Pets: Holiday Season Hazards For Your Pet

By on December 5, 2016

By Dr. I.Elizabeth Borgmann. Yes, the holidays have snuck up on us quickly and now it is time to remind you of the many seasonal stressors and hazards that affect your furry and feathered friends! You’ve heard it all before, but let’s go through this again. If it saves one pet’s life and your sanity, it will be worth it! Pass this information on to all your friends with pets!

Change to a pet’s routine is one of the most unrecognized stressors of the holiday season. Many people think about the physical hazards. Please, don’t forget this emotional stressor. Pets thrive on routine. Imagine how hard it must be if you are now frequently absent from home. You have a Christmas party, or are meeting friends after work at the bar. You have gone out shopping and to craft fairs. You are busy but your animal friends are left at home and feel as if they have been abandoned.

If it is hard to be abandoned by your owner, imagine how much more difficult it must be if your home is being invaded by strangers. Those parties and cookie exchanges bring their own form of stress. Be sure your pet has a safe sanctuary where they can hide if the noise and bustle of a party is too much for them.

Consider leaving part of your home undecorated and familiar. For many animals, changing around the furniture is hard enough, let alone bringing in trees, decorations, presents, plants, candles and more.

Stop and think about it from the pet’s perspective. You change the furniture and bring in a large number of foreign items, you spend more time away from home, and then you bring with you a hoard of people when you return. Are you surprised your pet is acting a bit anxious? Some pets will act out when they are stressed so it is important to remember that every behaviour is a form of communication. Listen to what they are telling you.

Those decorations you brought in to create a festive feel in the house can be a hazard in themselves. Here are a few points to remember:
• Avoid ornaments that break (cats and dogs will knock down the ornaments, and then bat them down the stairs). Sharp objects in the intestines can have unhappy end results.
• Avoid tinsel and ribbon which can result in nasty intestinal obstructions that end up cutting through multiple sections of intestine.
• Don’t put out edible ornaments (especially those marshmallow ones with pins that the kids make in school).
• Secure the tree so it doesn’t topple over when the cat climbs to the top.
• Christmas tree water with fertilizers can be toxic or mouldy.
• For birds, the aromatic oils of pine, spruce and cedar are very irritating. Don’t let them chew on these.
• Never leave candles burning without supervision. These are easily knocked over.
• Be cautious with fragrant items that may cause pets with allergies to worsen.
• Potpourri contents may contain toxic plants and oils. Birds can be extremely sensitive to these. Beware of scented candles and incense as well.
• Stay away from lilies, mistletoe, holly and pointsettas. Lillies and mistletoe are toxic. Pointsettas and holly cause intestinal upset.
• Electrical cords are chew hazards. Be sure the electric light cords are grounded.
• Batteries are corrosive. (Some dogs will eat anything and everything!)

And then you need to watch out for foods.
• Chocolate is an obvious well known hazard.
• High fat foods abound during the holiday season and can result in quite the problem as well. If you are lucky your dog or cat will end up with a simple case of vomiting and diarrhea after consuming these but giving your dog the leftover turkey skin, grizzle and gravy could result in a rather hefty hospitalization bill for pancreatitis.
• Onion and garlic is toxic to pets so don’t let them steal those tasty appetizers (especially the roasted garlic).
• Holiday baking and yeast based dough are a problem as well. Consumed raw they can have some nasty effects as they expand in the stomach.
• And of course, pets should not receive alcohol, caffeine or dips with avadaco.

Don’t overlook your birds. They are sentinels for toxicity so make sure your home remains safe for these sensitive creatures. Watch those fragrances and scents and don’t let Teflon pans overheat. Birds become stressed more easily than a predator (dog or cat) so take this into consideration when you have guests over. And don’t let them fly about as you are cooking (landing in hot oil or in hot gravy has obvious detrimental results).

We all want to spoil our pets with a holiday treat. If you really want to give them some turkey dinner, be sure it is the lean turkey meat, and possibly some plain baked potato with no toppings. Keep it low fat, low salt, and free of spices. Birds often love the many vegetables and multigrain breads that surface during the holiday season.

An unnecessary additional expense – the vet visit – can be avoided with some careful planning and forethought. I’m wishing you all a healthy, happy, safe holiday season!


Dr. Borgmann lives in Chilliwack and has been practicing in the Fraser Valley for over 13 years and can be reached at the Whatcom Road Veterinary Clinic

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