We wouldn’t dream of celebrating the holidays without our dogs and cats—not only are they part of the family, but we also love watching how excited they get by our festive moods and all the great-smelling goodies coming out of the oven. But with all the distractions of the holidays, it’s easy to drop our guard, and that’s exactly when Fido and Fluffy are likely to get into trouble. So we brainstormed with veteran pet caretaker Annie to come up with this checklist of pet safety tips for the holidays.
Stick to a schedule. Pets are creatures of habit and usually don’t tolerate too many changes in their routine. Try to adhere to their regular feeding, walking, and play times, even if you have to temporarily step away from your family and friends. Better yet, enlist a guest helper to give you a hand with one or more of these tasks.
Adopt a closed-door policy. With guests coming in and going out of the house, it’s easy for a pet to squeeze through an open door and take off into the great outdoors. Keep dogs and cats barricaded behind a pet gate or in a closed room during peak arrival/departure times, and ask guests to be vigilant at other times when opening the exterior doors.
Provide a safe, quiet escape. Protect your pets from the hustle and bustle, loud noises, and unfamiliar smells by closing them in a quiet room with their bed, toys, and food. Check on them every couple of hours during the festivities to see if they need refills, a bathroom break, or even just an affectionate squeeze.
Place plants well out of reach. While animals aren’t always interested in household plants, natural curiosity will compel them to sniff the chrysanthemum your neighbor just dropped off or the arrangement of lilies sent by your best friend from college. But both are extremely toxic to pets if ingested, as are other common holiday plants like holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia. Unless you’re positive it’s nontoxic, keep it out of your pet’s reach. Check out the ASPCA’s list of toxic plants if you have any doubts.
Hide those electrical cords. Cats and puppies are notorious cord chewers, and chomping on twinkle lights, even for a few seconds, can cause major burns, electrical shock, and even death. Anchor cords to the floor or walls with cord covers or painter’s tape, or use battery-powered holiday lights instead.
Keep an eye on counter surfers, especially cats and tall dogs. High-fat foods—think butter, gravy, ham, sausage-filled stuffings, and desserts—can cause gastrointestinal upset and vomiting in cats, and pancreatitis (a serious inflammatory reaction that promotes abdominal pain and vomiting, and often requires hospitalization), in dogs. Anything made with onions or onion powder can cause anemia in pets, and many typical human treats—chocolate, for example—are poisonous to four-footers. Store foods in or on top of the fridge or inside the oven, microwave, or a cabinet until needed. And be sure to keep garbage—especially food scraps, skewers, cooking gloves, and any other disposable items that have come in contact with aromatic foods—in covered cans, to avoid trash spelunking.
Enforce a lock-out. Don’t trust pets to use their best judgment around your fine linens, favorite glassware, or shiny, dangly decorations. What looks to us like an heirloom vase from Grandma looks to a dog or cat like a fun new rubbing post or toy. Skip the heartbreak and the stress caused by reprimanding your pet by closing the door to rooms with special setups (think dining room, guest room), and don’t open it again until it’s time to use the space.
Don’t string them along. Trussing string (like the kind used on cooked turkeys and game birds), narrow poly and grosgrain ribbon for gift wrapping, twine hangers for Christmas ornaments—all are potential choking hazards, especially for small and young pets and for cats, who naturally gravitate toward anything slithery and snakelike. Immediately throw away all used string and ties, and let your cats play with those other holiday favorites: empty boxes and crumpled wrapping paper.
Resist giving any type of bones—large or small—to your pets. No matter whether your Great Uncle Oscar insists that he’s given his dogs bones all their lives: bones, particularly from turkey, splinter easily under the force of chewing, and bone splinters can cause serious damage to the intestinal tracts. Hard bones, like those from ham, can even fracture the teeth. Save on vet bills and stick to actual pet treats.
Help your pet burn off excess energy by taking him for an extra walk, scheduling an additional play session, or surprising her with a new toy. Pets love little surprises as much as humans do, and these are the healthiest kind you can give.
If you’ll be traveling with your pets, or even if you’ll be boarding them at the kennel while you take a holiday trip, don’t let them go outside unattended for two days before your departure date. Even the most loyal pet could decide that today’s as good a day as any to go wandering, and you might wind up scrambling to find them the day you leave. This goes double for cats, who seem to have a sixth sense for vacation.
Post emergency contact information for which vets are open in your area during the holidays in an easy-to-find place. Seconds count during an illness or accident, and you don’t want to be hunting for the information when you need it most.