When my friend Dusty received a Christmas arrangement with lilies in it, she knew that they were toxic to cats, but until she could put them somewhere safe she set them on the kitchen counter briefly, sure that the foster kitten she was caring for was too small to jump that high. She was wrong. The next thing she knew, Oliver was nibbling on the flowers.
It was an expensive mistake. Oliver was hooked up to IV fluids at the veterinary hospital for 72 hours until to flush his kidneys of the toxins.
Christmas trees, brightly wrapped packages, decorations such as stockings and tinsel and pretty plants look like toys or tasty treats to cats and dogs, and their interactions with them can be the stuff of memories. Who doesn’t remember the time Socks the kitten fell into the stocking hanging from the mantel or Rex the Great Dane knocked over the just-decorated 9-foot blue spruce?
While toxic plants, an abundance of chocolate and rich foods, and hordes of people trooping in and out of the house can be a recipe for disaster or at the very least occasion for bad behavior on the part of your pet, you can have chaos-free holidays in a pet-friendly household with these tips.
Keep toxic plants out of reach. Besides lilies, other plants that can make your pet’s holiday not so jolly include holly, ivy and mistletoe. They can cause swollen mouths, difficulty breathing, vomiting, abdominal pain and heart and respiratory problems, to name just a few of their side effects. Poinsettias have a reputation for being toxic, but their main effect is to irritate the skin, most commonly the membranes in the mouth, causing drooling. That doesn't mean it's OK for your dog or cat to eat them, though. Use artificial ones instead.
Don't string your pet along. Was your Christmas ham wrapped in twine? Your cat will snag it off the counter and eat it. Those packages beneath the tree tied up with ribbon or yarn? Your kitten or puppy will play with, chew and swallow anything stringlike. Cats in particular have spiky tongues, so they can't spit things out. And once string or tinsel is down the throat, it's out of your hands, so to speak. Don't try to pull yarn, string or tinsel out of their mouths—or rear end. You could severely damage their insides. Take them to the veterinarian immediately for safe removal. Better yet, avoid a trip to the emergency room by placing all of these things out of reach.
Decorate in a pet-friendly manner. Trim your tree with beautiful, nontoxic, unbreakable objects. Substitute baby's breath for tinsel—which can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed—and pretty bows for glass ornaments.
Apply Bitter Apple spray to Christmas lights so pets won’t be tempted to bite bulbs.
Go easy with the holiday potpourri and candles. The aroma can be overwhelming and even stressful for scent-sensitive dogs and cats.
Use fishing line to anchor your tree to the wall or ceiling.
Be a thoughtful guest. If you are visiting, know the host's rules for pets and follow them. No giving treats from the table or offering fatty foods that could cause stomach upset.
“People may have been trying to teach good habits for months and months, and you can destroy all that in a couple of days,” says animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, PhD (dogsbestfriendtraining.com), author of For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend.
Give your pet a safe room where he can retreat when things get too crowded or noisy.
If you are having a party or have visitors going in and out of the house, set up a bedroom, home office or other area where your cat or dog can stay comfortably for long periods.
“If your cat never goes in the garage, that won't be a great place to confine her,” says cat behavior consultant Dilara Parry.
Shy animals may prefer to stay in their safe rooms, but dogs and cats that are social butterflies can benefit from a break. Take the dog for a walk and give the cat a few minutes of playtime with a fishing-pole toy. And don’t forget to hand out a few treats to sweeten their incarceration.
The best way to enjoy the holidays? Pet-proof your decor, then relax.