While we're busy decking the halls and roasting chestnuts, it's important to be mindful that the holiday season can present a lot of hazards for our pets. With visitors coming and going, parties, food, drink, and decorations, there's plenty that can be overwhelming or downright dangerous for our dogs and cats. We are here to help you pet-proof your celebrations to prevent any mishaps from putting a damper on your holiday season. Here are our top 7 tips for having a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season with your four-legged family members.   

1. Tree safety

If you’re putting up a tree (real or artificial) in the house, be sure to anchor it securely so it cannot fall or be knocked over by an energetic pup or kitty. Adventurous cats may view your Christmas tree as a new playground to climb and jump on. Supervise pets when they’re near the tree, or block them from the room.   

If you choose a real tree, there are a few additional safety tips to keep in mind. Pine needles can be very dangerous if swallowed by your furry family members, as their sharp points have the ability to cause internal punctures. It’s also important to prevent pets from drinking the tree’s water. Tree water can contain fertilizers and tree preservatives that will cause an upset stomach, and because the water sits stagnant in the tree stand, it can breed bacteria that will make your pet sick if they drink it.   

2. Ornaments and decor

If you do have a tree for the holiday season, we can bet you’re not going to leave it plain and bare! As you’re decorating, be mindful of what you hang on the branches in reach of curious paws and mouths. Tinsel, shiny ornaments, and lights can be very tempting for our pets, who may view them as fun toys to play with (particularly cats, as decorations like tinsel often resemble common cat toys).    

Keep pets away from these common ornament hazards, or skip these types of tree decorations entirely:   

  • Tinsel: Ingesting tinsel or ribbon is very dangerous for cats and dogs, as it can become wrapped around the intestines and require emergency medical attention. 
  • Glass and crystal ornaments: These present a risk of injury if they are knocked over and broken. Either hang them well out of reach, or leave them off the tree.
  • Homemade salt ornaments: It can be a fun DIY craft to make ornaments out of salt dough, but these are extremely dangerous if eaten by pets. The high amount of salt content suddenly entering their system can cause a serious health emergency.
  • Small ornaments: With both children and pets, any ornaments that are small enough to be swallowed present a choking hazard!
  • Food-based ornaments: Some traditions include hanging dried herbs, fruits, or strings of popcorn on a tree. Be aware that anything made with food is likely to smell very tempting to your pets. Eating these things can cause stomach upset, vomiting, or diarrhea.

3. Presents and gift wrapping

It’s equally important to think about what we place underneath the tree! Presents left on the ground are in perfect reach of pets large and small. And they sit in tantalizing packaging with shiny wrapping, fun bows and ribbons, or tissue paper that crinkles delightfully – all of which present choking hazards, and if swallowed, can cause intestinal issues and require a trip to the vet’s office. If your pets (particularly kitties!) find the presents too tempting to play with, consider storing them out of reach until it’s time to exchange gifts.   

Pay extra close attention to gifts that may contain food. Many pets will not hesitate to rip through (or eat through) the wrapping to get to a package of delicious snacks. Common holiday treats like boxes of chocolates, nuts, dried fruits, and candy can be toxic to our pets, causing health issues ranging from diarrhea to pancreatitis or other serious medical conditions. If a gift contains food, don’t store it underneath the tree.   

4. Holiday lights

‘Tis the season to be merry and bright – and that means electrical cords, batteries, and bulbs. When you’re decorating with holiday lights, place all cords out of the way or hidden from reach. Many pets, especially younger puppies or kittens, will find cords tempting to chew on! This is extremely dangerous and can cause burns or electrocution.   

Batteries are also highly dangerous if ingested. Chewing or swallowing a battery can cause a serious health issue, including burning the mouth, esophagus, or stomach. Small, round batteries can become easily lodged in the throat. So, deck the halls and string up those lights safely and out of reach of your pets!   

5. Fireplaces and candles

In the cold months, who doesn’t love to snuggle up by a fire or light a few candles for a cozy ambience? Stay warm and safe by practicing fire safety. Make sure your pet doesn't have access to a working fireplace; or if they do, be sure the fire is properly contained with a gate or blockade.   

If you enjoy lighting candles, use appropriate candle holders and always place candles on a stable surface (not the ground!). Never leave lit candles unattended. Pets can easily knock a candle over by accident, or brush past a table and cause it to fall. If you’re leaving the room, always put the flame out!   

6. Guests and parties

Hosting friends and loved ones is a lot of fun, but it can also be overwhelming – not only for us but also for our pets, who are used to their familiar routines (and people)! If you’ll be throwing a holiday party or hosting guests from out-of-town for the holidays, take some steps to consider your fur-baby’s comfort and stress levels.   

With guests coming and going during a party, watch for entryways and doors being opened and closed to ensure your pet doesn’t bolt and get lost. Always supervise small children around animals. Even a friendly and well-behaved pet may become stressed by unfamiliar people or activities. The best thing you can do to reduce stress for your fur-baby is to dedicate a quiet, safe space for them to retreat to while you are entertaining. A comfy crate or a spare room of the house works great for this. Give your pet something to occupy their mind and keep them busy with a fun food puzzle or a DIY enrichment toy.

7. Food safety

Mashed potatoes, pies, cookies, your aunt’s famous casserole… There is plenty for a foodie to be excited about during the holidays – and your fur-baby won’t want to be excluded from the feasting!   

As much as possible, avoid letting your pets eat any human food. If you must share some of the holiday feast with your furry family members, be very cautious about which human foods are safe for pets to eat. Keep in mind that our pets’ bodies don’t adjust to new food easily, so even a “safe” food can cause stomach upset if it’s something your pet doesn’t eat often. (Visit our Nutrition page to download our free guide to Human Foods Your Dog Can & Cannot Eat and other free nutrition resources!)   

The following foods are toxic to pets, and can cause a medical emergency if ingested:   

  • Chocolate
  • Many types of nuts (to stay on the safe side, we recommend avoiding all nuts for your fur-baby!)
  • Onions and onion powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Xylitol (also known as birch sugar) – this ingredient that can be found in cake, cookies, yogurts, chewing gum, and some types of peanut butter, among other things! Read your labels.
  • Alcohol

Even foods that aren’t considered “toxic” can still cause serious stomach upset or other health issues if eaten in large quantities. Foods high in salt, sugar, dairy, or very fatty (like turkey and ham) can all cause digestive issues, including vomiting and diarrhea. Never give pets leftover bones (chicken, turkey, ham, etc.), as they can splinter and cause injuries or blockages in the mouth, esophagus, or stomach.   

And of course, if you like to leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out on one very special night, be sure that they are out of reach of any pets!