With the holiday season upon us, the excitement of the period involves celebrations in which family pets are an integral part. However, the holidays hold a few hazards that you will want to be aware of so that you can make this hustle and bustle time fun as well as safe for the whole family.
These recommendations are especially important for those of you who have a pet around for the holidays for the first time. Hopefully, this will help to keep all of your pets from getting into too much trouble with all of the Christmas and other holiday decorations. Realizing that this will truly be a challenge to keep their curious noses out of harm's way, I ask that you pass on the following suggestions to anyone who has a pet.
Remember, you as the responsible pet owner must take these precautions to avoid potential dangers to your pets. If in doubt that something may be a hazard, get down to your pet's level and look at life from their perspective. Pets don't have hands to examine things, so when they find something new, usually they pick it up right into their mouths to see how it tastes and feels and whether it might be good to eat.
Christmas trees, both live and artificial, can serve as a huge danger for the curious pet. For instance, chemicals you may put in the water to keep your tree fresh are not good for your pet to drink. Make sure that no pet has access to the tree stand and its water. Of course, low-hanging ornaments and tinsel are easy targets. In fact, if you have pets, I do not recommend using tinsel at all. It is recommended to only hang non-breakable ornaments on the lower branches if you hang any at all at your pet's level.
Next up for dangerous items are the multiple electrical cords that are in abundance all over the house both inside and outside. It is important to wrap cords up and to place them out of the way to keep your pets from chewing on them and being electrocuted. For some reason, the sparkle of Christmas light strands is utterly fascinating and delicious to some pets. I will never forget Chipper, who survived passing several segments of Christmas lights in his earlier days. All I can say is "ouch!"
It truly is best to restrict your pet's access to decorated areas while you are away. Besides, who can forget the cat in "Christmas Vacation" who met its untimely death by chewing on the electrical cord? I cannot tell you how many cat and dog owners have told me that they arrived home to the horror of finding the Christmas tree knocked over. To avoid this, you can secure your tree to an adjacent wall with fishing line.
Candles are another common hazard around the house, especially around the holidays. The flickering glow easily can attract any pet, but especially cats. Be sure to place candles in appropriate holders far out of reach of your pets, remembering that a cat's curiosity and agility can make this difficult, if not impossible. Along the lines of fire safety, it is also very important to keep fireplaces screened off properly.
Holiday plants are another common danger that can get your pet into trouble. Please note that poinsettias can irritate the lining of your pet's mouth and intestines and are rarely truly fatal from toxicity. Your pet would have to ingest a huge quantity to cause serious results. Poinsettias are primarily considered an irritant. However, mistletoe, holly, Jerusalem cherry, amaryllis and other flowering bulbs can be toxic to pets. Be sure to place these plants out of your pet's reach so you can still enjoy their beauty and splendor.
As for any other holiday throughout the year, food is another topic to consider. It is quite the norm for us to be indulging in many large meals and to have an abundance of holiday cookies and candies throughout the house. Remember, you can show your pets that you love them in other ways besides indulging them with inappropriate human goodies. Remind your guests to respect your wishes to not offer your pet human food of any kind. Better yet, I highly recommend keeping your pets away from the party -- for example, in a quiet bedroom with low music to keep them distracted from all of the festivities. This will allow you to enjoy your party and not worry about your pets running out the door or getting lots of food handouts.
One last holiday celebration to review for safety is New Year's. This is a loud and raucous time of parties, fireworks and noisemakers, all of which can be stressful to any pet.
Spend some time with your pet before the guests arrive or before you go out. Some pets may even need a light sedative to get through the excitement without sheer panic from the fireworks. Be sure to discuss with your veterinarian which options are best for your pet.
If you're having people over, once again, it is usually safer to keep your pets confined to a room where they hopefully won't be disturbed. You definitely don't want your pet to start the New Year off with an upset stomach or hangover.
By taking a few simple commonsense precautions, you can ensure that your beloved pet will enjoy the fun of the holiday season safely along with the rest of the family. I wish all of you and your animal companions a merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Dr. Tracy Acosta, is a veterinarian at Acosta Veterinary Hospital in Biloxi. If you have questions for this column, write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach MS 39560 and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.