When you think about Christmas with your dog, your thoughts might center around what you're going to put in their holiday stocking. But between the tree, rich foods, and house guests, there are a lot of safety hazards this time of year. Prepare for a dog-safe Christmas using these holiday tips and tricks.
Holiday Pet-Safety Checklist
Grab this pet-safety list and check it twice so you know exactly what to keep out of your dog’s reach and how to proceed if they do make their way onto the naughty list.
1. Make Sure Decorations Are Dog-Proof
For many of us, decorating our home is the first step in preparing for the holidays, and most of the items we use aren't typically found around the house all year long. Being naturally curious creatures, dogs will want to check out anything new that comes into the house. Unfortunately, this is where some potential problems can come into play. Keep these points in mind to keep both your decorations and your pup safe.
- Keep salt dough decorations out of reach, as these can poison your dog if eaten.
- Opt for plastic or resin ornaments instead of breakable glass.
- Resist hanging ornaments at the bottom of the tree or ends of low branches where they'll present the most temptation to your pet.
- If your dog is a chewer, use a bitter pet-safe deterrent spray on decorations to prevent chewing.
- Avoid using tinsel or other long decorations that could get stuck in their intestines if they swallow it.
- Skip long, decorative table runners that your dog could grab hold of and pull to prevent dinner from ending up on the floor.
2. Use Caution With Christmas Trees
Celebrating the holidays with your dog is bound to involve setting up the traditional Christmas tree. However, there are some considerations — and some risks — you should keep in mind to make sure you and your pup have the safest, most enjoyable holiday possible.
- Consider purchasing a smaller tree and setting it up on a tabletop, out of your dog's reach.
- Full-size trees are best set up in a corner where your pet's access can be limited.
- If possible, wire the top of the tree to a drapery pole or staircase banister to reduce the risk of it tipping over should your dog accidentally bump into it.
- Wrap the base of the tree and stand in plastic wrap to keep your dog from being tempted to drink the water, which can be toxic, as fertilizers and other chemical compounds leach from the tree.
- Hide those electrical light cords at the back of the tree and cover any exposed cords or strategically place pieces of furniture to keep your dog from chewing them and possibly being electrocuted.
- Sweep up fallen needles regularly to prevent your dog from eating them, which can lead to an upset stomach.
- Never place gifts containing food under the tree because dogs can easily access and eat the contents.
Avoid choosing a pine or fir Christmas tree, as these can be toxic to cats and dogs. If they chew on or eat any part of the tree (needles, bark, or branches), it can damage their kidneys or liver.
Do a Tree Trial Run
Of course, there's nothing like the look and smell of a fresh, live Christmas tree, but how will it affect your dog? Live trees often carry unseen molds that can cause allergic reactions or respiratory distress in some pets and people. If this is the first Christmas you and your dog will be spending together, you might want to try a little test before setting up the entire tree.
Bring a sample branch — foliage and all — of your chosen evergreen into your home for a few days, allowing your dog to sniff it under your supervision. If you don't observe any negative reactions, it's probably safe to put up a live tree. But if your dog does show an adverse reaction, remove the branch immediately. Wash your pet's face to remove lingering traces of the allergen, and plan on enjoying an artificial tree this year.
3. Avoid Toxic Seasonal Plants
Seasonal foliage is abundant during the holidays, but sharing Christmas with your dog means keeping these beautiful plants out of Fido's reach. Many popular plants carry some level of toxicity for pets. The intensity of the reaction depends on the plant type, the size of your dog, and how much they ingest.
Mild poisonings can present with stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea, whereas severe poisoning can lead to seizures or even death. The common signs of toxicity include drooling, lethargy, low appetite, and vomiting. If your dog chews on or eats a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian right away. Always keep the following Christmas plants out of your pup's reach and check toxicity before bringing anything new in the house.
- Mistletoe (highly toxic)
- Pine trees
4. Be Mindful of Candles
Candles play a prominent role in many holiday celebrations. Advent wreaths, Menorahs, and other light sources produced from open flame may enjoy a prominent place in many homes, but they can pose a threat to your dog or your entire home. A gentle bump or tail wag can send them toppling, which serves as a high fire risk.
- If you choose to light candles, keep them on high surfaces where your dog can't access them.
- Keep candles off tablecloths or runners that your dog might be able to pull down.
- Extinguish all flames before going to bed or leaving the home.
- Better yet, opt for pet-friendly flameless candles.
5. Know the Toxic Christmas Ingredients
Food is a big part of most holiday traditions, but many of the delicacies and treats we enjoy aren't safe for our pets. Avoid feeding your dog any dishes containing these harmful ingredients.
6. Stick to Pet-Safe Holiday Foods
Not everything in the spread is off-limits. If you do want to share a taste of a dog-safe holiday dish with your pup, do so in moderation. Too much of anything can upset a pet's stomach or even cause pancreatitis — keep in mind that they're significantly smaller than humans, so a bite of cornbread could be equivalent to an entire tray for you. Reach for these healthy holiday foods if you do decide to share them, and check with your veterinarian before giving your dog anything new.
7. Choose Safe Gifts for Your Dog
The most pleasurable part of celebrating Christmas with your dog is picking out a few choice presents for your furry friend. The same items that would be appropriate any other time of the year are good at Christmas, too.
- Watch out for small toys or pieces that could break off an item and pose a choking hazard. Be sure that any item you give your pet is size-appropriate.
- Check the ingredients used in treats to make sure your pet isn't allergic to anything listed. Why not bake your own tray of dog-friendly treats to ensure they're safe for your special pup?
- Interactive toys can keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated through the cold winter months.
- Puzzle games are a great training tool and fun for dogs.
- Tough chewers could benefit from a gift designed specifically to be indestructible.
- Gifts don't always have to be tangible — you could get your dog a pass to doggy daycare if they enjoy socializing, enroll them in a training course, or take agility classes.
8. Create a Safe Space
The most important thing to remember about having guests over for Christmas with your dog is to watch them for stress. Lots of hustle and bustle, changes in the home, and strangers coming and going can all take a toll on your pet. Be sure to leave some quiet time in the schedule to give both of you an opportunity to decompress.
Make sure your pup has access to a "safe zone" at all times. This could be a crate with a cozy blanket or a quiet bedroom where they can be alone. Guide your dog to this area whenever you sense that they are stressed to signal that they can take some time to regroup. If your dog is particularly anxious, you may want to speak with your veterinarian about holistic solutions or anti-anxiety medication.
Make this safe haven a "dogs-only" zone, so visitors know they can't follow your doggy in there.
9. Let Guests Know the Dog House Rules
A lot of dogs love when new people come over, but many aren’t so keen on visitors. Before or as soon as guests come over, make sure they understand the dog rules of the house. This is your house, so don’t be afraid to establish boundaries that’ll keep your dog safe. Examples of these rules include:
- Please do not feed my dog any table scraps, no matter how much they beg or how sad they look when you refuse.
- Please keep the doors to outdoors closed at all times. If you need to step out, let me know so I can hang onto Fido to keep them from following you out.
- Fido doesn’t like it when people [insert anything that stresses them out here], so please don’t do that.
10. Prepare for the Unexpected
Finally, keep in mind that veterinary offices may be closed during the holidays. Refill any pet medications early and ensure you have enough to last through the week. It's also valuable to seek out the contact information of an animal hospital that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even through the holiday season, in your area should an unexpected emergency occur.
Virtual services like Airvet might be available as well. It's unlikely that you'll need urgent care with the proper precautions, but it's best to be prepared.
Intentional Planning Keeps Dogs Safe
Pets are an important part of the family and should be included in the festivities. So load up their puppy Christmas stocking with plenty of healthy treats and let them join in your holiday movie marathon. With proper planning, you can enjoy a merry and stress-free holiday alongside your dog.