all want to show our pet how much we love them during the holidays, but remember, what your dog or cat wants most is your time and love. Instead of handing them a sugar cookie, consider taking them on a walk or snuggling on the couch with them,” says Dr. Mitek.
Pet-Proof Your Decorations
“Cats seem to absolutely love ribbon and tinsel! Unfortunately, if these items are ingested they can cause a life-threatening obstruction known as a ‘foreign body,’ in cats as well as dogs,” says Dr. Mitek. Be sure to keep these decorations out of reach of pets.
Likewise, hide any electrical wires connected to decorations, such as strings of lights, since they are an electrocution risk for pets. Decorations made of glass could also pose a danger if they fall and break, and glass shards cut your pet’s paw pad.
Be aware that some pets have allergies to real pine trees. Trees may make them itchier and more uncomfortable, possibly increasing their stress level during the holidays.
Watch for Outdoor Hazards
Even though dogs with shaggy fur generally do fine in cold weather, many dogs appreciate a coat. “Pet owners often ask how to keep their pet warm during winter walks. Small dogs, particularly hairless dogs, may do best with a sweater or winter coat for walks. You can also consider pet-safe booties for your dog’s paw pads to keep their paws warm too.”
Booties also protect paws from rock salt, which can be harmful to pets if ingested. Dr. Mitek recommends keeping a towel by your entryway to wipe off your pet’s paw pads as soon as they come in from a walk during winter. For your own home, choose pet-safe ice melt alternatives.
Consuming any amount of antifreeze from vehicle maintenance can have serious consequences for cats and dogs. Make sure antifreeze containers or spills are kept away from pets.
Anticipate Noisy New Year’s Eve
Loud noises, such as fireworks or even the pop of champagne bottles or party poppers, may scare pets, especially pets with a history of noise phobia. Confining such a pet to their safe space before the noise starts can help reduce the stress. Pets with an extreme phobia of fireworks may benefit from behavioral medications prescribed by your veterinarian.
Lastly, take precautions to ensure your pets cannot get loose and run away when stressed. And as a backup plan, be sure your pets have identifying tags and a microchip so you can be reunited with them if they do escape.
Wishing you and your furry family members a safe and happy holiday season!
By Crystal Munguia