The holiday season is upon us, which means life is about to get a lot more festive and busy. Holiday shopping, gift wrapping, party planning, cooking, and traveling put a lot on your plate, making it easy to forget another important responsibility—keeping your pet safe amid the chaos. Our team at Smithtown Animal Hospital is here to help you enjoy your holiday season without fear of a pet emergency by answering common questions about holiday pet safety.
Question: What holiday foods are harmful to pets?
Answer: Resisting your pet’s sad eyes and pleading paw on your leg as you enjoy your holiday meal can feel impossible. However, before you fix your pet a plate, remember that many traditional holiday foods are hazardous—and sometimes toxic—to pets, including:
- Fatty foods — Most holiday foods aren’t low in fat, and a high-fat meal can trigger pancreatitis, which damages your pet’s pancreas and surrounding tissues. Pancreatitis can result in a widespread, potentially life-threatening, inflammation throughout your pet’s body.
- Onions, garlic, and chives — Many dishes are seasoned with onions, garlic, or chives, which can destroy red blood cells and lead to anemia.
- Sugar-free treats — Many sugar-free treats contain xylitol, which can cause severe hypoglycemia and sometimes liver failure in pets.
- Raisins and currants — Raisins and currants—often found in stuffing and baked goods—can cause pets to develop acute kidney failure.
- Alcohol — Pets are tempted by the sweet aroma, and, like people, can suffer alcohol poisoning.
- Unbaked bread dough — The yeast in unbaked bread dough can lead to bloat as the gases from the fermenting yeast cause your pet’s stomach to expand. Alcohol poisoning also can occur.
If you suspect your pet has eaten a potentially toxic food, contact Smithtown Animal Hospital or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center for advice. Do not wait to see if your pet develops toxicity signs—in some cases, toxicity can advance to an untreatable stage by the time signs appear.
Q: What holiday foods are safe to share with my pet?
A: If you want to include your pets in the feast, offer them a home-cooked meal of plain, white, skinless turkey or other lean meat, and vegetables cooked without any butter, oil, or spices. If your pet has a sweet tooth, you can confidently share the following pet-safe ingredients, which are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and beneficial fiber:
- Apple slices
- Pureed pumpkin (but not pumpkin pie filling)
Moderation is key for you and your pet, so only share a small portion of these pet-safe treats to prevent gastrointestinal issues.
Q: How can I calm my anxious pet while hosting holiday gatherings?
A: Holiday gatherings can be a source of anxiety for pets because of the increased noise, unfamiliar faces, and changes in routine. Frightened or stressed pets may be inclined to bolt out of an open door and run away, or behave abnormally (e.g., aggressively, destructively, inappropriately eliminating). Keep your pet from getting lost by microchipping them and ensuring they wear visible identification (collar and tags) at all times. Help your pet feel safe and secure during holiday celebrations by providing an area in your home where they can escape if they do not want to mingle, and ensure your guests don’t need to have access to the space. Other strategies to help pets feel calm during noisy events include:
- Playing calming music or white noise
- Using a pheromone diffuser or spray
- Using anxiety wraps, such as the ThunderShirt
Q: How can I pet-proof my holiday decorations
A: Vigilant pet-proofing can keep your pet safe while you enjoy your festive holiday decor. Protect your decorations and keep your pet safe by taking these precautions:
- Secure your Christmas tree — Secure your tree with a sturdy stand, and anchor the tree to an adjacent wall or the ceiling for further stability. For real trees, cover tree water, which may contain fertilizers or harmful microbes, and clean up fallen needles or other debris daily.
- Hang ornaments on high branches — Hang breakable ornaments and salt-dough creations, which can cause salt toxicity if eaten, on higher branches where your pet cannot knock them off.
- Skip the tinsel — Leave the tinsel off the tree since cats love to eat the shiny strands, which can cause an intestinal blockage.
- Secure lights and cords — No tree is complete without lights, but a curious pet may chew through an electrical cord, or become wrapped in the blinking light strands. Keep cords tucked safely away, and keep your pets away from the tree when you cannot supervise them.
- Remove toxic plants — Nothing brightens up your holiday table more than a cheerful floral centerpiece, but many seasonal plants can be toxic to your pet, including amaryllis, holly and mistletoe, yew, and lilies. Check the ASPCA’s list of toxic plants, and remove any problematic ones from your home.
If you have additional questions about holiday pet safety, need to have your pet microchipped, or would like to discuss medication to help your pet cope with the holiday chaos, contact our team at Smithtown Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.