As we near the 2020 holiday season, it's time to look back over the year and celebrate what's coming next. There is lots of partying during the fall and early winter months, and if you have dogs or cats, chances are they will be very interested in your guests and even more in the food and decorations.
When the kiddos dress up in Halloween costumes, we like to dress our pets up, too. That's fine, because there are so many pet-safe costumes for your pets to don. However, decorations and Halloween treats can be toxic when ingested by animals, so here are a few reminders.
- The biggest hazard for pets on Halloween is from eating candy. All chocolate---especially dark chocolate---contains theobromine, a substance that, depending upon the amount, can cause digestive upset or even death. And don't think other candies are okay. Sugar in the amounts humans consume is very bad for pets. Sugar-free doesn't cut it, either, because artificial sweeteners---especially Xylitol, which can cause kidney failure and death---are bad for your furry buddies, too.
- Candy wrappers can become blockages in your dog or cat's digestive tract, necessitating surgery. Some pets are quick to gobble up the wrappers because they smell like candy.
- Some pets find spider web decorations enticing. Cats can get entangled in them, and all pets may chew on them, once again risking blockages.
- Corn decorations and balloons both pose hazards for pets. Pets can choke on them or inhale them as well as the risk of intestinal blockages.
- Jack-o-lanterns can be hazardous to your pet, but not because they are pumpkins. Pumpkin is actually good for pets, but not in the form of carved decorations. Unrefrigerated, cut pumpkin quickly develops mold and large chunks of pumpkin with the outer shell are possibly deadly. Keep them outside on your porch and well out of the reach of pets. Of course, it goes without saying that untended candles are always dangerous!
The tips above for Halloween are applicable to Thanksgiving, but this holiday poses some additional problems for pet owners. Here are some tips to celebrate the day of giving thanks.
- Don't feed your dog or cat leftovers from your turkey. Plain turkey is not toxic for pets and can even be part of your pet's regular diet. But most people don't eat plain turkey for Thanksgiving. We rub it with butter, oil, and spices and stuff it with garlic, onions, and other delicious---to us---ingredients. But some herbs, onion and garlic are very toxic to pets, causing at best digestive upset and at worst pancreatitis.
- Don't feed any bones to your pet, especially poultry bones which are brittle and can splinter and cause mouth wounds, throat wounds, and punctured stomachs or intestines. They can also cause blockages or choking.
- Cornucopias filled with fresh fruit can also be hazardous. Grapes in particular are especially toxic to pets and can cause death (so can raisins and currants). Citrus fruits can cause digestive upset, and virtually all seeds and pits of fruit are toxic. While dogs love apples and bananas, which are fine for them to eat, be careful that these fruits haven't been around long enough to contain mold. Dried fruits such as strawberries, mango, pineapple, and apricots contain concentrated amounts of sugar, so they should be fed sparingly.
- Pumpkins, corn stalks, potted chrysanthemums and Indian corn are decorations cats can't seem to resist. But mums are toxic and the other decorations can be choking hazards or cause choking or intestinal blockages, so consider artificial substitutes that are not so alluring to cats.
Apart from the inevitable opened gift (it happens every year!), dogs and cats are wandering in a winter wonderland of hazards. From the Christmas tree to the mistletoe and the candles in the window, combining pets and Christmas decorations must be very carefully planned. First, let's talk about the main decoration: the Christmas tree.
- Never use a flocked tree (or any flocked decor, for that matter). The flocking that looks like snow is attractive to pets and can easily cause blockages.
- Tinsel is by far the decoration that necessitates the most vet visits during Christmas.
- Hang your best ornaments near the top of the tree and consider replacing glass ornaments with acrylic ones. If they fall (or are batted off the tree by a cat's paw), they won't break.
- If your tree is small enough, elevate it to keep it away from dogs. Of course, a tree on a table isn't out of the reach of cats which invariably climb into the tree.
- Real trees are poisonous to both dogs and cats if they munch on them and the oils in the needles can irritate skin. Those sharp needles can cause mouth wounds or eye hazards, too.
- If you do have a real tree, don't use preservatives to keep it fresh longer. These substances can be poisonous to pets.
- Wrap the bottom of the tree in aluminum foil (covered by a tree skirt if you like) to keep the cat from climbing the tree.
Other decorations that can cause problems are listed here.
- Poisonous plants. Holly and mistletoe, two Christmas favorites, are toxic to pets. So are amaryllis, poinsettias, and lilies. The silk varieties make a beautifully festive display and are not toxic.
- Candles are a no-brainer. Singed whiskers and tails are the least of the problems, as pets can easily knock them over and start a fire. We recommend battery-operated candles for a warm, inviting glow.
- Lights. Fortunately, strings of lights are going out of fashion as pre-lighted trees with LED lights become more affordable. When pets chew on electric cords or strings of lights, not only are they at risk of electrocution, the damaged cords can start a fire.
With a little common sense and forethought, decorating your house for the holidays can be fun, festive, and safe for your pets. Happy holidays!