The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 7, 2013

Keep pets safe for holidays

By Jessica Nickels, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

— The ornaments are coming out of storage. Christmas carols are wafting through the house. The smell of the live Christmas tree fills the air.

The holidays bring out much anticipated excitement for everyone in the household. Unfortunately, all of the merriment may be a health risk for your pets.

Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of continuing education, extension and community engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University, said there are a number of things pet owners need to keep in mind in order to help assure a safe holiday for the furry members of your family.

“It can be a lot of fun to get ready for the holidays, but all of the new things now in your home can be of great interest to your pets. Ribbons, Christmas trees, strings of lights, ornaments, tinsel, candles and holidays plants such as mistletoe and poinsettias can pose a threat to your animals,” Giedt said. “You can still put these things out for the holidays, simply use caution, just as you would when baby-proofing a home.”

For many families, the Christmas tree is the center piece of holiday décor. It is important to keep your pet from chewing on a live or artificial tree because the needles are sharp and can cause irritation in the pet’s mouth. The needles also can disrupt the digestive system.

It is not just the needles that can cause problems. The water in the tree stand can contain toxic chemicals such as fertilizers, insecticides and flame retardants that were used on the tree prior to harvest. Use a tree skirt to help keep your pets away from the tree stand.

The bright lights and shiny ornaments also can be hazardous to your pet’s health. Inquisitive pets can pull the light strings off the tree and become entangled in the wires. Another hazard is a pet who chews on the wires. This can result in problems ranging from burned mouths to death by electrocution.

“If your furry friend won’t leave your tree alone, consider using some sort of pet barricade or gate to block access,” she said. “You may even consider putting the tree in a child’s playpen. Something else you can want to think about is actually securing the tree to the wall. If your pet would happen to jump on the tree, this would prevent it from falling over.”

While festive ribbons and bows make beautiful presents under the tree, they definitely can pose a problem for pets. Curious pets may eat the package decorations, which can cause an intestinal obstruction that may require surgery to remove.

Be sure to keep candles and potpourri pots up high and out of reach of pets.

It is not just holiday decorations that can cause health risks for pets during the holidays. Many holiday foods can be dangerous, as well.

“Chocolate, especially dark or baking chocolate, can be dangerous, or even deadly, for your pets,” Giedt said. “Chocolate contains toxins that cause issues ranging from mild stomach upset to seizures and death. Other foods to avoid include grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts. In addition, rich fatty foods can cause your pet mild stomach irritation to a severe condition known as pancreatitis. This often requires hospitalization and can cause death.”

For families who like to include their pets in gift giving, make sure the gifts are appropriate for the animal. Avoid toys with squeakers or bells inside because some pets will tear the toy apart and could easily ingest these tiny parts. Again, this could cause an intestinal obstruction.

“Our pets are such a big part of our families and it’s understandable wanting to include them in all aspects of your holiday celebration,” Giedt said. “However, just as you take precautions with small children in potentially dangerous settings, it’s imperative you do the same for your pets.”



Nickels, MS, RD/LD, is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Garfield County.