Holiday safety tips for your pet

  • Published
  • By Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Hair
  • U.S. Army Veterinary Services
The holiday season is here and it is important to be mindful of pet safety during this festive season. Many of the foods and decorations people enjoy can actually be hazardous to pets. Pet owners need to keep the following tips in mind to help ensure a safe holiday season for all members of the family.

"People food," whether poisonous or just in excess, could make a pet quite sick. Chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins are all poisonous for pets and can be fatal. Take care to keep holiday treats and candies out of a pet's reach. Consider what is placed out on the coffee table and how accessible it is to the dog and cat. Remember gifts under the tree that may contain food items. Gift wrap will not usually stop a determined pet from eating good-smelling treats under the tree. Additionally, many non-poisonous people foods, especially fatty foods, can still make a pet quite sick if consumed in excess. It is best to avoid the temptation of indulging pets because it's the holidays; feed pets their usual diet on their regular schedule.

Many decorations, especially the Christmas tree, can pose a danger to pets. Keep the water underneath fresh Christmas trees covered. Pine sap mixed with water makes a poisonous drink for a thirsty pet. Also consider securing the tree to a wall or to a ceiling hook with sturdy fishing line. If a pet decides to jump on the tree to get a tempting ornament or a large, wagging tail hits the tree, this will help prevent it from toppling over and possibly injuring a pet or person. Other popular holiday plants and flowers, such as mistletoe, can be also quite poisonous to pets. It is interesting to note that poinsettias, believed to be quite poisonous by the public, rarely cause a problem if ingested. The most common signs of poinsettia ingestion are vomiting and diarrhea and these signs usually occur when large quantities are consumed. Also remember that pets may be tempted to mark unfamiliar trees or plants so it may be helpful to bring the tree or plant into an isolated indoor room for a few days so it smells more like "home."

Tree trimmings and other decorations can also be hazardous. Pick up any ornaments and ornament hooks that may have fallen on the floor. If a pet tries to eat one of these items, it could injure their mouth or cause further damage if the pet actually swallows the item. If the cat or dog is tempted to play with the ornaments and knocks them off the tree, decorate the bottom third with non-breakable, plastic or wooden ornaments, or decorate only the top two-thirds of the tree. The location and types of tree decorations will depend on the individual pet's behavior (do they try and eat all of the decorations or just bat them around?). Be wary, too, of tinsel, string and thin ribbon on the tree, presents or around the house. If a pet ingests these items, it could experience serious internal injuries or worse. Lights present a safety concern as well. Indoor holiday lights should be secured so they do not hang too low and entangle your pet. Remember to supervise pets to make sure they do not chew on light strands and, for extra safety, unplug the lights when you are not home. Pets have been electrocuted from casually chewing on strings of lights. Also be mindful of the placement of burning candles around the house. A flying bird, curious cat or wagging dog tail could easily be burned by a poorly placed lit candle.

Keep in mind that pets, like people, experience the stress of the holiday season. The change in surroundings and environment, schedule changes due to shopping and travel and an increase in visitors to your home are all stressful for your pet. Try to keep pets' exercise and feeding schedules as normal as possible. Also, try to continue to make time for daily walks and playtime, regular litter box cleanings and regular grooming activities to help keep stress at a minimum. If a pet is not used to a lot of company in your house, especially children, try to provide them with a place to escape to where they will feel safe. A stressed, scared pet is more likely to accidentally bite someone out of fear and an animal bite could easily ruin a holiday celebration. Children, especially those unfamiliar with pets, are most likely to be bitten so make sure and provide plenty of supervision around pets to ensure the safety of the children and the pets.

When planning to travel with pets this holiday season, be sure to plan for it. Take along a copy of pets' medical records and vaccinations, and take along a small first aid kit for them. Be sure to travel with fresh water. Try to keep the pets' feeding schedules as normal as possible, but it is often better for dogs or cats to not travel on full stomachs. Sedation or tranquilizers are normally not recommended, except in extreme cases. It is generally safer for pets to be fully awake and aware during travel. It is also recommended to use a pet carrier. Allow dogs or cats to become acclimatized to the carrier by leaving it out and open for several days before travel. Allow them to go in and come out as they wish. You can even start feeding them inside the carrier to make it a familiar and happy place. This way, when travelling, the pets will have a safe, secure place to go when they become stressed. It will also insure that pets are secure during travel and reduce the risk of an accident by having a pet underfoot while driving. When planning to board a pet, make sure that their vaccinations are current well in advance, especially their bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine. This is not a vaccine that is routinely given during annual exams unless specifically requested by the owner.

Remember, studies have shown that if a person just sits and pets an animal the interaction can reduce the person's level of stress and actually has positive health benefits such as decreasing blood pressure. So, when things get crazy around the holidays, as they often do, take a moment to just relax with a furry friend. It does both people and your pets some good!

Those who think their pets are ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, contact your local emergency veterinarian or the ASPCA 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control website can be found at:

The F. E. Warren Veterinary Treatment Facility is located in Bldg. 288 next to the Indoor Running track and can be reached by phone at 307-773-3354. Its normal hours of operation are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will be closed on Dec. 24 to Dec. 26. If the need arises, the veterinary treatment facility may open appointments Dec. 21 and Dec. 28. Please remember that the veterinary treatment facility does not have the staff or equipment to provide emergency services, and remember to always keep contact information for civilian veterinary facilities close at hand. Please have a safe and happy holiday season!