Holiday tips for pet owners

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — While Christmas and the other winter holidays may seem like the happiest time of the year, certain festive traditions and activities could turn into a source of stress for pet owners.

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News 2 turned to VCA Animal Hospitals and to put together a list of potential safety hazards and health risks the Christmas season could pose to your pets.

Travel troubles

If you plan on taking your furry friend along during your grand holiday adventure, there are several items you need to add to your to-do list to make sure everyone enjoys their Christmas:

Microchip Check

Make sure the details on your pet’s microchip — which you are strongly encouraged to provide to your pet — are up to date and their identification tag and collar clearly display your contact information.

Don’t Forget!

Don’t forget to pack medications, vaccine cards, microchip details, calming aids, toys, food, blankets, and anything else that will help make your pet’s journey pleasant.

Do Your Research

Research any travel requirements for your animal in advance:

  • Health certificates may be required in other states or countries you plan on visiting.
  • Emotional support animals need an ESA Travel Letter — which can be issued by a licensed mental health professional — in order to sit with you on various airlines.
  • Service animals must have updated licenses and clear tags or vests to signal that they’re on duty.
  • Speak with your vet about updating your pet’s vaccines before traveling or checking them into a pet-friendly hotel.
  • Do your homework with the airline if you plan on flying with a cat or dog.

Crate Training

Take the time to crate-train your cat or counter-condition your dog before taking them on their first big holiday trip.

Once you start traveling, you can help your pet feel less anxious by lining their carrier with a blanket or shirt that smells like home, or letting them lay on their favorite bed; speaking calmly; keeping the car cool and quiet, maybe with some soft classical music; offering them special trip toys so they learn to associate travel with fun; or asking your vet about other remedies.

Comfort Care

Keep your pet secured and comfortable during transit, whether that’s with a harness, a seatbelt, or a travel carrier. You should also keep them clear of any airbags in vehicles.

To reduce motion sickness for a cat or a dog, withhold food from them for 12 hours, but always offer access to fresh water. An empty stomach will not only reduce nausea, but also the need for unwelcome bathroom breaks.

Don’t Leave Pets in Cars

Never leave your pet alone in a vehicle, even for short periods and/or with lowered windows. Instead, bring a human travel companion who can help with the pet care, or visit some pet-friendly spots throughout your road trip.

If your animal is staying home for the holiday, don’t forget to give them an ample water supply and use a slow feeder to space out their meals. You can also help them battle their boredom with some new toys or puzzle games.

However, you need to make sure your pet isn’t alone for extended periods. Even if they’re an independent cat, you should still ask someone to feed and check in on them.

Dangerous decorations

(Getty Images)

Between the holiday greenery and the delicate décor, your choice of holiday decorations may end up being dangerous for your pets.

The ASPCA reportedly receives more than 250,000 cases of potential animal poisonings per year, with 40{7b6cc35713332e03d34197859d8d439e4802eb556451407ffda280a51e3c41ac} of those calls involving plants.

For example, seasonal plants—like mistletoe, holly, lilies, azaleas, evergreens, and poinsettias—are all toxic to animals, who may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes even cardiovascular issues by eating such holiday greenery:


Most of us hang mistletoe high enough that it is out of our pet’s reach, but don’t forget that it can also be poisonous if ingested. While you may see mild signs of gastrointestinal irritation in your pet, consuming large amounts could lead to collapse, low blood pressure, difficulty walking, seizures, or even death.


Christmas or English holly’s spiky leaves and potentially toxic substances can lead to severe gastrointestinal upset. Most pets who ingest holly smack their lips, drool, and shake their head excessively due to irritation from the leaves.


Just one or two bites of lilies, which are commonly used by florists, can cause acute kidney failure in cats. In fact, even the pollen and the water the plant is in are poisonous, so make sure to check any bouquets brought into the house by holiday guests for peace lilies, Christmas lilies or other plants belonging to this family.

Japanese Yew

While Japanese Yew has become a popular addition to holiday wreaths, all parts of this plant—except for the fleshy part of the red berries—contain toxins that target the heart. If your pet consumes any part of this evergreen, they can experience an upset stomach, an abnormal heart rate, low blood pressure, and possibly a coma or death.


Poinsettias may lead to gastrointestinal issues, like vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, poinsettia sap can cause irritation to the mouth or stomach of the cat or dog who chews on the leaves or stem. However, the flower isn’t specifically toxic.

If your home is filled with furry friends, experts recommend artificial plants as the safest option when it comes to holiday décor. However, there are also plenty of pet-friendly plants out there.


Meanwhile, potpourri—whether it’s in liquid form or dry form—and candles can also pose risks for pets:

  • Heating your scented oils in a simmer pot can cause serious harm to a cat, with even a few licks able to cause severe chemical burns, fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. While dogs are not as sensitive to such items, you are still encouraged to scent your home with a non-toxic candle, diffuser, or plug-in air freshener dispenser kept safely out of your pet’s reach.
  • Dry potpourri may cause chemical burns in a pet’s mouth, potential foreign bodies, and gastrointestinal issues, but it depends on the size of the animal and the amount of potpourri they ingested.
  • Candles are often scented with oils. However, the bigger concern when it comes to ingestion is the upset stomach and the potential for obstruction, which may require surgical removal. On top of that, pets could knock candles over or burn themselves, which is why you should use battery-powered candles instead.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees, as well as the sparkling lights, glittering tinsel, and beautiful ornaments that adorn them.

Whether you have a dog or a cat, your Christmas tree is likely going to attract their attention.

If a tree is not anchored, it could fall onto and injure an animal, so make sure to secure it to a wall or ceiling and then block it off with a playpen, baby gate, or another barrier.

While a Christmas tree isn’t toxic, animals don’t digest the needles well. In addition, the tree water could contain bacteria, mold, or fertilizer that might lead to health issues in a pet, so cover the tree stand with aluminum foil to discourage drinking from it.

Lights and cords

Some animals like chomping on electrical cords from sparkling tree lights, or even biting the lights themselves, but that can lead to electrical burns on the mouth and tongue, along with other complications from electrocution. Old-fashioned bubble lights may also contain poisonous chemicals like methylene chloride, which could result in irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, depression, or even aspiration pneumonia.

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Pet owners should hang tree lights on high branches, protect electrical cords with cord covers or double-sided tape, and keep cords out of sight where possible.

In addition, you should keep batteries—whether they fuel the holiday decorations or power the Christmas presents—out of a pet’s reach. Batteries may contain zinc, which can cause pancreatitis if consumed by an animal.


Cats are especially drawn to string-like tinsel, ribbon, or twine, but such items can get lodged in a pet’s digestive tract, lead to vomiting and severe dehydration, and cause a linear foreign body to develop. Not only does treating this condition require expensive and invasive surgery, but in severe cases, serious complications can occur.


Ornaments may seem very tempting to pets, but they still pose multiple dangers pet owners need to keep in mind.

If a glass ornament breaks while your pet is playing with it, the shards can cut their skin and mouth, as well as tear into their gastrointestinal tract.

Homemade ornaments may also pose a risk to your pet. For example, ornament dough is often high in salt, which may lead to electrolyte abnormalities and seizures.

In order to protect your pet, you are encouraged to hang any breakable ornaments high on the tree—so your pet won’t think they’re meant for them—or use pet-safe, non-toxic, and non-edible ornaments instead.

Not-so-tasty Treats


The holiday season always brings a delightful and delicious array of festive drinks, chocolate confections, and other rich and fattening foods. However, it can be quite dangerous to share these treats with your furry friends.

In fact, foods make up more than 20{7b6cc35713332e03d34197859d8d439e4802eb556451407ffda280a51e3c41ac} of all poison-related calls to the ASPCA, according to

Experts said the following foods and drinks can be problematic—or even poisonous—for pets:

What to Avoid

  • Foods that contain grapes, raisins, and currants — such as fruitcakes, breads, and cookies — can cause kidney failure in dogs.
  • Keep alcoholic drinks away from your pet, as well as other foods that contain alcohol, such as rum-soaked cake, some syrups, eggnog, holiday breads, and raw dough.
  • Allium vegetables, including garlic, onions, chives, and leeks, are commonly used in holiday dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole, but they are toxic for cats and dogs. In fact, continuous or high doses of allium vegetables over time can lead to oxidative damage of the red blood cells, gastrointestinal distress, and anemia.
  • Ham and other sodium-rich meats can increase your pet’s blood pressure.
  • Fatty foods — such as turkey skin, dark turkey meat, butter, meat drippings, and gravy — are hard for pets to digest. In addition, such food can lead to pancreatitis — a condition in which a pet’s pancreas becomes swollen and inflamed and may require hospitalization — causing abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • A variety of foods can pose a choking hazard to animals. This includes hard candy, like candy canes, as well as turkey and chicken bones. Furthermore, if such items splinter when ingested, they may also cause tears in the digestive tract. 
  • Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine that’s highly toxic to cats and dogs. Ingesting small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but ingesting large amounts can lead to seizures and heart arrhythmias.
  • Many sugar-free gums, candies, baked goods, peanut butters, and puddings contain xylitol, a natural sweetener that is toxic to pets. It can cause an animal’s blood sugar to drop to life-threatening levels, leading to seizures and even liver failure.
  • Nutmeg is toxic for pets, with high doses able to cause hallucinations, confusion, raised heart rate, high blood pressure, dry mouth, abdominal pain, and possibly seizures.

In addition to moving table scraps and other dangerous foods and drinks out of your pet’s reach, you are encouraged to secure trash bins to discourage foraging.

You can also help protect your furry friend by keeping them comfortably confined in a bedroom or in a crate during holiday dinner parties.

If you suspect your pet ate something toxic, don’t panic. Instead, try to figure out what they ate. After that, contact your veterinarian, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 so they can be treated as soon as possible.

Social Anxiety

If you’re planning to host a party this winter, don’t forget to consider your furry friend’s feelings, especially if they’re going to be in a crowded room, if they’re not used to noisy environments, or if there will be young guests who don’t know how to treat pets.

Since pet owners are responsible for protecting their animals from overstimulating and intimidating scenarios, here is some advice for helping a socially anxious pet: 

  • Take a break from the party preparations to spend some quality time with your furry friend. For instance, taking your dog for a walk or playing with your pet will wear them out before your guests arrive.
  • Provide a calm, quiet space for your pet to escape during the party, such as your bedroom or bathroom, with access to food and water, as well as their favorite toy to distract them. Also, if you plan on closing your pet in the space for the duration of your holiday dinner, don’t forget to give them a litter box or pee pad so you can avoid any carpet stains.
  • When facing overwhelming situations, distressed pets may run away or hide, so you should secure any exits and watch out for possible escape routes. After all, it’s better to play it safe rather than spend the holiday walking around in sub-freezing temperatures while searching for a lost animal. 
  • Use calming aids to help your pet relax, such as a calm vest, rescue remedy, pheromone spray or collars, or whatever your veterinarian suggests. 
  • If you pet is regularly triggered and anxious by various situations, ask your vet for anti-anxiety medication. 
  • Prepare your pet for social events when they’re young through socialization training, regular visits to parks or doggy daycares, and exposure to people in a number of settings.

Winter Weather

(Source: Adobe Stock)

Even after the holidays are over, the winter season has only just begun, which brings its own set of health and safety hazards for pets.

There are numerous formulations of ice-melting compounds available for use around entryways and sidewalks, many of which are salt (sodium) based. Small exposures usually result in upset stomachs and potential irritation to the skin and paws. However, if ingested in large amounts, electrolyte abnormalities may occur, leading to seizures and brain damage.

Meanwhile, exposure to antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is more likely during the winter months than at other times of the year. Just a few laps of antifreeze can potentially be fatal for cats and small dogs.

Not only can this chemical be discovered in cars and RVs, but it is also used to winterize plumbing, so don’t let your dog drink from a toilet in a cabin that is not frequently used during the wintertime.

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There are also decorative holiday items that may contain small amounts of antifreeze. This includes imported snow globes, so if a snow globe falls off the table, cracks open, and your pet then licks up the contents of the snow globe, they may be at risk of being poisoned.

“Signs of early poisoning include acting drunk or uncoordinated, excessive thirst, and lethargy. While signs may seem to improve after eight to twelve hours, internal damage is actually worsening. Crystals develop in the kidneys during this time, resulting in acute kidney failure. Immediate treatment with an antidote (fomepizole or ethanol) is vital,” VCA Animal Hospitals explained. “Because the antidote has the best chance of success if given within the first 3 hours for cats and 8-12 hours for dogs, it is imperative that you seek veterinary care immediately for blood testing to diagnose antifreeze poisoning. These tests include measuring ethylene glycol concentrations in the blood, monitoring the acidity of the blood, and examining the urine for crystals.”

If you suspect your pet ate something toxic, don’t panic. Instead, try to figure out what they ate. After that, contact your veterinarian, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 so they can be treated as soon as possible.

The Nashville Humane Association shared a few extra tips from the ASPCA about cold weather concerns involving pets.

  • If you see an animal out in the cold without proper shelter are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and death, so make sure to contact your local law enforcement and share as many details about the animal’s circumstances as possible.
  • Check under the hood of your vehicle before starting the engine because stray and feral cats sometimes sleep there to stay warm. Not doing so could result in the car’s fan belt injuring or killing the cat when the motor starts.
  • You can protect your pet’s paws against salt crystals, anti-freeze, and ice-melting chemical agents by keeping their paws moisturized, adding petroleum jelly to their paw pads before going outside, or using pet booties.
  • Winter coats help keep pets warm this time of year, so consider getting a coat or sweater for shorthaired breeds that covers them from the base of the tail to the belly. Also, don’t shave your dog during the winter.
  • Reduce the number of times you bathe your pet during cold spells. Not only can drying take too long, but washing them too much can decrease their natural oils and increase dry, flaky skin.