Christmas can be a dangerous time for dogs. Lots of changes happen in the household around the holidays: a tree indoors (something to pee on), lights and decorations (something to chew on), rearranged furniture (something to lie on), packages on the floor (something to rip open), nut and candy dishes on the tables (something to nibble on) and lots of visitors (something to bite or hide from). With a little preparation, owners can make their homes safe and welcoming for both human and canine companions. Here are some things to consider:
- Christmas Trees. Christmas trees sold in this country include firs, pines, cypresses, spruces and cedars. They should be in stable stands securely anchored to the floor, wall or ceiling so they don’t topple over. Dogs shouldn’t drink tree water, as it can contain sap, infective bacteria, preservatives, insecticides, fertilizers and flame retardants. Tree needles can be toxic and can puncture a dog’s stomach or intestines. Even needles from artificial trees can be dangerous.
- Holiday Plants. Holly leaves, berries, hibiscus, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, rosemary, lillies, poinsettias and mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and oral blisters if eaten by dogs.
- Candy. Chocolate and anything sweetened with xylitol can be toxic to dogs. Candy, fudge, gum, breath mints, cookies, cake and similar goodies should be kept out of reach. Dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate are especially dangerous.
- Nuts and Snacks. Macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins can be poisonous to dogs, causing kidney, digestive, muscular and/or nervous system damage.
- People-Food. Rich, spicy or fatty holiday foods, such as meat, gravy, poultry skin, chocolate and alcohol, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis and other bad reactions in dogs. Nutmeg, mace and other spices can be dangerous if eaten. Caffeinated beverages and over-the counter stimulants can cause urinary, heart and nervous system damage. Raw meat, fish and poultry often contain infective bacteria and parasites. Bones can splinter and lacerate or lodge in a dog’s intestines. Uncooked bread dough can expand in a dog’s stomach, causing excessive gas which may lead to stomach or intestinal rupture.
- Tablecloths and Runners. Dangling fabric can be tempting to dogs who love to play tug-of-war.
- Tinsel. Many dogs find tinsel irresistible. Unfortunately, if swallowed, tinsel can wrap around the base of the tongue and/or cause choking, vomiting, dehydration and intestinal obstruction.
- Decorations. Snow globes, bubbling lights and other fluid-filled decorations can contain substances that are poisonous to pets. Snow-flocking can be toxic and cause respiratory distress when inhaled. Many dogs enjoy swatting at and chewing on ornaments, which resemble toys, but shards from broken ornaments and the pointy hooks they hang on can cause serious injuries. Food-based decorations, like candy canes, gingerbread, popcorn, dried fruit garlands and potpourri, can cause digestive upset.
- Electrical Cords, Batteries and Lights. Christmas brings extension cords, lights and battery-operated devices out of the closet. Because chewing on electric cords can cause burns, shock, electrocution or death, cords should be taped down or covered. Decorative lights should be unplugged when owners aren’t home. Punctured batteries can cause severe oral and gastrointestinal chemical burns.
- Packages and Wrapping Materials. Ribbon, yarn, string, glue, tape, scissors, paper and gifts can cause trauma, digestive upset and intestinal obstruction.
- Toys. Many toys contain small plastic, rubber or metal parts that, if eaten by a dog, can cause choking and dangerous gastrointestinal blockage, requiring immediate surgery.
- Candles and Fire. Candles should only be burned where dogs can’t get to them. Fireplaces should have secure front screens.
- Tobacco and Nicotine. Nicotine products can make dogs very sick and can even kill them. Cigarettes, cigars, butts, nicotine patches, nicotine gum and ashtrays should all be kept well out of reach.
- Travel. Boarding facilities fill up quickly during the holidays, as do dog sitters’ schedules. Make arrangements early.
- Cocktails. Alcohol can cause severe intoxication in dogs. Many are especially attracted to spiked eggnog.
- Garbage. Tasty tidbits on aluminum foil, plastic wrap, paper plates, cellophane candy wrappers and meat-soaked strings are tempting to dogs and can cause discomfort, intestinal obstruction, choking and strangulation.
- Smoke Detectors and Other Battery-Operated Safety Devices. Owners should replace the batteries in safety devices annually. When batteries run low, these devices can emit high-frequency sounds that are painful and potentially injurious to dogs.
- Guests and Their “Stuff”. Holiday guests can delight or terrify dogs. Remind overnight guests to keep all medications, gifts and other items out of reach. It’s safest to keep the guestroom door closed. Remind visitors to keep doors to the outside tightly closed.
- Cleaning Products. Disinfectants and other cleaning products are frequently used during the holidays. Many are toxic to dogs.
- New Pets. Dogs rarely make good Christmas presents, especially if they are a surprise to the recipient. Unlike a sweater or tie, dogs can’t be returned. Moreover, a new pet needs lots of reassurance, attention and a quiet, stable environment – exactly the opposite of the hustle-bustle of the holiday season.
- Dogs should have a quiet, private, safe place to retreat from the holiday hubbub, with comfortable bedding, fresh water and food. For especially fearful or aggressive dogs, boarding may be the best option.
- Products are available to keep dogs away from “off-limits” areas, including motion-detection devices that emit unpleasant vibrations or sounds. Some owners use aluminum foil, bubble-wrap, sticky mats, balloons or even mouse traps to train their dogs to stay away from potentially dangerous areas.
- Dogs should be kept on their normal schedule during the holidays. They should be fed as usual and always have free access to fresh water, although they may be fed and watered in a more secluded place. Regular walks, play dates and similar activities reduce the stress associated with the holidays. Flower essences and other homeopathic products are marketed to relieve stress in dogs. Owners should discuss these with their veterinarian.
- Dogs should wear collars with accurate identification and contact information during the holidays, in case they escape through a gate or door as people come and go.
- Know the normal and emergency hours and phone numbers of the nearest general and emergency veterinary clinics.