Keep Your Pet Safe for the Holidays

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on December 08, 2022
5 min read

The holiday season is often full of good things – family get-togethers, gift-giving, delicious food, and festive decorations. Your pet can be part of the fun, but there are a few things you might need to do to keep them safe – because there’s nothing festive about an unplanned visit to the veterinarian.

Kim Johnson, DVM, an emergency vet in Ventura, CA, recalls a time when a patient brought in her cocker spaniel during the holidays.

“This lady had just returned from Europe and had several ounces of fine French chocolate for gifts,” says Johnson. “She was only gone a few hours and put the chocolate out of reach (so she thought) only to return to find candy wrappers everywhere!”

Johnson and her team were able to get the pup’s tremors and rapid heartbeat under control after some treatment and an overnight stay. But they were lucky, says Johnson. “He had eaten about 3 pounds of chocolate. … Thankfully he was OK.”

So how do you keep your fur kids safe and happy all season?

It’s so much fun to decorate for the holidays – until your pet gets into something that can hurt them. Holiday decor like sparkly tinsel and tree ornaments can look like toys to some pets. Tinsel can cause tummy trouble and dehydration. Pets may get sick enough to require surgery in some cases. The same goes for those pretty, shiny ornaments: Broken pieces could cut your pet or damage their insides if eaten.

Watch out for certain holiday plants too. Mistletoe – great for kissing, not great for pets. If eaten, it can lead to stomach or heart issues. Holly – great for decking halls, but it can cause diarrhea and vomiting in your four-legged loves. Lilies (more common at Easter) can lead to kidney failure in your furry friends. For extra safety, opt for fake plants, made of plastic or silk, or even pet-safe bouquets.

Put potpourri out of reach. The liquid kind is toxic to pets and can be an issue for sensitive pet skin, eyes, and their mouth. And the crumbly kind is not safe to eat either. Strong scents like pine and potpourri can also cause issues for pets with asthma.

Lights, from scented candles to Christmas or Hanukkah decorations, are attractive to pets but can be harmful. A candle can be tipped over and cause a fire or burn.

And if your pet chews on holiday lights, the electric shock can be very serious as well. “Do not let your pets get a shock,” says Johnson. “They get fluid in their lungs from [electric] shocks. There is no easy treatment for that, so it’s very dangerous.” She recommends unplugging holiday lights when you can’t watch your pet.

We all love snacking during the holidays – including your pet kids. But some snacks that humans like can be toxic to pets. These include:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes, raisins, and currants (Think fruitcake!)
  • Caffeine
  • Onions
  • Alcohol
  • Turkey skin
  • Bread dough
  • Meats with bones
  • Food with any added fat (oil, butter, etc.)
  • Fatty meats like beef, pork, lamb, or duck

These foods can cause an upset stomach, gas, pancreatitis, or worse, depending on the amount. So keep them out of reach and, of course, don’t feed them to your pet.

Xylitol: Be careful if you or your loved ones are eating a low-carb or Keto diet, as the popular sugar alternative xylitol is toxic to pets. It can cause your pet’s blood sugar to drop and even lead to liver failure. Keep purses and backpacks away, since they tend to have packs of sugar-free gum or mints containing xylitol.

Safe stuff: “Most carbs like rice or pasta are just fine for pets,” says Johnson. “Just make sure they aren’t cooked with butter, oil, or seasoning. Plain veggies like carrots or green beans are also fine, but stay away from leafy greens that can cause gas.”

Some pets, like people, love a good party. Others would rather keep to their more quiet routine. Either way, risks abound. Guests that want to engage with your pets and make them happy may not know the dos and don’ts. Be open with your guests. Tell them about house rules and pet preferences, and even pet injuries if they have any.

If you’re especially worried about pet accidents, bad behavior, or other problems, consider setting your pet up in a separate area. Just keep in mind that a pet alone in another room with nothing to do may become anxious and destructive. So be sure to leave them with a chew toy or activity treat like a Kong toy with peanut butter inside.

If that’s not enough, consider leaving them with a pet sitter or at a boarding facility. Wherever you put them, be sure that they get their exercise and bathroom time and their regular food and water too.

  • Some airlines require a written health certificate to get your pet on the plane. This can take planning, so it’s best to speak to your vet well in advance.
  • Meds: Some pets need calming medication for travel as well. Talk to your vet about the right meds and the right dose.
  • Secure your pet safely in the car or plane. Talk to your vet about how best to do this.
  • Make sure your pet is up to date on all shots and exams.
  • Bring along pet health records and vaccine records, as well as all necessary prescriptions.

During the holidays, the weather can be cold and icy. But outdoor winter activities can still be lots of fun for you and your pet as long as you take some precautions. Here are some ideas:

  • Protect the paws. Snow boots are one option but can be hard to put on your pup. Same for cats, where a puss in boots is no problem in a movie. Allow your pets time to get used to any pet clothing. Or use a balm to protect their paws from extreme cold.
  • Melt the ice. Keeping your pet’s paws safe also means using pet-safe ice melt. All pet owners know pets lick their paws. Make sure they aren’t eating something toxic that could hurt their stomach or worse. Morton, a company known for table salt, has a pet-safe ice melt for about $20 at most pet stores. Check out other brands as well.
  • Keep them warm. Our pets feel cold – especially shorthair breeds like chihuahuas. Go ahead and dress them in a sweater if you see them shivering a lot. Keep walks short if you can, and dry them off with a warm towel if they’ve been in snow or ice.

The holidays are stressful enough. Don’t add an emergency vet visit – which can cost $2,000 or more. Pets are unpredictable, even with the best-laid plans. A few simple changes can help keep your pets safe and happy all season long.