Top 5 holiday safety tips for pets

Rich food and sparkly decorations are hallmarks of the holiday season — but they can cause digestive havoc in your dog or cat. These holiday safety tips will help ensure everyone stays happy and healthy.

It’s almost time to gather with friends and family for the annual festival of eating as much traditional fare as we can possibly consume in one sitting – or two or three. We might suffer from indigestion later, and have to watch the calories for a few weeks, but for us, the pleasure is usually worth the discomfort of too many mince tarts or that extra helping of ham.

Dogs and cats, however, are a different story. Eating too much of the wrong things can give him a lot of grief, and may even be life-threatening. These five holiday safety tips will help ensure the season stays joyful for both of you.

1. Stick to healthy snacks

Brewster was a four-year-old Rottweiler. His family was well known for their holiday parties. Alaskan crab, Cajun appetizers and succulent jumbo shrimp graced the buffet table. Brewster learned that if he strategically placed himself between the sliced turkey and the punch bowl, he could become the recipient of many a handout. No one could resist his endearing nature and those luminous brown eyes.

Guests thought it was a riot when they tossed chocolate bon-bons high in the air for Brewster to catch, sometimes two at a time. After about a dozen mid-air catches, the fun suddenly ended. Brewster stopped and the grin faded from his face. He collapsed and died. “Chocolate contains theobromine,” says veterinarian Dr. Frank Butts. “It can cause heart failure, seizures or even death. Though the reaction is not always instantaneous, chocolate, as well as other caffeine products, can be harmful, even fatal to your dog.” Dr. Butts also recommends that people beware of peanuts and nut products. These are not good snack foods for Rover.

Tell guests not to give your animal any candy, nuts, chips or other snacks; substitute healthy natural treats from the pet food store, or give him a few bits of lean meat or fresh veggies or fruit, like carrots and apples.

2. Ban the beverages

Fifi and Fluffy will want to share Grandma’s eggnog, but don’t let them. Dairy products potentiate diarrhea. “The exception is cottage cheese, which we recommend for an upset stomach,” says Dr. Butts. “An occasional small scoop of vanilla ice cream might also be okay.”

When the poker game is in full swing and the Miller Lite is making the rounds, Lester might act like he wants a sip. Not a good idea. Even though your companion may try to tell you otherwise, alcohol is an absolute no-no for dogs and cats. Don’t let him have any beer, wine or liquor. The same applies to pop. Whatever time of year, pure filtered water is the best possible beverage for your animal.

3. Don’t ham it up

Heidi, a rambunctious Pomeranian, is used to eating anything that falls within her range – that is, any part of the 2,500 square feet of floor space in the McKinley family’s four-bedroom home. With three children in residence, Heidi knows just where and when she can scrounge a cookie, cracker or peanut butter sandwich.

Last Christmas, Heidi was given several ham biscuits as a holiday treat. For the next two days, she threw up on everything, from Dad’s recliner to the Persian rug in the living room. She was dehydrated and lethargic when she made her visit to the local animal hospital. Her family cancelled their three-day ski trip to Colorado and spent $1,200 on her vet bill. Heidi spent New Year’s hooked to an IV.

Was the ham biscuit worth it? Ask Heidi, and she’ll tell you she’d eat more if given half a chance. Ham is a popular holiday meat, but it’s very rich and difficult for many animals to digest, so ignore the begging.

4. Holiday leftovers

Giving Spike a five-course dinner of leftovers, complete with gravy, fat trimmings and a slice of Mom’s pecan pie, will not make him a happy camper. Suddenly introducing a lot of rich food to his diet is a good way to invite indigestion, vomiting and diarrhea. If you feed your animal leftover bean casserole, you will probably see it again – on your sofa or carpet.

“There are a lot of foods harmful to pets,” Dr. Butts says. “Undercooked red kidney beans can cause intense abdominal pain and diarrhea. Onions can cause anemia. Spinach, beets, rhubarb and potato peels are also on the list of bad foods for pets, as well as grapes and raisins.”

It’s okay to give your animal some leftovers, but stick to lean meat and veggies such as broccoli or carrots, and never give him cooked bones. A bit of gristle is okay, but don’t feed him fat trimmings or gravy.

After carving the holiday turkey, dispose of bones in a tightly wrapped box or bag. Do the same with all plastic and aluminum foil wrappings. Make sure the garbage container has a secure lid. Remember that dogs and cats have a much stronger sense of smell than we do. They’re notorious for finding and scarfing down tasty garbage wrapped in cellophane or foil.

5. Watch the decorations

As most animal lovers know, dogs and cats often ingest things that we would consider inedible. That includes holiday decorations. Morgan Maxwell is an indoor Persian cat who one year found the Christmas tree just too tempting.

Among the branches hung glass balls that pinged as he swatted at them. As the holidays progressed, Morgan learned that if he jumped from couch to tree and hung on for a minute or two as it swayed, he could make numerous decorations fall to the floor, where he would then chase them from room to room. If he did the jump just right, the entire tree would come crashing to the floor.

As if this wasn’t enough to satisfy Morgan’s never-ending need for amusement, he soon discovered the tinsel that also hung from the tree. He ate about two pounds of it before a family member caught him in the act. He was taken to the vet straightaway. Morgan lived, though the surgery needed to remove the tinsel cost his family $700. If possible, keep your animal away from the Christmas tree. If this isn’t possible, stick to unbreakable ornaments and avoid the tinsel.

Poinsettias are another holiday favorite that dogs and cats might like to nibble on. Sources disagree on how deadly this plant may be if ingested, but it’s best not to take any chances. Other poisonous plants include holly and mistletoe. Either don’t bring them into the house, or keep them well out of your companion’s reach. Check the floor regularly for fallen leaves or berries.

Keep the joy in the season by following these suggestions, and the furry members of your family will make it safely into the New Year!