Pet Safety Tips for the Holidays

With the winter holidays just ahead, we’re all looking forward to a time of cheer and family fun for everyone, including our pets. We hope we can help you to avoid a trip to our emergency veterinary hospital with a few holiday pet safety tips.

We’re also here for you 24/7/365. If a pet health emergency happens, call us at 303.660.1027 or come into the hospital right away with any pet emergencies.

Have a Plan

To ensure you’re ready for anything, anytime, just keep our phone number handy. As your 24/7/365 emergency veterinary hospital in Castle Rock, we want you to know where to come for help before there’s an emergency. Plan a safe route to the hospital so that if it’s dark or snowing and you’re stressed, you can bring your pet in safely.

In fact, it’s smart to keep this list of veterinary medical contact information at home and in your phone, in case of emergencies:

  • Family veterinarian’s clinic name and phone number
  • 24/7/354 emergency veterinary hospital phone number – you can reach us at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies at 303.660.1027. If you’re traveling with pets, research the emergency vet nearest to your destination and keep their number and address handy
  • ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 1-888-426-4435 (fees may apply)

Stick to Your Pet’s Regular Diet

All of us feel better when we keep to a healthy diet. It’s tempting for people to overindulge on rich foods during the holidays, but that should never be the case for our pets. If you want to celebrate the holidays with special treats for your pets, make or buy the kind of healthy treats that are formulated just for dogs or cats. And if you’re traveling, bring your pet’s usual food with you, or plan ahead to be sure you can quickly purchase it at your holiday destination.

This list of holiday “people” foods are especially hazardous for pets and should be avoided completely:

  • Sweets, sugar free, and baked goods – Baked holiday treats are yummy for people but are often unhealthy for pets. The possibility of artificial sweeteners found in some baked goods and often in sugar free candy, gum, and soft drinks, can make animals very sick. The sweetener xylitol can cause hypoglycemia, liver failure, and even death in dogs, so sweets and sweet drinks should be kept away from pets. Raw yeast dough can rise and become impacted in the stomach and can even cause the stomach to rupture in rare cases. It often is life threatening and can require hospitalization or even surgery. Cookies? Cakes? Keep pets safe and allow only if they were made in a pet bakery or by someone following a veterinary approved, pet-specific recipe.
  • Chocolate – While chocolate is a big no-no for pets, it’s also a big part of our human holiday food traditions. Sadly, chocolate is toxic to both dogs and cats. Toxicity can vary based on the size of your pet, the type and the amount of chocolate consumed. A stimulant in chocolate, theobromine, causes vomiting and diarrhea when ingested in small doses, and may cause seizures and heart arrhythmia. In larger amounts, it can also lead to coma or death. Other compounds and caffeine in chocolate can also cause problems. Particularly poisonous to pets are semi sweet, baking, dark, or cacao. Play it safe and keep all chocolate away from all pets.
  • Alcohol – Alcoholic drinks can be toxic to animals as they don’t process alcohol the same way that humans do. Alcohol is absorbed quickly into a pet’s bloodstream and can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar, body temperature, and blood pressure. Yeast in fermented alcoholic drinks also produces carbon dioxide that can cause stomach bloat and threaten a pet’s life.
  • Ham, bacon, turkey, and turkey skin – Unfortunately, our favorite holiday meats can harm our companion animals. Properly prepared under the guidance of your family veterinarian, some meats might be ok for pets. However, the way we often prepare our human family’s feasts, with butter, salt, onions, garlic, and herbs, can cause a host of illnesses. Onions are toxic to dogs, and garlic can be. Fatty meats and animal skin like that from a turkey can cause illness, including a potentially life threatening condition called pancreatitis. And the bones from turkey and other meats can gravely injure pets. Best bet? Skip the family bird, ban the bacon, hide the ham, and help your pets stick to their regular diet.
    Table scraps and tempting tidbits – The richest savory dishes, including gravy and other fatty meats and pan drippings, should definitely be kept away from pets. Even some holiday foods and flavors that we think of as healthy for people are poisonous to pets, including onions, grapes, raisins, currants, and macadamia nuts. During the holidays, when we humans consume some extra-rich foods, our human table scraps can be fattening, toxic, and hard for our pets to digest and can cause extreme gastric distress.
  • Trash should be promptly removed from any celebration where pets are present. Tempting tastes can be harmful if pets chew through paper or plastic and try to get to sharp containers, bones, and rich or harmful food bits.

Sticking to your pet’s regular diet will help them stay healthier this holiday season. If your pet consumes something from the table and shows signs of distress or sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, call the APCA poison control hotline immediately at 1-888-426-4435 (fees may apply) or call or bring your pet to us for help.

Deck the Halls with Special Care for Pets

Holiday decorated trees, lights, candles, and holiday plants can make the yuletide festive, but they can also be temptations and even poisonous and dangerous for our pets. Take care and consider this list of tips:

  • Christmas trees can tip, fall, and shatter ornaments and cause injuries to pets. Try tying your Christmas tree to a doorframe or even the ceiling using fishing line to secure it. Avoid using any tinsel or string that could be harmful or deadly to a pet if swallowed.
  • Christmas tree water additives can also hurt our pets. If you have pets in your home or are spending the holidays in someone else’s house with your pet, please be sure that nothing is added to the water for the tree (no aspirin, sugar, or other items should be added).
  • Electric lights should only be used with care and under supervision. When animals are present, curious canines or felines can chew through cords, resulting in burns.
  • Ornaments, holiday decorations, and wrapping items can be hazardous to pets. If broken, they can cause injuries and if eaten they can cause dangerous conditions. Take care with ornaments that might tempt animals, like those made from salted dough or other food-based materials. If consumed they can poison pets or block intestines. Strings are especially intriguing for cats. If consumed, string can block a cat’s digestive system and require surgery. Keep safely out of reach or off the décor list.
  • Flowers and holiday plants can poison. Common holiday favorites to keep away from pets include:
    • Amaryllis: All parts of the plant are toxic. Ingestion of leaves may result in drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Ingestion of the bulb may cause hypotension, weakness, loss of muscle control, and seizures.
    • Mistletoe: The plant contains toxic lectins and small exposure can produce mild gastritis. Larger exposure may require intensive treatment and heart monitoring. Another concern is that even fresh mistletoe[MR1]  decorations include berries made from plastic beads that can cause digestive obstruction. 
    • Holly: All parts of the plant are toxic, and ingestion can result in gastritis and lethargy.
    • Balsam, pine, cedar, and other types of Christmas greenery: Consuming the needles of these types of plants can poison pets and cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and lethargy.  
    • Poinsettias: Ingesting or coming in contact with poinsettias may hurt pets, too. When ingested, mild signs of vomiting, drooling, or rarely, diarrhea may be seen. If the plant’s sap touches a pet’s skin, then redness, swelling, and itchiness may occur.

For more information, the ASPCA has lists of plants toxic to both dogs and cats.

  • Candles and fireplace fires can attract our pets with their warmth and pretty flames. Do not leave pets alone with lighted candles or open fireplaces.
  • Potpourri and essential oils should be kept far from curious pets. Liquid essential oils and potpourri can severely burn and injure our pet’s mouths, eyes, skin, and other organs. Solid potpourris can also cause severe digestive problems if eaten.

A Few Final Tips

Our holidays should be fun and full of happy times with family, including our furry family members. Taking a few minutes at home and when visiting family and friends with pets can save on stress and visits to your emergency veterinarian. At Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies, we’re here to help, but we’d rather have you and your pets stay safe this season! Here are some final tips and reminders:

  • Have a plan. Prepare ahead with your vet’s phone number, poison control number, and routes to the hospital, just in case. Being ready for the worst can help you think clearly during a pet health emergency.
  • Prevent escapes. Even when our pets are enjoying holiday fun around family and guests, be sure to watch them closely, especially when entering and leaving the home or when visiting others. Pets may try to escape in the commotion of hellos and goodbyes and could become lost.
  • Keep ID tags and microchips up to date. Ensure pets have identification tags and microchips with proper contact information and registrations. In case a pet does sneak out, you’re much more likely to be safely reunited if their information is current.
  • Clear the food from your table, counters, serving areas, and take out the trash when you are finished. Make sure that pets can’t reach tempting treats that could be hazardous or even deadly. Dispose of carcasses and bones, keep chocolate and sweets away, and dispose of all the fun ribbons, strings, crinkly bags, and other packaging that could tempt pets to eat them.
  • Unplug decorations to prevent cats and dogs from chewing electrical cords and never leave pets alone with fire or candles.

Hopefully your family – human and furry – will enjoy a healthy, safe holiday season. Taking a little time to prepare with a plan for emergency vet care and following a few holiday pet safety tips should reduce stress and ensure everyone has a good time. From our emergency and specialty veterinary family to yours, happy holidays!

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