Keeping pets safe during the holidays

You know how little kids' eyes light up when the Christmas tree makes its grand appearance in the living room? That's nothing compared to the way I've seen pets' faces show surprise and delight the first time they see one.

A tree! In the house!

The problem, of course, is that giving a curious dog or cat free access to holiday decorations can not only end in an annoying (and messy) way, but can be downright dangerous to them. Much as we love to look at our sparkly Christmas accoutrements, our dogs and cats tend to explore them by mouth, and that can spell bad news.

Our friends at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ( offer the following tips for keeping the whole family safe and avoiding unexpected emergency vet visits over the holidays:

Ditch the tinsel. It's shiny and fun, and that's exactly why cats and dogs love to swallow it, leading to digestive obstructions when it gets tangled up in their intestines. It's best to find an alternative decoration if you live with animals.

Choose pet-safe live decorations. Mistletoe, holly, lilies, and even pine needles can make pets very sick or worse.

Watch the tree water. It can leach fertilizers and pesticides out of your tree, and those are bad news for pets who sneak a drink. Cover your tree stand completely or use a pet or baby gate to restrict access to your tree when you're not there to watch.

Hide the batteries. My chocolate lab, Mocha, loved batteries and she'd swipe them at any opportunity. The problem with that is that batteries can burn a pet's mouth and throat. Put them out of reach.

Choose ornaments wisely. Glass Christmas balls look just like regular balls to your pet, but can cause mouth and throat damage if they break. Use non-breakable ornaments on the lower parts of your tree.

Offer a quiet space to your pet. Strangers, noises (especially those New Year's Eve fireworks), and new smells can over-stimulate and stress out your pet. Offer them a quiet spot somewhere nearby they can retreat to if they want a break. And be sure they're wearing identification and are microchipped in case they sneak out accidentally.

Finally, watch those holiday leftovers. The fat and spices in people food can spark all sorts of yucks for cats and dogs--everything from minor vomiting to full-on pancreatitis. Be sure to let your houseguests know that Fido doesn't get table food, and then enforce that rule. Treat your pet to an extra pat, walk, or appropriate toy instead. Make it a merry Christmas for everyone!

Have you come up with a great solution to keep your pet safe at the holidays? Let us know in a comment below -- we'd love to hear it.