The Holiday Season is a special time for people to gather and be merry together. No matter your background or belief system, some kind of holiday celebration is likely to insert itself into your day-to-day life. At such times, it’s important to remember that pets are part of festivities too. Amidst the hustle, bustle and disruptions in routine, it's easy to overlook the potential, pet-specific dangers that lurk within the celebratory frenzy. In this guide, we will highlight some of these hazards and explore various ways to keep your pets safe and happy during the holiday season.
Nobody likes decorating for the holidays more than I do. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as buying an artisanal, hand-crafted bauble for a hundred bucks and then seeing it shatter the next time someone sneezes near it. Yet, behind the sparkle of fairy lights and shimmer of tinsel there lies a world of danger, especially for your pets. What you see as a delightful winter grotto might constitute a perilous hellscape for a cat or dog. Keep your decorations off the floor as, according to both experts and anyone with even a modicum of common sense, they can be harmful to your pet’s digestive system if swallowed. In the same vein, make sure to secure your Christmas tree so it doesn't topple over if an overly rambunctious pet decides to climb it. Always have a fireguard in your hearth, and make sure those candles are well out of reach. Finally, bear in mind that your pet is not a decoration or accessory. It’s perfectly acceptable to dress them up for the festivities, but only if they’re comfortable with it. The only thing worse than a sad cat is a sad cat with reindeer antlers taped to its head.
Without a doubt, food and drink play a major role in almost every holiday tradition. We feast and imbibe, and imbibe some more, and then feast again, seeing out the year with an earnest, but ultimately futile resolve to scale back our future indulgences. Just bear in mind, that our furry friend's dietary needs are vastly different from our own. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, alcohol, and foods with artificial sweeteners (like xylitol) should be kept out of your pet's reach. With so many visitors coming and going throughout the season, it’s important to inform your guests about not feeding table scraps to your pets. Instead, serve them (the pets, not the guests) with healthy organic meals. This is particularly important if children are visiting. Of course, that doesn’t mean your furry friends shouldn’t eat well over the holiday season. You can find an abundance of gourmet pet food options available in any major supermarket or pet supply emporium. Consider treating your beloved animal to something special they can enjoy while you’re scarfing your fourth piece of pie. Just remember, Fido most definitely needs to stay away from the champagne. He’s obnoxious when he’s drunk, and everybody knows it.
Provide a Quiet Refuge
The holiday season often involves gatherings, parties, and fireworks. Some of us enjoy these festivities, others find them only mildly more tolerable than a root canal. Regardless of your own inclinations, bear in mind that your pet probably has no idea what in the world is going on and could easily become overwhelmed. This is especially true on New Year's Eve when your pet is wondering why your weird neighbor is vomiting in the plant pot. Some animals, get especially excited or hostile around strangers, and this can prove dangerous for both parties—especially when kids are involved. Nobody wants to miss out on the celebrations because they had to rush Cousin Johnny to the ER for stitches and a rabies shot. In such chaotic circumstances, your animal is most certainly not at fault. Create a safe and quiet space where they can retreat to if they feel stressed. This could be a cozy corner with their bed, toys, and water. You might even consider playing soft music or leaving on a white noise machine on to soothe their nerves. Never force a shy pet to socialize, and make sure all guests are aware of any boundaries the animal might have.
If you plan to give your pet a gift, remember that they almost certainly don’t care. They're animals! They would probably rather a little extra care and attention, instead. (Likewise, do not be upset if your pet doesn’t give you a gift. It’s not that they’re being thoughtless; you’re just particularly difficult to buy for, and they don’t want to spend money on something you won’t use). If you insist on buying them a present anyway, keep it simple. Ensure that any new items are safe and appropriate. Avoid toys with small parts that could be a choking hazard. Instead, opt for sturdy, pet-approved items that encourage mental stimulation and physical activity. Remember, something as simple as a ratty piece of old string peeled off your shoe can provide a kitten with hours of entertainment.
Don't Forget to exercise
With busy holiday schedules, it's easy to overlook your pet's exercise routine. However, just because you’ve eaten so much saturated fat you can hardly move, doesn’t mean your pet should suffer too. Regular exercise, fresh air and the stimulation of being outside are crucial for any animals’ well-being. No matter how busy you get, take time for walks and activities that keep your pet’s mind sharp. If the weather is harsh, consider indoor games like hide and seek. Just bear in mind that there are plenty of holiday hazards outside of the house.
Mind the trash
The holiday season often means an increased output of household waste. For us, this is an inconvenient by product of our seasonal revelry; for a curious pet, it is an abundance of riches. Make sure your garbage is secure, perhaps in a cabinet or sealed with a pet-proof lid. You don’t want them rummaging through the trash and potentially ingesting something harmful.
If you're traveling with your pet, ensure their safety and comfort by investing in a spacious, fully equipped pet carrier with a secure door. Make sure to bring some familiar bedding, toys, and food to help them feel at ease in a new environment. If you're flying, check the airline's pet policies well in advance and ensure your animal meets all the requirements to board. Any time your pet is away from their home environment, they should be microchipped and wearing a collar with up-to-date contact information. Remember that the movie Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a highly embellished work of fiction and that most lost animals will NOT embark on a series of colorful adventures and soul-searching trials to find their way home. (Most cats will just pick a new owner).
prepare don't panic
Despite our best efforts, accidents can still happen. It’s the thing you don’t worry about that inevitably ends up blindsiding you—usually when you least expect it. Like any good boy scout you need to be prepared. Have the contact information of a local 24/7 veterinary clinic readily available. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the location of the nearest emergency animal hospital. Check their website for holiday hours and other changes in schedule. In a crisis, quick action can make all the difference.
beware the foliage
Once again, these seemingly innocuous household accessories can pose a significant risk to your pets. Several plants commonly used for decorations, such as poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly, are toxic to pets if ingested. Mistletoe can also be problematic as it encourages the unsanitary practice of interspecies smooching. Make sure these plants are out of your pet's reach or opt for pet-safe alternatives if you want to decorate with greenery.
Amidst the holiday chaos, don't forget about your pet's routine health care. Ensure they are up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite prevention, especially if your guests are bringing unfamiliar animals into the home. With many stores and pharmacies operating on a holiday schedule, it pays to make sure you’re sufficiently stocked up on any essential medications BEFORE the shops close. The holiday season often means colder weather, so take necessary precautions to keep your pets warm, especially if they spend time outdoors. Little dogs in coats and mittens are adorable, just make sure they are comfortable.
In conclusion, the holiday season can be both delightful and challenging for our pets. While being overly anxious ultimately helps nobody, a little reasonable mindfulness goes a long way. As with any good safety plan, identifying potential dangers is the natural first step. With one in place, you can relax into the spirit of the season and share your joy with your furry friends. Just don’t get so carried away that you end up ruining the occasion for everyone. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without your beloved animals. They likely feel the same about you.
Our blog is managed by Ryan Hilary with additional contributions from the PAWS/LA team. Are you a member of our community and have a great idea for a post (or maybe want to write one yourself?). Reach out to Rhilary@pawsla.org.