Pets and kids are on the same wavelength when it comes to being extra-curious about holiday lights, decorations, wrapped presents and fluffy bows: More than anything, the element of something new in the house is enough to get them interested. Add the fact that holiday decorations are shiny and bright, and you could have trouble on your hands.
When it comes to decorations, think like your pet. As silly as this may sound (and look), get down on your hands and knees and do some exploring, just as if you were your cat or dog -- anything that is within reach needs to be removed. Put tree decorations up higher. Stack presents on a side table next to the tree or use plain brown paper and no bows. Skip the tinsel. Make sure your Christmas lights are in good working order. Securely fasten stockings on the mantel.
Don't forget that children's toys can also be a huge hazard for pets during the holiday season -- clean up small pieces of tape from unwrapping presents and make sure little toys are picked up promptly. The same tiny toys that shouldn't be left out for a baby should also be put away for the safety of your pets.
We realize that it's hard to resist when your sweet pup is looking up at you with those begging eyes, wishing for a plate of his own for the holidays. While dishing up some holiday dinner leftovers for your pet isn't a complete crime, there are a few rules of thumb to follow.
Bones that have been cooked are dangerous for dogs -- not just chicken bones, as you may have heard. Cooking bones makes them brittle, which means it's more likely that they can splinter when your pup is chewing on them and choke on the pieces. Chocolate is another hazardous food for pets and should not just be kept off their plates, but out of reach completely. Last, remember that pets can have food allergies too -- if you serve your pooch a plate and then notice him acting oddly -- scratching excessively, swollen tongue, throwing-up -- call your vet right away.
If you have a kitty who loves to chew on plants, you're going to want to keep the festive greens out of your home this holiday season -- unfortunately, most of the holiday favorites are poisonous to animals, including poinsettia, mistletoe and holly. Christmas trees are generally safe for pets. Although your dog or cat may get a tummyache from digesting too many pine needles, they are not poisonous.
If you think your pet has eaten something poisonous -- plant or otherwise -- call the Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435. They are staffed with experts who can walk you through the steps to helping your sick pet before rushing off to the vet.
A lesser-known cause of animal injury during the holiday season is fire. Whether it's a roaring fire in your fireplace or pretty decorative candles setting the holiday mood at your home, fire is dangerous for pets and you need to be extra-cautious during the holiday season.
Make sure that your fireplace has a sturdy screen to keep pets out, and that pets who love to take a nap in front of the warm fire stay far enough away to be safe. Never leave your home with a fire still burning in the fireplace and your pet wandering around.
Candles are a favorite of cats -- they love batting the dancing flames with their paws and although they are typically quick, it's easy for them to knock over a candle or even catch their long whiskers on fire. Try going flameless with your holiday candles this year -- they create the same gorgeous ambiance, but without the danger of an open flame.
Depending on where you live, cold weather and the holiday season could go hand-in-hand, and keeping your pet protected from the elements needs to be a priority. If you have a pet who stays outdoors most of the time, consider creating a space where they can get out of the cold -- whether that be a cozy place in your garage or laundry room or an insulated dog house outside.
If your pet will mostly see the chilly weather on walks this holiday season, invest in the gear to keep them warm and safe. Most of the winter gear made for owners is also available in pet versions -- from warm booties for cold paws to traction boots that will give them a grip on slippery sidewalks and coats to keep their fur dry in the snow and rain.
Be sure to always have the emergency number for your veterinarian posted somewhere handy or stored in your cell phone, just in case you need it for your pet this holiday season. Most cities also have an after-hours or weekend vet clinic available as well.
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