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Tips for avoiding holiday pet hazards

The holidays are the perfect time for family, friends, fun, and of course food. And in all of the celebration, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the things we so often associate with an enjoyable holiday season can pose serious health risks to our pets. In this blog, we’ll look at some common holiday hazards facing indoor pets and offer some easy ways to make sure your furry friends have a safe and fun holiday too. 

Decking the Halls, Smartly

Each year veterinarians see thousands of pets whose natural appetite and curiosity has caused them to run afoul of common holiday decorations. 

Dogs
Dogs are vulnerable to holiday decorations they perceive as food or a toy. Tinsel, in particular, is toxic because it is essentially made of aluminum-coated plastic strips. Symptoms following tinsel or ribbon ingestion can include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or a bowel obstruction requiring surgery. Garland made from food items, such as popcorn, is also hazardous and may result in a string obstruction to the intestines, also requiring surgery. Any ornaments that could shatter or lodge in the throat when chewed or swallowed should also be kept out of the reach of curious pups. 

Cats
Cats cannot resist shiny objects; so as with dogs, tinsel is particularly hazardous—due to its aluminum coating. It also has a tendency to cause intestinal obstructions in animals, where the bowels can compress like an accordion as they attempt to expel the foreign object. Some cat owners have found it effective to “double wire” ornaments within feline reach to the branches. Any strings of lights should also be well secured and plug guards used to prevent shocks. Also, if your cats are climbers, a new tree in the house may prove too tempting. Be sure you have a stable tree stand, and if you have multiple cats, you may even want to secure your tree to the wall with discreet guywires made from jeweler’s wire attached to nails. And if you plan on having lit candles, keep them away from surfaces where your cats are likely to roam. 

Seasonal Plants

Dogs
Seasonal plants can give your home a pleasant holiday feel, but many are dangerous to pets. For example, holly can cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances in both dogs and cats, with symptoms that include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe can cause both gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems. 

Cats
Cats are particularly sensitive to some holiday plants , including holly and poinsettias. Also, many types of lilies can cause kidney failure if eaten by cats. Plant toxicities can be severe and even life-threatening, so if you have cats, you may want to go with artificial holiday greenery this year.

Food Dangers

Dogs
Most pet owners are aware of the dangers to dogs posed by certain foods, such as chocolate (which contains xylitol, a substance that dogs cannot process effectively) and poultry bones (which may splinter or obstruct in the digestive tract). If you have dogs, be sure that leftovers are promptly cleared and stored in sealed containers and that garbage is kept in a secured receptacle out of the reach of curious sniffers. 

If you plan on serving alcohol, be sure unattended drinks are placed out of pets’ reach. If ingested in large quantities, alcohol can result in respiratory failure in dogs.

Cats
While cats will not usually eat things that aren’t food, some of the fatty or spicy foods that we enjoy may not agree with them. To avoid any possible risk, be sure that leftovers are not left unattended. Cats are curious by nature, and even given adequate fresh water of their own also likely to drink the water from your tree stand. If you have cats (or dogs), avoid adding any chemicals, such as those promising to extend freshness, to your tree’s water.

A Note on Guests, Crowds, and Noise

Regardless of how social your cat or dog may be, the crowds of guests typically associated with holiday gatherings can prove stressful. If you’re planning on hosting a large group over the holidays, be sure your pets have a safe quiet place they can go to escape the overstimulation that can result from crowds. 

Also, if your animals are skittish around children, be sure your guests are made aware of the fact, and have an adult available to supervise any interaction between kids and pets. And if you’re hosting sleepover guests, be sure they keep any prescription meds safely secured.

Hopefully with these tips in mind, you and your pets will have a safe and enjoyable holiday season! 


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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