Holiday traditions allow families and friends to honor the past and celebrate the present, but these annual customs and rituals can be perplexing, frightening, and sometimes dangerous to your pet. Keep the season merry and bright by reading our Lebanon Animal Hospital team’s tips to ensuring that your favorite holiday traditions are safe and fun for your four-legged family member. 

Deck the halls—holiday decor and your pet

During the holidays, you may transform your home from a domestic dwelling to a winter wonderland. Imagine your pet’s confusion—or delight—as their home sweet home becomes Santa’s magical kingdom. If your pet feels anxious about your home’s transformation, they may exhibit stress-related behavior (e.g., appetite or litter box changes, destructive behavior). On the other hand, if your curious pet delights in the decor, they may want to eat or play with every new item.

Put out decorations—including those in the yard—gradually rather than all at once. By gradually introducing your pet to your holiday decor, you can observe their behavior, and change your game plan if necessary. To prevent your pet from being injured, you may have to restrict your four-legged friend’s access to the holiday decorations, by decking out a specific home area or room, and using a pet gate or closing the door. 

Holiday decorations are not created equal, and each item poses a different risk to your pet. Pay special attention to these potentially harmful decorations, including:

  • Ornaments — Glass ornaments can break and lacerate your pet’s paw pads and gums, while small figurines and hooks may be swallowed, injuring or blocking your furry pal’s digestive system.
  • Candles — Pets can burn themselves, or knock over burning candles, which may cause a house fire.
  • Essential oils and liquid potpourri — Many scented oils can cause a cat or dog to experience respiratory, kidney, and liver damage.
  • Tinsel and garland — Cats who play with these decorative strands may consume them, leading to a lethal intestinal blockage.
  • Holiday lights — Pets who chew on electrical cords may experience shock and painful oral burns and lacerations. Electrocution is possible.  

O tannenbaum—Christmas trees and pets

Holiday trees pose numerous pet hazards. Cats love to climb and hide within the branches, while less-agile dogs may simply jump at the tree in pursuit of an imaginary squirrel or chipmunk. Either way, pets can easily topple the tree or pull it down on themselves, resulting in crush- or fall-related injuries, including limb fractures or soft tissue sprains. Additional tree-related troubles include:

  • Consuming contaminated tree water — Water in a Christmas tree stand can be tainted with chemicals and bacteria, and if your pet drinks this water, they can experience gastrointestinal upset, or worse.
  • Chewing on light cords — If your pet chews a plugged-in electrical cord, they can suffer a serious or life-threatening electrical shock. Always unplug your tree lights if you will not be in the room.
  • Ornament damage or ingestion — Pets may pick off appealing ornaments to play with or chew. Broken glass or metal can lacerate your pet’s paw pads, muzzles, and gums, while swallowed pieces can cause choking or an intestinal blockage.

Protect your pet—and your holiday tradition—by securing the tree to a nearby wall to prevent it from tipping or falling. Cover your tree base and any exposed electrical cords, and hang breakable ornaments on higher branches.

A turkey and some mistletoe—pets and the holiday centerpiece

A rich roasted turkey or a glistening ham will likely adorn your holiday table. But you should prevent sticky-fingered friends and family from pinching these proteins for your pet. These meats are most frequently smoked, cured, seasoned, glazed, and stuffed—making them far too rich for the canine and feline digestive tract. Pets’ meat-related risks include:

  • Pancreatitis — Rich and unusual foods can trigger a severe pancreatic inflammatory reaction. This painful condition will land your pet in the hospital.
  • Gastrointestinal upset — Unfamiliar foods can cause your pet nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Choking and dental fractures — Never allow your pet to chew leftover turkey or ham bones, as these can splinter, causing your four-legged pal to choke, or experience painful broken teeth.
  • Intestinal blockages — Cooked bones are indigestible and may cause your pet a life-threatening stomach or intestinal perforation or blockage.

If you cannot resist treating your pet to holiday foods, give them skinless unseasoned white turkey meat, and plain unseasoned side dishes such as green beans, carrots, apple slices, squash, and pureed pumpkin.

Turkey and ham are not the only holiday centerpieces that can make your pet sick. Many holiday floral and foliage centerpieces include toxic plants.  If your pet ingests mistletoe, holly, amaryllis, or yew, they can become extremely sick. In addition, if your cat ingests any of a lily’s parts, your feline friend can experience acute kidney failure. 

Ensure you keep all plants out of your pet’s reach. If you are unsure which plants and flowers can be toxic to your pet, check out the ASPCA plant list, ensure you allow only pet-safe natural holiday decor in your home. 

Friends are calling “yoo hoo”—pets and holiday guests

When holiday visitors come calling, pets may experience significant stress, overexcitement, and anxiety. Protect your pet’s confidence and prioritize their safety by ensuring all guests are aware of your four-legged friend’s presence and know how to interact safely with your furry pal. Inform everyone of any house rules, such as keeping your pet indoors, avoiding feeding your furry pal from their plate, and keeping personal belongings (e.g.,  purses and luggage that may contain harmful medications and xylitol-containing candy or gum) out of your four-legged friend’s reach.

If you are unsure how your pet will interact with guests—or that your visitors will follow the house rules—confine your pet during festivities. Select a low-traffic area where your pet can remain undisturbed. Provide your pet with a cozy bed, crate, some favorite toys, and water and litter box access. Turn on some quiet music to drown out the noise. Although your pet may be a party animal, set aside a quiet space for them anyway. After all, everyone appreciates a little break during the holidays.

Holiday traditions make heartwarming memories, especially when they include your beloved pet. Take a closer look at how you’ll be celebrating this holiday season, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure your pet remains safe during every memorable moment.

Our Lebanon Animal Hospital team wishes you and your four-legged family member a joyous holiday season. Contact our hospital if you have additional pet safety questions, or to discuss stress-reducing strategies for your anxious pet.