Holiday hazards: Keeping pets safe for the season

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Taking steps in advance to keep pets away from the holiday bling and chocolate bark can keep them out of trouble. Taking steps in advance to keep pets away from the holiday bling and chocolate bark can keep them out of trouble.

The holidays must be a weird time for our pets. Their familiar homes are suddenly brimming with strange trinkets and lights. New smells are wafting in from the kitchen. And did I mention there’s a tree in the living room? While most pets adapt quickly to our inexplicable traditions, a few will find ways to get into trouble.

Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is the poisonous potential of the season. From baked goods to little foil-wrapped Santas, there is a whole lot of chocolate around this time of year. While small amounts of chocolate aren’t as toxic as you might fear, no self-respecting dog is going to stop with just one bite. It’s a good idea to keep that box of candy on the countertop instead of the coffee table.

Poinsettia plants are another inescapable Christmas symbol, and are widely known for their toxicity. Thankfully, their reputation is generally unearned. These plants can be minor irritants and can cause some stomach upset, but don’t present a life-threatening danger. It’s still wise to keep them out of reach, but there’s no need to banish them from your home.

Other holiday décor can be irresistible to curious animals. Dogs may try to snack on low-hanging ornaments, and what cat wouldn’t want to climb his own personal tree? Strings of lights and other electrical decorations can pose the risk of burns or electrocution if bitten. Depending on your pets’ personalities, you may need to find creative ways to keep them away from your newly decked halls, or reconsider what decorations you choose.

When it comes time to open gifts, keep your animals in mind. Ribbons and strings look nice on a present, but can quickly obstruct the intestines of pets that consume them. As gifts are unpackaged, twist ties and plastic bags left out can be a choking or asphyxiation hazard. And animals may not be able to tell the difference between a child’s new treasure and a chew toy.

Setting aside these holiday trappings, it’s also a time of year to gather with friends and family. While many pets relish the company, anxious animals may find the chaos stressful. The constant arrivals and departures can trigger dogs’ protective tendencies or allow flighty animals to escape. And the sudden presence of children (who, let’s be honest, can get a little intense under the influence of Christmas) may increase the risk of bites and scratches. If there’s any doubt at all, it’s best to keep animals safely elsewhere until things calm down.

Animals are inherently festive, and they can bring a lot of joy to the season. But there is a lot going on this time of year, and much of it can be confusing for our pets. Most seasonal hazards require a bit of mindfulness to avoid, but with a house full of guests and dinner cooking in the kitchen, it’s easy to get distracted just long enough for trouble to start. Taking a moment in advance to identify potential problems can make it easier to relax once the celebration really begins.


Dr. Mike Fietz is a small animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.

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