Pet safety tips for Christmas

Before your family wakes up to see what trinkets Santa left under the tree Christmas morning, be sure that you have taken all of the proper precautions to keep your dogs and cats safe this holiday season.

Perhaps the epicenter of holiday danger for your pet is the Christmas tree. Failing to pet-proof the “O Tannenbaum” could result in upset stomachs, painful injuries, catastrophic veterinary bills, or even tragedy this Christmas season.

Dogs and cats should be observed around the tree at all times. If possible, set up your Christmas tree in a room that you can easily close off when you are not home. Many pet owners also choose to create a barrier using a plastic pen or large baby gate so that Fido and Fluffy cannot access the tree.

Curious canines and inquisitive felines are sure to want to explore the odd tree that has appeared in their living rooms or dens. Dogs and cats or notorious for trying to jump onto — or even into — the tree, which could easily cause it to come crashing to the floor. Make sure the tree is anchored securely to avoid a dangerous tree-tipping disaster. Check your tree stand daily to confirm that the eyebolts are still locking the tree in place. For added security, anchor the tree to your ceiling with a ceiling hook and fishing line.

Pet owners who bring live pines, spruces, and firs inside for Christmas should make sure the water reservoir inside of the tree stand is not easily accessible to dogs and cats. As the tree drinks up water, it can release sometimes-toxic sap into the tree stand that will smell tasty to pets. Many fresh trees are also preserved with pesticides and fertilizer water additives — including aspirin, which can be especially fatal for cats, who are unable to effectively break down the drug because of the absence of a necessary protein in their livers. While veterinarians occasionally prescribe aspirin for dogs to treat various conditions, too much can prove deadly. Block access to the tree stand by thoroughly covering it with aluminum foil and a well-wrapped tree skirt.

All the lights and baubles used to adorn a Christmas tree sure are pretty, but they can pose a real threat to your pet. A 7-year-old mixed-breed dog from Southampton, England is lucky to be alive this week after ingesting a foot-long string of Christmas lights. Veterinarians say Charlie easily could have died from electrocution, internal injuries, or intestinal blockage after enjoying his decorative snack.

“I hadn’t even noticed that the lights had been chewed at this stage,” said owner Sharon Fay, “but it quickly became clear what had happened.”

Luckily, after emergency surgery, Charlie is expected to make a full recovery. But some pets aren’t so lucky. Be sure that holiday lights are fastened to your tree and that no cords are in easy reach of your curious pet’s mouth. Block access to any loose cords or wires.

Those might look like tree ornaments to you, but to Fido and Fluffy they are just potential toys arranged in a festive display. Chewing on ornaments can cause cuts in the mouth, throat, and digestive system, as well as other serious injuries. Tree-trimmings like garland and tinsel when eaten can also result in gastrointestinal blockages that have the potential to harm or even kill your pet.

Popular decorative plantslike holly, mistletoe, and the poinsettia can be poisonous if ingested. English and Asian varieties of the holly plant contain toxic saponins, which can cause serious gastrointestinal distress when eaten. The viscotoxins in mistletoe are nothing to kiss over; eating the leaves or berries of this common Christmas plant can cause stomach upset and a slowed heartbeat.

The poinsettia flower is typically only toxic when ingested in large quantities, so its reputation as the most dangerous Christmas plant is somewhat undeserved. That being said, the milky white sap of the poinsettia does tend to cause diarrhea, excessive drooling, and vomiting, which can pose a danger to a pet’s health.

Christmas bouquets and floral arrangementsthat contain lilies are very hazardous to pets — especially cats. All it takes is a few bites of a lily plant to cause potentially fatal kidney failure in felines. Cautious pet owners should probably steer clear of including these beautiful but dangerous plants in their Christmas décor.

Make sure your stockings really are hung by the chimney with care this holiday season; children’s toys, gift wrap, and candy should be kept out of reach at all times.

If you believe your pet may have eaten something he or she shouldn’t have this holiday season, contact your veterinarian immediately. Keep the numbers to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital handy if harm or injury should happen after hours. And finally, call the 24-hour ASPCA emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435 if you have any concerns about potentially harmful substances ingested by your pet. Specialists are available to aid you every day of the year — including Christmas.


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