6 Holiday Pet Safety Tips

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Growing up, I had a yellow lab named Sadie who - being a lab - loved to eat. One Christmas, while we were all playing a board game in the living room, she jumped up onto the kitchen counter and devoured an entire gingerbread house, tin foil base and all. An emergency trip to the vet showed that Sadie was thankfully okay, but it was a scary wake-up call nonetheless.

Indeed, curious dogs can get into a lot of mischief during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, when pet guardians are more likely to be distracted. There are potential doggie dangers at every turn—Christmas trees, ornaments, fires and candles, stockings, bows and gift wrapping, and, of course, tasty food all over the place. Thankfully, with a little prior planning and a careful eye, you can help ensure a safe, happy holiday for the whole family.  

1. Tire out your dog before the guests arrive. You know how it goes: The second your doorbell rings and the guests start streaming in, your dog goes absolutely berserk. More humans! Yay! But an overly excitable dog can be a potential nuisance for your guests, especially if they aren’t so fond of dogs. Your solution? A few hours before the guests arrive, take Fido on a long walk (or even a run if you’re feeling ambitious) to burn off some of his pent-up energy. It’s no secret that a sleepy, well-exercised dog is less likely to cause a ruckus. And what if your dog isn’t so friendly around small children or strangers, or tends to bolt out the door? You might consider blocking him off in a separate room until the party ends, for his sake and everyone's peace of mind. 

2. Spill-proof your party. Clam dip, shrimp cocktail, pigs in a blanket—all of these tempting appetizers will practically be teasing your pup. Place hors d'oeuvres on tall surfaces, where nosy dogs can’t steal a bite. Also, encourage your guests to keep wine glasses where they can’t get knocked over by wagging tails.

3. Don’t play with fire. Put lit candles on a high, stable surface, such as a shelf or ledge, where your dog can’t accidentally knock it over. If you have a fireplace, use a screen to avoid accidental burns. Be especially careful if your dog is wearing any sort of costume or outfit, because many of these materials can be extremely flammable. Better yet? Use flameless candles!

4. Safety-proof your Christmas tree. Christmas trees are a huge source of fascination and bewilderment for most dogs. Unfortunately, your dog’s curiosity could get the best of him if he attempts to jump on the tree or ingest the decorations. Our tips: Don’t string lights on the lower branches of the tree, where pets can chew through the wire and inadvertently shock themselves. Also, be wary of tinsel—if ingested, it can potentially block your dog’s intestines. Choose shatterproof ornaments and hang any particularly tempting items toward the tree's top. Be sure to sweep up all pine needles from the ground whenever possible; these can puncture your dog’s intestines if swallowed. If you have a real tree, also be sure to cover the water container in the tree stand.

5. Be careful with holiday plants. Did you know that holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia plants are poisonous to dogs and cats? If you do use these decorative plants, place them in an area that is well out of your pet’s reach.

6. Avoid toxic foods. During the holidays, it might be tempting to sneak your dog scraps of food under the table. But tread carefully; many common human foods are unsafe for pets. Many of us know that chocolate - especially dark and baking chocolates - can be highly toxic to dogs. However, you may not know that grapes, raisins, yeast, avocado, onions and garlic, and artificial sweeteners (xylitol) are toxic. Also, be careful about throwing your dog a piece of bone-in meat—bone fragments can potentially get stuck in the esophagus or stomach, posing a huge risk.

Moral of the story? With a little precaution and planning, you can ensure a safe, healthy holiday for you and your pet. In the event that your dog pulls a Sadie and ingests an entire gingerbread house, be familiar with the signs of poison in dogs, including vomiting, diarrhea, drooling or nausea.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, contact  the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435 or call one of the local pet emergency clinics listed below:

Animal Emergency at Nashville Veterinary Specialists

Nashville Pet Emergency Clinic


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