Tips for Keeping Your Pet Safe During the Holidays

We love our patients – but we don’t want your holiday season memories to include an emergency vet visit.  

The holidays are a wonderful time to make new memories with your loved ones, including your furry family members. We don’t want those memories to be the kind made while anxiously waiting on a diagnosis from our veterinary clinic.

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Cooler temperatures, big crowds, heavy foods, and frequent gathering are predictable parts of the holiday season – it’s hard to resist getting excited when the holidays arrive. However, all that festive chaos can pose a danger to pets. As pet owners wade through the hustle and bustle of the season, all those added activities can cause changes in the routine that can lead to hazardous situations for pets.

When it comes to the increased activity and tantalizing new decorations around the house, think like your pet. From overly-curious cats to rambunctious dogs, consider these tips to keep your furry friends healthy, happy, and out of trouble during the holidays.

Food Safety

Provide treats for your pets that are safe and healthy. Keep people food away from pets. If you want to share holiday treats with your pets, make or buy treats formulated just for them. If you want to make them yourself, has several recipes for healthy foods, including this one for cookies just for dogs and cats.

The AVMA provides this list of foods to keep away from your pets.

    • Chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats. Although the toxicity can vary based on the type of chocolate, the size of your pet, and the amount they ate, it’s safer to consider all chocolate off limits for pets.

    • Other sweets and baked goods are often too rich for pets and, xylitol, an artificial sweetener often found in baked goods, candy and chewing gum, has been linked to liver failure, low blood sugar and death in dogs.

    • Table scraps – including gravy and meat fat – should be kept away from pets. During the holidays, when our own diets tend toward extra-rich foods, table scraps can be especially fattening and hard for animals to digest.  They can also cause pancreatitis, which can be life threatening.

    • Yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating.

    • Many foods that are healthy for people are poisonous to pets, including onions, raisins and grapes.

Additionally, many pets are expert “counter-cruisers” and can enjoy a stolen bite in the “one second” you aren’t watching. Clear the food from your table counters and serving areas when you are done. Take out the trash to make sure your pets can’t get to it, especially if it contains any food or food scraps, and be sure to secure the lid on the trash can. 

A probiotic such as Proviable® or FortiFlora®, both available from our Online Pharmacy, can be helpful when dealing with any kind of stomach upset and help to restore balance for the gut. These are just sprinkled on the food once a day. Scroll to the bottom for a list of recommended products.

Trees and Ornaments

It is possible to keep your home looking festive and still avoid danger for your dog or cat. Sparkling ornaments, tinsel and other decorations can be enticing. They need to be kept out of reach, and your pet should not be left alone in a room full of temptation. Shiny decorations bring plenty of risk for animals.

If you are putting up a Christmas tree, place it in a corner or in a room that can be blocked off from your pet's wanting eyes. If you are using a live Christmas tree, keep the area free and clear of pine needles, which can puncture your pet's intestines if ingested. Water additives for Christmas trees can be hazardous. Do not add aspirin, sugar, or anything to the water for your tree if you have pets in the house.

Avoid ornaments that have sharp edges, which can cause lacerations to pets who try to chew on them. Shards from broken ornaments may injure paws, mouths, or other parts of your pet's body.  Additionally, they can be a choking hazard or cause intestinal blockage.  Keep any homemade ornaments and trims, particularly those made from salt-dough or other edible ingredients, out of reach of pets. 

Be sure holiday light cords are out of reach. Tape them to the wall or floor to avoid chasing or chewing through the cords and risking burns or fluid accumulation in the lungs associated with electrical shocks.

Holiday Decor

Keep your animals in mind as you light candles, menorah, luminaries and fireplaces. Place your menorah or other candles on a stable surface your pet can’t reach – there's no telling where a wagging tail may end up. Consider replacing tapers and tea lights with flameless candles. Homes with fireplaces can help avoid accidental burns by using fireplace screens

Liquid potpourri can bring the scents of the season into any room, but be careful your pets don’t ingest any of this concentrated fragrance. Liquid potpourri also contains a cationic detergent, which is corrosive and can cause burns on a pet's tongue, difficulty breathing, and stress on the liver. 

When gift wrapping, keep your pet from the temptations of those shiny ribbons. Swallowing a piece of wrapping paper, string, plastic, or cloth could cause intestinal blockage. Scissors are another hazard, and they should be kept off floors or low tables. 

For pets, mistletoe and holly are two of the more toxic holiday plants.   They can cause severe gastrointestinal disorders, breathing difficulty, even heart failure in extreme case when ingested. Additionally, Amaryllis, balsam, pine, cedar, and Poinsettias are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets when eaten.

Holiday Get-Togethers

Be aware of the added risk for your pet when their routine is changed by visitors, whether the group is large or small. Make sure your pet has a room or crate: somewhere they feel safe for retreat when they need it. Even pets that are normally people lovers can become nervous in the activity of a holiday party.

As your guests arrive, keep an eye on the door as people are entering and leaving. You don’t want your four-legged companion to wander out and get lost.

Your guests may not know that feeding rich holiday fare to pets can lead to illness like pancreatitis. Make it clear to visitors that giving leftovers to your animal is not okay, no matter how much he begs. Incidentally, it’s a good idea to teach your dog to stop begging at the dinner table. Our staff will be glad to offer suggestions for this training.

While it isn’t likely any of your guests would knowingly give your pet a drink of an alcoholic beverage, alcohol in other forms can be just as dangerous, like a piece of rum cake or unbaked dough.

Inform your guests ahead of time that you have furry companions sharing your home. This way, those who are affected by pet dander can be prepared and better able to enjoy their visit with you. And, if your guests are bringing a pet of their own to the party, make sure the animals will enjoy each other or provide a way to keep them separate.

Ask your guests to secure all medications while they are in your home. 

New Year’s Eve celebrations can cause significant stress for many pets. The noise of firecrackers, the loud celebrations, the confetti pouring down; all can overly-excite and worry an animal. Be sure you have taken all the necessary precautions to make your pet feel as secure as possible.

To reduce the stress your pets might experience at times like these, you can use a calming pheromone diffuser. These plug in and last for 30 days and cover about 800 square feet. For use in the home, we recommend the Adaptil™ Electric Diffuser, available from our Online Pharmacy. Just plug in a couple of days before the holiday get together.


If you will be traveling during the holidays, boarding your canine or feline companion may be required. Know ahead of time what to look for in choosing the best option for your pet. Talk with your veterinarian to find out how best to protect your pet from canine flu and other contagious diseases, and to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines.

If you’re traveling by air, talk with your veterinarian first. The dry air in an airplane can put some pets at risk, especially short-nosed dogs. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you regarding your own pet’s ability to travel. Check with your airline company to familiarize yourself with their rules and policies for pet travel. Pack for your pet as well as yourself in your carry-on luggage. Be sure you have any necessary medications, food, first aid supplies, and a way to identify your pet in case they become lost.

For the most part, interstate and international travel regulations require you have a health certificate from your veterinarian, even when traveling by car. Visit the USDA website for each state’s requirements.

If your pet has a medical condition that might need attention during your travel, ask your veterinarian to recommend trusted practices along your route. Add references to different type.

Pets traveling by car should always be safely restrained and never left alone in the car. Never transport your pet in the bed of a truck.

For pheromone products to keep pets calm while traveling, consider pheromone sprays which last about 6 hours and can be used on beds or a bandana (any material they will have close contact with), or a collar (for canines) which lasts for 30 days. Visit our Online Pharmacy where you’ll find sprays for dogs (Adaptil™) and for cats (Feliway®). and the Adaptil™ Collar.

Be Prepared — Plan Ahead

Hopefully, you will not have a pet emergency during the festive times ahead. But it is always good to be prepared.

Keep important numbers like your vets office, the 24/7 emergency clinics (they are listed on our website), and poison control hotline, on hand. 

Try to keep routines as regular as possible for your pet. Avoid risky behaviors associated with this time of year and keep your holidays safe and happy. 

Recommended Medications available from our Online Pharmacy

Happy Holidays from Back on Track Veterinary Hospital & Rehabilitation Center!