For us, the holidays are a time of celebration, eggnog and eggnog-powered naps. But for pets, they are a time of change, slight chaos and intriguing new things to explore. Wellness TruFood veterinarian Dr. Louise Murray wants every pet to safely enjoy the excitement and festivities. To help pet owners and their furry friends, Dr. Murray answered PEOPLE Pets’ questions about how to avoid unique issues and hazards that can pop up during the holiday season.
What are the biggest threats to pets during the holidays and why? What is the best way to avoid these dangers?
Holidays can be an especially hazardous time for pets. This is due to a combination of factors including the abundance of holiday foods and treats, the volume of visitors and guests, and the profusion of decorations used in homes and on gifts.
To keep pets safe, it’s best to view pets similarly to toddlers. For example, while the cheery flicker of candles can dress up the holiday table, never leave candles burning unattended. A playful pup or curious cat may get too close or jostle a candle and cause it to fall. Also, holly may be jolly but it is toxic to dogs and cats, as is mistletoe. If you plan to decorate your home with these festive plants, be sure they are not accessible to your pets.
As days turn chilly, take precautions to keep pets away from wood burning stoves and fireplaces. As warm and cozy as they are, both can cause severe injury; dogs and cats are often inquisitive and may touch or jump on the surface of a wood-burning stove; they also should not be allowed near an in-use fireplace. Ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector, especially around gas stoves.
What is the most common ailment you see in pets during the holidays?
Digestive issues. We often see GI upset caused by scraps pets pick up from the holiday meal or are table-fed by guests. Unfamiliar or rich foods can cause a range of issues from diarrhea or vomiting to pancreatitis, a life-threatening condition. Dogs should never be given grapes or raisins. The reasons are not yet known, but both can cause kidney damage in dogs.
Dogs should also never be given any sugar-free baked goods, candies, or gum with xylitol as an ingredient. Xylitol is an alternative sweetener that has oral health benefits for people but can cause liver damage and seizures in dogs. Onions should also be avoided for dogs and cats. To be safe, opt for foods you know are made specifically for pets.
New Wellness TruFood features a variety of natural food and treat recipes made with superfoods, antioxidants and probiotics to promote digestive health.
What food should owners be on the lookout for?
Never give a pet leftover bones from a meal, like ham or turkey, and be sure post-holiday dinner trash is safely out of reach. While bones may seem like a traditional treat for dogs, cooked bones can splinter and pierce or obstruct the gastrointestinal tract; even bones too large to be swallowed should be avoided as these can cause fractured teeth.
In general, avoid the temptation to share holiday foods with your pets; while this may not seem in keeping with the spirit of the season, it’s not worth the risk of a trip to the vet clinic. Instead, satisfy your urge to indulge your companion by treating her with holiday turkey in a complete and balanced species-appropriate natural pet food.
Try one of the new Wellness TruFood Baked Blends varieties offering turkey as a delicious source of lean protein.
What precautions do pet owners need to take with Christmas trees? Are there any decorations I should avoid to keep my pets safe?
The most common hazard when it comes to Christmas trees are what we put on and around them. If you have cats, skip the tinsel for your tree. Cats love to play with this sparkly string “toy,” which if swallowed often becomes entangled in the cat’s intestinal tract.
A trip to the veterinary hospital for emergency surgery would not be a welcome holiday gift for you or your feline friend. Also, avoid ornaments that pets could chew on or swallow, particularly those with small parts or string, which can become lodged in pets’ digestive tracts. As presents are wrapped or opened, keep ribbons, yarn, and string safely tucked away; these are all attractive to cats but very dangerous if swallowed.
How should I prepare my pet for the extra company that will be visiting during the holidays?
It’s always hard to prepare pets for guests, especially if they’re used to a quieter household. Keep their schedule as close to normal on holidays as possible, ensuring they get exercise and playtime to release some of that pent-up energy. Also try treating them with something special to help them feel more a part of the day. Wellness TruFood CocoChia Bakes treats are made with a variety of natural, nutrient-rich ingredients like coconut oil and chia seeds and can be a healthful option when you’re looking to treat your pet.
Once guests arrive, try slowly introducing them to pets. Guests may be a bit too exuberant when they first meet a pet; it’s best to let the dog or cat warm up to company on their own and give them a bit of time to become familiar with new people. Ask guests to let the pets make the first move to make sure they’re comfortable with their new friends. Some pets may be more comfortable in a quiet room of their own when visitors are in the house, and this will also protect them from being offered inappropriate treats or snacks, or escaping through a door as guests come and go.
What about pets and antifreeze or de-Icer, what are the dangers there?
Antifreeze has a dangerous ingredient that makes it highly toxic for pets, but also sweet smelling and attractive: ethylene glycol. Store antifreeze in a tightly sealed container well out of paws-reach and keep a close eye on pets when they’re near driveways or puddles that may have had contact with antifreeze. If you think your pet may have come in contact with antifreeze or other toxic materials, call animal poison control immediately.
Ice melts come in various formulations; some can cause sore paws or even systemic illness. Opt for pet-safe varieties and use booties on dogs when walking in areas that may have been treated.
How can I prepare my outdoor dog/cat for colder weather?
Dry, draft-free, insulated shelter is essential for all outdoor pets in the winter. Fresh, dry straw is a better bedding choice then blankets or towels, as it has insulating properties. Be sure pets have access at all times to water that has not frozen. On severely cold days, please consider bringing outdoor pets indoors. Pets can develop frostbite on paws, ears, and other exposed areas, or suffer from life-threatening hypothermia.