‘Tis the season for flavored lattes, spiced wine, and overindulging on delicious holiday foods. This season is also a chaotic, stressful time, and your pet has an increased illness or accident risk because of travel, toxic foods, or a decoration disaster. Our Mercer Street Animal Hospital team believes the best way to ensure your pet’s safety this holiday season is to set and enforce holiday-specific house rules that apply to your pet and human family members. Read our top five rules for keeping your pet in check, and avoiding a holiday emergency.
#1: Seat belts for all family members, including your pet
To keep everyone safe, you require that all people in your moving vehicle wear seat belts. To prevent driver distraction or injuries attributable to sudden braking, quick turns, or shifting luggage, your pet should also be properly restrained during vehicle travel. To prevent your pet from coming in contact with potentially deadly inflating airbags during an accident, always keep your four-legged friend in a vehicle’s back seat. Small pets can travel in a crate or buckled in a car seat, and larger pets should be restrained with a seat belt.
If you and your pet will be crossing state lines, obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian within 10 days of the trip, and update any of your four-legged pal’s overdue vaccines. Use this veterinary visit to discuss any health concerns you have about your pet. In addition, if you are aware your four-legged sidekick experiences travel-related anxiety, ask your veterinarian to recommend calming supplements or anti-anxiety medications for your pet before embarking on your trip.
#2: Paws off the pet-toxic foods
Because many holiday foods are toxic to pets, enforce a rule that bars your four-legged friend’s access to the kitchen while you are preparing food and to the dining room while you are serving meals. By remaining out of the room, your pet will not be tempted to steal dropped or unattended food morsels, or to beg dinner guests to share a bite. If your pet knows a place or mat command, you can ask them to stay in their place in another room. If not, confine them to a room and close the door, or use pet gates to confine your pet to another home area while you are preparing or eating high-risk foods, including:
- Toxic ingredients — Chocolate, macadamia nuts, raisins, and xylitol are commonly used in baked goods, and if your pet ingests a dish made with these, they can experience organ damage or neurologic effects. Onions and garlic—commonly used in many main and side holiday dishes—can damage your pet’s red blood cells (RBCs), and cause your four-legged friend to develop anemia.
- Fatty foods — Foods containing excess fat, such as turkey skin, meat trimmings, bacon, or butter, can overwhelm your pet’s digestive system and cause painful, life-threatening pancreatitis.
- Bones — Cooked poultry or ham bones can splinter and damage or block your pet’s intestinal tract if they chew or ingest these food scraps.
#3: Trash is not a treasure for your pet
Keep trash off limits to your pet by removing the bags immediately after your meal, and by keeping your main bins in an inaccessible outdoor area. Trash contains food bits mixed with inedible items, such as corncobs, bones, trussings, and paper products. Pets who eat these delicacies can become sick, and experience vomiting and diarrhea, or an intestinal obstruction. If you catch your pet approaching the trash, a leave it command can go a long way, potentially saving their life.
#4: Tamp down your pet’s urge to climb the Christmas tree
Your cat likely views your living room’s Christmas tree as a brand-new climbing toy. Cats and dogs also find shiny tinsel, ball-shaped ornaments, and string lights’ cords attractive, making the tree one of the most dangerous holiday decor items in your home. Your pet can injure themselves if they tip the tree, break a glass ornament, chew electrical cords, or swallow tinsel or string.
Set up a low gate around the tree base or gate the room off entirely to help your pet adhere to this holiday house safety rule. Persistent pets may still find a way to investigate the tree, so take precautions:
- Secure the tree to a wall or the ceiling
- Use unbreakable ornaments, and hang them high out of your pet’s reach
- Cover tree water, which may contain chemicals or bacteria
- Unplug lights when you leave the room or are away from the house
- Do not use tinsel, ribbon, string, popcorn, and salt dough decorations
#5: Decorations are not pet toys
The tree isn’t your home’s only dangerous holiday decoration. Teach your pet that decorative items aren’t toys, supervise your four-legged friend when they are near these items, or place these decorative items out of your furry pal’s immediate reach. If your pet is persistently curious, completely remove these especially dangerous decorations from your home:
- Candles — A curious cat can burn themselves or start a house fire with a single tail flick near an open flame.
- Snow globes — These orbs contain ethylene glycol, a potent poison that causes kidney failure and death if your pet laps up the fluid from a broken globe.
- Plants and flowers — If a pet eats a small amount of poinsettia or holly, they can experience mild irritation—drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea. In large quantities, mistletoe can cause seizures and low blood pressure. Lilies can be deadly to cats in only small quantities.
Teaching and enforcing holiday house rules and new commands take practice and time, but these precautions can prevent your pet from experiencing an emergency. Our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team can help you and your pet prepare for the holiday season by providing wellness visits, vaccines, and pre-travel examinations. If your pet inadvertently breaks a safety rule and has a holiday mishap, call us. Contact your nearest veterinary emergency hospital, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline if your pet ingests a toxin or becomes ill or injured outside our regular office hours.
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