November 17, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

The holidays can be rough on pets. During these busy times, owners may forget about pets' safety. Unfamiliar decorations and events may create dangerous situations for pets or cause unhealthy stresses.

"Always make time to take care of your pets and be aware of and deal with potentially toxic situations during the holidays, "said Roberta M. Dwyer, an associate professor of veterinary science with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "Be sure animals get supervised exercise and have ample food and water and clean housing areas. Keep the feeding and exercise routines on their regular schedules."

Dwyer reminded people to remember homeless animals during the holidays.

"Shelter animals always need food, toys and other supplies," she said. "Donating these items is an excellent way to teach and remind children about generosity toward others. However, the holidays are not the time to adopt pets, or bring new animals, into your household because of all the activities going on."

Many new and unusual things during the holidays can pique a pet's curiosity, including decorations, gifts, foods, winterizing items and guests at holiday events.

Pets may be tempted to take a bite from plant favorites like mistletoe, potted bulbs in the lily family, greens like balsam and pine, holly or poinsettias. These can cause such problems as vomiting, diarrhea, gastro-intestinal irritation and, in severe cases, kidney failure and death, depending on the amount ingested and the pet species.

Other holiday safety hazards for pets are tinsel on trees, styrofoam in ornaments or packaging, battery-operated items and plastic or glass from broken decorations.

Cats are particularly tempted to eat tinsel, which can cause choking and intestinal obstruction so avoid problems by not using it. Since ornaments may look like toys to a pet, keep them out of animals' reach. Bubbling lights, snow sprays and snow flock and Styrofoam can become pet safety hazards.

Extra cords and plugs of holiday lights may resemble chew toys so regularly watch for pets playing with electrical cords. You may want to put cords in plastic tubing or modify decorations so you can completely remove them.

It is a good idea to keep gifts inaccessible to pets and prevent animals from entering the gift-wrapping area. Pets eating string, yarn, thin ribbon and similar materials can have severe complications that may require surgery.

Do not give pet gifts or goodies made with small parts or those constructed of soft materials the animals can chew up and swallow. Choose nylon-type chews that do not splinter, rather than hard plastic dog bones. Nylon also lasts longer.

"Ask guests not to feed your pets human food because traditional fares such as fatty meats, gravies, poultry skin, bones, chocolate and alcohol can cause toxic reactions," Dwyer said. "Instead, provide a favorite animal treat for pet-loving guests at holiday parties. Remind children not to share candy with the family pet and remember that candy wrappers and pieces of aluminum foil can choke pets."

She advised pet owners to have their own veterinarian's telephone number readily available. Another important pet emergency telephone number is the Animal Poison Control Center for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This number is 1-888-426-4435.

Holiday guests and other activities can be stressful and even frightening to pets, possibly triggering illness or intestinal upset. Maintain the regular exercise and feeding routine and do not change pets' diets during the holidays. Provide pets a safe retreat in the home. Stressed animals may require more water so keep a fresh supply available for them to drink. Also, be sure pets are wearing current identification should they escape when guests come in and go out the door.

Always keep antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid and rock salt made of calcium chloride out of a pet's reach. Immediately take a pet to a veterinarian if the animal takes even a lick of antifreeze or windshield-wiper fluid containing any type of antifreeze.

Your county Extension office has more information on holiday safety and cold weather protection for pets.


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736, ext. 257
Source: Roberta Dwyer 859-257-4757, ext. 81122