From foods to holiday decorations, here’s how to keep your pets safe during this festive season

By Helena Sung
Updated December 17, 2009 12:45 PM
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Joy to the world, the holidays are here! Marked by parties, festive decorations and excuses to overindulge – it’s also a time to take precautions to ensure our pets’ safety as we celebrate the season. “Many of our winter habits and holiday traditions could pose a potential threat to our companion animals,” says Dr. Steven Hansen, a Board-certified veterinary toxicologist and Senior Vice President of ASPCA Animal Health Services.

So PEOPLEPets.com consulted with experts at the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center and PetPoisonHelpline.com for tips on how to enjoy a fun holiday season – with your furry best friends safely out of harm’s way.

1. Keep foods away from pets. Avoid feeding your pet rich or fatty leftovers – it can cause stomach upset and even inflammation of the pancreas. Foods potentially toxic to pets? Grapes, raisins and currants; chocolate and cocoa; macadamia nuts; sugarless gums and candies that contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs; and poultry bones, which can splinter and cause blockage. Secure the garbage, keep your pet on a normal diet and don’t let holiday visitors sneak your pet table scraps.

2. Avoid access to alcohol. Cocktails, eggnog and mulled wine abound at holiday parties, but keep unattended alcoholic beverages out your pets’ reach. “If ingested, the animal could become very sick and weak and may go into a coma, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure,” according to the ASPCA. Beware: Alcohol can also found in “rum-soaked fruitcake or unbaked dough that contains yeast,” says PetPoisonHelpline.com.

3. Beware of poisonous plants. While poinsettias are only mildly toxic if ingested, says PetPoisonHelpline.com, far more dangerous to pets are seasonal plants such as holly leaves, holly berries, mistletoe, rosemary and Japanese Yew.

4. Pet-proof the Christmas tree. To prevent your Christmas tree from toppling over should your cat or dog pounce on it, consider anchoring the tree to the wall or ceiling with durable string, such as fishing line. And cover the water in which your Christmas tree sits; it may contain fertilizers or bacteria that can cause stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested by your pet.

5. Avoid potentially dangerous holiday decorations. Which cat doesn’t love ribbon or tinsel? But these holiday-inspired decorations can cause serious intestinal blockage if your kitty swallows all or part of it. Don’t let your pets play with glass ornaments that can break. Cover electrical cords with pet-proof covers. Don’t place candles, including menorahs, where your pets can knock them over or get burned. Place any liquid potpourri out of your pet’s reach to avoid chemical burns if licked. Many snow globes contain antifreeze – which is highly toxic to cats and dogs – so beware if a snow globe should crack or shatter.

Should your pet have an unfortunate accident during the holidays, know that there is help available. Both the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center and PetPoisonHelpline.com are available 24 hours a day for phone consultations. (A fee does apply.)