Howard County Times
Howard Magazine

Celebrate the holidays with pet safety in mind

Q: How can we make the holiday season safer and happier for our pets?

A: Most of us love the holiday season (even Scrooge came around in the end). And while parties, decorations, gifts and lots of food add to our holiday joy, they can pose dangers to our pets. While we’re celebrating, here are some ideas to help keep pets safe.

Christmas trees
Curious dogs and climbing cats can easily knock over trees. So anchor your tree to the wall with strong cord or rope. If you have a live tree, remember that ingested pine needles can puncture your pet’s intestines, so clean up dropped needles from trees and wreaths often. Tree water may contain fertilizers and bacteria that can make pets sick if they drink it — and nausea and diarrhea are two “gifts” nobody wants for the holidays!
Decorations and ornaments
Keep breakable ornaments, tinsel and ribbons out of your pet’s reach. They can be swallowed, causing serious and possibly fatal digestive problems. Keep pets away from wires and batteries, too. Electrical wires can deliver a lethal shock, and punctured batteries can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus.  Snow globes contain antifreeze, and if accidentally broken, as little as a teaspoon can cause fatal kidney poisoning for a pet that ingests it.
They add glowing beauty and meaning to holiday celebrations, but pets may knock them over and cause fires, so be careful to keep them out of reach. Also keep in mind that pet birds are very sensitive to fragrant candles and could develop seizures and die from the fragrance.
If Halloween is the big candy holiday, winter holidays run a close second. Keep all candy out of pets’ reach. Chocolate and sweets containing artificial sweetener xylitol are especially hazardous to dogs and cats.  
Plants: Some holiday plants, including the pretty poinsettia, are toxic enough to cause serious harm to pets — even death. Holly and mistletoe, when ingested, can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If you even suspect your pet may be suffering from plant poisoning (or any other kind) immediately call your vet, or call ASPCA Poison Control at 888-426-4435 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year; a consultation fee may be charged). 
Don’t let pets sip alcoholic drinks — ever. A 30-pound dog would be considered “under the influence” with just two tablespoons of whiskey. Two teaspoons could make a 5-pound cat comatose, and a tablespoon could kill the same animal. Alcohol is especially toxic to puppies and kittens, capable of causing heart and liver complications.
Human food
While humans might “pig out” over the holidays and feel a little guilty about it, ingestion of excessive fatty food may cause severe vomiting and diarrhea in pets. Any change in a pet’s diet can cause digestive upsets — and the aforementioned chocolate and artificial sweeter, plus onions, grapes and raisins, are toxic to dogs. Keep all that delicious food where pets can’t reach it. Never give ham, steak or poultry bones to your pet — they can cause intestinal perforations or obstructions. Keep pets away from unattended plates, and secure kitchen trash cans so pets can’t get inside or tip them over. 
If friends or family are staying with you, remind them to keep all their medications where your pets can’t get into them.
If your pet happily welcomes visitors, supervised togetherness is great. You might keep dogs leashed to keep them out of trouble. But if your pet regards guests as invaders, make sure the less sociable animal has a quiet space in your home to escape from unwanted attention.  If you have especially sensitive pets, try to minimize loud noises and music.
With a little extra care, you and your pets can have a wonderful and emergency-free holiday season.