Holidays can pose hazard for pets

The holidays can be a wonderful celebration for families but a hazardous time for pets. A familiar environment suddenly filled with poinsettias, lights, ornaments and candy can be bad news for your furry friends.

The holidays are filled with things that bring us joy: twinkling lights, poinsettias, mistletoe, Christmas trees filled with ornaments, gifts wrapped in ribbon and, of course, food. Lots and lots of food.

Unfortunately, all of these can be deadly to our pets.

“There’s a ton of things out there this time of year that can cause problems,” said Mary Berg, a veterinary technician at Gentle Care in Lawrence. “You have to be a parent. It’s just like having a little baby in the house. We baby-proof our house for babies. We have to do the same thing for our pets this time of year.”


Christmas trees can be tricky with dogs and cats who might want to drink the water, tip the tree over, climb it or simply play with a few ornaments. All are a big no-no.

Tree water — even if you didn’t use the preservative packets — can cause an upset stomach, Berg said. Ribbon, tinsel and small or broken ornaments can be eaten and cause intestinal blockages.

Berg admits there’s no easy solution. She recommends using a heavy tree stand, putting breakable ornaments higher in the tree and not using tinsel. Owners can make a high-pitched noise when pets go near the tree or squirt them with water to discourage their behavior.

“It’s really hard and a lot of it is just training,” she said.

Sometimes pets will gnaw on cords and owners won’t even know it.

“The dog comes in and has respiratory issues and we find out they chewed on a cord. So, that can be a big issue,” Berg said.

Poinsettias can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but aren’t as harmful as lilies and mistletoe, which are extremely toxic for animals.

Baked goodies

No matter how much your animals beg, don’t give them chocolate. Dogs and cats eliminate the more complex ingredients in chocolate, such as caffeine, more slowly than people. So these chemicals can cause epileptic seizures, heart attacks, internal bleeding and, eventually, death.

Don’t give pets meats with a large amount of fat because that can cause vomiting and pancreatitis. Also, don’t throw them a bone. If a pet chews through the bone, it may splinter, which could cause stomach problems if it’s eaten. Hard bones can damage animals’ teeth.

“My philosophy is don’t feed them anything different during the holidays than you would feed them at any other time of the year,” Berg said. “The things that we eat during the holidays may not affect our system as much as it would the dogs. When you think about their size difference, it makes a big difference real fast.”

There are some signs that your pet has been naughty: not eating, diarrhea, vomiting or lethargy.


The more the merrier, right? Not for pets.

“I don’t know about other people’s houses at Christmas, but our house is a zoo,” said Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society. “We’ll have 30 people unwrapping presents and being loud and having a good time, and it’s just too much for my animals to take.”

So, she puts her pets in a quiet room with a sign on the door that says “Do not enter.” Grinstead said that way they have their beds, toys and peace.

“There are a lot of pets out there that when they are stressed, the way to get away from that stress is to bite or scratch someone,” she said.

If you allow your pets to mingle, be sure to alert guests so the animals don’t get stepped on, locked in a room or escape outside.

And with all of the commotion, Christmas is a terrible time to bring a new pet into your home.

“It’s always cute on the commercials when they put the little golden retriever puppy in the box and the kids open it, but it’s not so much fun for the puppy,” Berg said.

Instead, she recommends putting a collar, leash or pet care book in a stocking, along with a note that says we’ll look for a pet after the holidays.

Gift ideas

So, what can we safely give those furry family members for Christmas?

Berg said a good-quality treat is fine once in a while. Her other recommendations: new collar, leash, bed and “as much as I hate to say this because I just can’t quite go there myself, but a new, little outfit to wear,” she said, laughing. She doesn’t want to embarrass her four dogs.

Toys can make good gifts, but pets should be supervised when playing with them because toys can break and pieces of them can be eaten.

Grinstead also recommended seat belt harnesses for dogs that like to go for a drive — and crates.

“You would be shocked at how many people just put the cat in the car. It’s just not safe. I think buying someone a crate is just a wonderful thing because in an emergency, you need that,” she said.

She also recommends spoiling pets with quality treats instead of giving them food from the table.

Grinstead’s dog has a stocking and knows when Santa has left a special treat.

“The second he sees there’s something in it, he will bark and go crazy until we give it to him. It’s hilarious,” she said.