Metro Weekly

7 Christmas Cautions for Dogs and Cats

Take these steps to ensure a happy holiday season for you and your pet

Photo by Tony Campbell

Photo by Tony Campbell

You may be the type who tries to maximize the holiday, squeezing out as many ways — and as many days — to celebrate Christmas or Chanukah as possible. And there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as you realize many others are not nearly as festively inclined, including your dog or cat. So don’t force the season’s greetings on them.

In fact, to put things into pet perspective: Every day with you is essentially a holiday for your pet — and any day that strays too far from a routine puts them on edge. The more you can make the holiday season feel like any other to him, the better off he and you will be.

Here are seven specific things to think about or avoid to ensure a happy holiday season for you and your pet. Above all, practice common sense and keep a watchful eye. “Diligence and prevention are our best tools to keep our pets from getting sick,” according to Janine Calabro, chief of emergency and critical care at D.C.’s Friendship Hospital for Animals.

1. Toxic Holiday Food — “There are certain types of toxicity that we see a little bit more frequently during the holidays,” Dr. Calabro says. Most revolve around foods that are dangerous to cats and dogs — from chocolate to onions to the raisins in fruitcake. Among other human holiday food items, be sure to keep dogs and cats away from fatty foods such as turkey skin — which can cause pancreatitis — and cooked bones, which can get caught in or tear up the intestinal lining.

2. Toxic Tinsel and Ornaments — But it’s not just human food that’s toxic. Make sure you secure any and all Christmas tree ornaments and keep a watchful eye on any that fall or break. And particularly, if you have a cat, you should forego tree tinsel altogether. It might be cute to watch Fluffy bat at it or carry a loose strand in his mouth as his shiny new “toy.” But it’s all fun and games until he digests it. “Especially the long thin strands of it can get stuck in their gastrointestinal tracts,” Dr. Calabro says. You’ll go from shiny tinsel to vomiting or worse, ruining the festive feeling.

3. Tree Dangers — “With regard to the live tree,” Dr. Calabro says, “more of the issue has to do with the water they’re sitting in” — from added fertilizer to the bacteria that builds up even in pure water after a couple weeks. Make sure your dog or cat can’t lap at it, and that it — and your whole tree, for that matter — is securely anchored. And maybe put up a gate or in some other way make it hard to access the tree and all the new electric cords you’ve added. “It’s quite common to see particularly puppies biting the electric cords attached to the lights, which can lead to electrocution and pretty significant consequences.”

4. The Holly and The Lily — “Most Christmas-associated plants, like holly and mistletoe and poinsettias, cause more gastrointestinal upsets than anything else,” Dr. Calabro says, “as long as they’re not ingested in very large quantities. [But all kinds of] lilies can be fatal if cats ingest them, even just getting some of the pollen if they’re playing with the flowers or chewing on the leaves.” So better to just say no to lilies.

5. Toysmart — When gifting for your dog, it’s best to stick with chew toys that are basically indestructible, or at least those designed to be digested. And for your cat, pick out a stuffed catnip toy or a new ball that’s too big to swallow.

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6. Restricted Travel — There may be fewer injuries involving cars striking or running over animals during the wintertime because there are fewer pets on the road — but there are still too many car-related pet accidents this time of year, when more pets travel by car and yet not enough pet owners put them in a crate or seat belt harness. The American Automobile Association estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of car accidents are caused by dogs being loose in a car. Don’t be that guy.

7. Create a Safe Space — If you throw a big party or host out-of-town guests for the holidays, consider cordoning off a quiet, comfortable room — even just a bathroom — to which your dog can retreat complete with a few toys, treats and blanket to make him feel less anxious or destructive.

Friendship Hospital for Animals is at 4105 Brandywine St. NW. Call 202-363-7300 or visit friendshiphospital.com.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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