How to Keep Your Pet Happy & Healthy During the Holidays

The holidays may be fun for you, but for your pet, there are a lot of dangers to watch out for. Between decadent foods that could leave your pet sick and loud celebrations that frighten and upset them, there’s a lot to look out for. Here are a few ways you can keep your pets happy and safe during this holiday season.

Maintain Your Pet’s Routine

Animals are creatures of habit, and they know well what time to expect you home from work, when to wake you for a morning walk or when dinner should be arriving. Unfortunately, the holidays tend to throw our carefully-planned schedules out of whack. You may be tempted to squeeze in a little time at the mall after work, but if Fido has been holding it all day, he’ll be very uncomfortable—or worse—if you’re a few hours late. Do your best to keep your pet’s diet and exercise as stable as possible during the crazy holiday months to keep him happy and stress-free. A relaxed animal is less likely to have an accident or lash out in a fit of destruction while you’re away, and you won’t have to worry about any weight loss resolutions—for your pets, at least!

Keep Dangerous Items Out of Reach

Unfortunately, curiosity really can kill the cat—or dog. If you have an inquisitive pet, the holidays are full of extra temptations that are sure to pique their interest. Combine buffets full of rich food, extra cleaning supplies and unusual decorations with a distracted pet parent, and you have a recipe for potential disaster if your animal pokes his nose where it doesn’t belong.

To avoid a late-night visit to your vet’s emergency room, keep the following items away from your pet.

Problem Foods

At best, your pet could get a tummy ache from over-indulging in holiday treats. At worst, he could be poisoned. Keep your animals away from the following food dangers:

Dog Dangers

  • Onions, garlic, leeks and shallots
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Dairy products like milk, cream and cheese
  • Nuts like macadamias and almonds
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine

Cat Calamities

  • Poinsettias
  • Chicken bones (choking hazard)
  • Onions, garlic and chives
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Caffeine
  • Raw fish
  • Apples
  • Xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in some candy and gum

It might be difficult to serve your guests a completely pet-safe menu, especially if you are hosting a potluck or open house. If you can’t limit the menu, be sure to keep food covered before serving and clear leftovers away promptly. If you’re planning a buffet, it’s best to keep sneaky pets out of the room entirely if you can’t be watchful the whole time. If you hate the idea of keeping your pals crated for the whole party, designate a responsible teen or adult to provide some play time or a walk while keeping a sharp eye on your furry buddies. You can also appease them with people food that is safe: lean poultry or scrambled eggs are healthy treats for both cats and dogs.

Cleaning Supplies

Giving your house a good, deep clean before guests arrive makes perfect sense, but be careful about the products you use. Many common cleaning supplies contain chemicals that are harmful to pets. Here’s what to avoid:

  • Ammonia: Ammonia is a common ingredient in oven cleaners, but its fumes can irritate and damage mucous membranes of both humans and animals.
  • Chlorine: Bleach fumes cause respiratory irritation and distress in small animals, who breathe more rapidly than humans and will therefore take in more of the toxins. Chlorine is found in many wipes and sprays, so check labels to be sure.
  • Toilet Bowl Cleaners: Don’t leave toilet bowl cleaners to soak with the lid open, or you could poison a thirsty pet. Likewise, avoid toilet tank tabs that release a small dose of cleaner into the tank at regular intervals.

To keep your pets safe, keep them away from bottles of household cleaners as you work, and consider airing out rooms after you clean to reduce their exposure to fumes. You can also experiment with homemade cleaning products made of non-toxic ingredients like baking soda and vinegar for a long-term solution.

Other Holiday Safety Concerns

Some major holiday traditions can be harmful to curious pets. Only you can decide which traditions are worth upholding by keeping your pet away from a favorite decoration and which are worth eliminating so you don’t have to worry about your animals getting into trouble. Think carefully about introducing these common items into your home this season:

  • Christmas Trees: Climbing cats and jumpy dogs could knock the tree over, breaking favorite ornaments and injuring themselves in the process. Keep breakable ornaments on higher branches and limit your pet’s access to the room with the tree when you’re not at home.
  • Candles: Unattended candles are always a no-no. An exuberant dog’s tail or a grumpy cat’s paw can easily knock them to the floor and start a fire.
  • Holiday Lights: Keep cords off the floor and away from pets. A teething pup or kitten can get a nasty shock from chewing on electrical cords.
  • Holly Berries and Mistletoe: Both natural decorations are poisonous to cats and dogs—and humans. Keep them out of reach or avoid them altogether.
  • Poinsettias: These common holiday house plants contain a sap in their colorful leaves that is highly irritating to the skin. Your pet is unlikely to eat enough to be poisoned, but he’ll be very ill after a sampling.
  • Ice Melt: Rock salt and ice melt made with sodium chloride will irritate your pet’s feet and can make him sick if he licks at his paws. Opt for de-icer made with calcium chloride or potassium chloride instead for a safer option.
  • Fireworks: While love the loud sounds and flashing lights of fireworks, but most pets don’t and they might even run for cover. In fact, more pets get lost on July 4th than any other day of the year. Here are some firework safety tips from the ASPCA.
  • Swim Safety: If you’re spending a holiday poolside or out on the lake, it’s important to supervise your pet near the water. Not all animals are great swimmers, but you can help out by investing in a life vest.
  • Travel Safety: Hitting the road for the holidays? Travel can be dangerous (and scary) for our furry friends. Check out this article for tips and tricks on car safety for your pets.

How to Handle Nervous Pets

If your pets are nervous or excitable when there are lots of people around, help them stay calm by giving them a safe, quiet place to retreat to. If your animal enjoys his crate, it’s a great choice—but don’t try to lock your pet up if that’s not a normal part of his routine. If your cat prefers to hide under a bed, let him!

You can also help pets handle the stresses of a party by making sure they are well fed and have had plenty of exercise ahead of time. Some extra affection before and after your holiday party will also go a long way towards making them feel safe and loved—it’s the holidays, after all!