Holiday safety tips for the savvy pet parent_1280x370

4 Holiday Safety Tips for the Savvy Pet Parent

December 12, 2018

Article written in collaboration with Asista Foundation : John Agionicolaitis, Animal Health Technician 

Everybody is getting geared up for the holidays, and many pet parents choose to include their furry companions in the process. From decorating your tree to feeding them any leftovers, here are a few things you can consider to have a merry holiday season, without the trip to the emergency vet.

  1. The Christmas Tree

Colorful and bright Christmas trees are often irresistible to pets. To set up a tree that is festive, yet safe for your furry family members, keep the below in mind.

Firstly, to avoid the tree falling on your pet and injuring them, be sure to fasten it securely. Keep any electrical plugs and outlets out of reach, to avoid electrocution.

Secondly, if you are using a real tree this year, ensure that the water sou rce for the tree is kept well out of reach of your pet. Consuming the water can cause severe nausea and stomach inflammation, as the fertilizer from the tree, which can leach into the water, is toxic to cats and dogs.

Lastly, many pets may mistake decorative elements such as tinsel, ornaments and lights as edible. When ingested, these items can cause an obstruction in the intestines, and in some cases, even cause them to tear the delicate tissue. The most common symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Avoid using potentially dangerous decorations at least on the lower parts of your tree, and use ornaments made of wood, felt or paper on parts that pets can reach, as these materials are often less enticing to pets.

  1. Holiday Plants

While live plants can add an elegant, festive touch to our holiday décor, they are toxic to most species of animals.

Common holiday plants such as poinsettia, holly and mistletoe contain chemicals which can cause painful symptoms when ingested. The most common symptoms of plant intoxication to look out for are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Uncontrollable drooling
  • Loss of balance or coordination (neurological symptoms)

If you do choose to bring these plants into your home for the holiday season, ensure that they are inaccessible to your pets. You will need to pay special attention if you have cats, as they can jump to great heights, and may have the tendency to nibble on leaves.

  1. Home Fragrances

During the holiday season, you may wish to use a scented candle, air freshener, fabric spray or diffuser for an added festive touch. While we may enjoy the smell of cranberries and balsam fir, our pets have much more sensitive noses than we do, and these artificial scents can be irritating to their respiratory system. In some cases, prolonged exposure can cause long-term health issues such as asthma.

Be sure to pick non-toxic products, use only when needed, and to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid overusing scented products.

  1. Holiday Leftovers

As pet parents, we all enjoy giving leftovers as a special treat over the holidays as a way to include our pets in the festivities. However, there are a few important factors to consider before giving your pet any leftovers.

You should avoid giving any fatty, spicy foods, or foods that contain chocolate, macadamia nuts, raisins, onions, or garlic as they can cause digestive problems. In addition, it’s important to never feed any cooked bones, especially bones from poultry such as chicken or turkey. These can splinter and crack in the digestive tract, leading to blockage or perforation of the internal organs.

If this happens, the only solutions available include fairly drastic measures, such as surgical intervention or endoscopy (the insertion of a tube with a camera into the oesophagus or intestines) to remove the blockage.

So if you’re looking to treat your pet with some leftovers, your best bet would be to stick to items such as turkey (remove any excess skin, fat, and bones), plain mashed potatoes or green beans (again, without the seasoning), or to purchase holiday-themed treats made specifically for pets.

* * *

All that being said, we all want nothing but the best for our furry friends during the holiday season. Taking the above precautions can assist in avoiding these preventable issues, and will keep your pet healthy, happy and safe this holiday season – and if you’re still unsure about something in particular, be sure to consult your vet!


  1. Dominique Plante, DMV – Veterinarian, General & Emergency Medicine, Asista Foundation

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