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Here’s how to keep pets safe during the holidays

(Susan Kregar Photo)

We generally stick to home topics, but to be every Arizona homeowner’s best friend, occasionally we address pet issues. Sixty-eight percent of U.S. households have pets, according to the American Pet Products Association.

The holidays are a festive, joyous and exciting time of year. For our pets, the holidays can be stressful and scary. Here are some tips to keep them happy and healthy during the holiday season.

Disastrous Decorations

Holiday plants

Beautiful as they are, lilies, mistletoe, Christmas cacti, holly berries and poinsettias are poisonous to cats. Plants with pine needles can puncture your pet’s intestines or stomach if ingested. Consider nontoxic, artificial renditions that can be reused.

Holiday decorations

When putting up the tree, leave it without decorations for a few days. Give your pets a chance to get used to it. Secure it to an immovable surface to keep it from toppling over. Place soft, pet-friendly ornaments on the bottom branches. Christmas tree water can be poisonous because of preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other additives used to keep the water fresh. Use a covered tree water dish for their safety.

Emma Crawford, donor relations and program coordinator at The Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter & Sanctuary, cautions us about glass bulbs and electrical cords. “Tiny pieces of glass can embed themselves in your pet’s toes,” she said.

“Keep electrical cords out of reach from curious mouths. Consider an “upside-down” tree that is attached to the ceiling.”

Tinsel and trim

A big no-no! While not poisonous, they are extremely dangerous to animals. If ingested, tinsel and trim can loop around their intestines. The treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery.

Open flames

Never leave menorahs or candelabras unattended. Make sure candles have burned out before going to bed. Rambunctious pets can knock them over, causing a fire and/or burning themselves.

Gift wrap

“My cats love wrapping paper, gift bags and tissue paper. I let them play with them supervised,” said Crawford. “Bows and ribbon can get caught in your pet’s digestive tract.”

(Shutterstock Photo)

Guest overload

Pets can become stressed from the overload of new sights, sounds and disrupted routines. They may become frightened or aggressive and try to escape. Reduce your pet’s stress level with these simple tricks.

Safe room

Crawford suggests securing them in a closed room with food, water, toys, a comfy bed and a litter box. Inform guests there are pets and tell them not to enter the safe room (put a sign on the door). Appoint an adult whom you trust and knows your pets to act as deputy guardian. This will ensure your pets stay inside and remain comfortable in their safe space.

Before the festivities begin, spend time with your pets. After the guests depart, play and reassure them with snuggles. After play and treats, you will both be ready for bed.

Animals as gifts

It may seem like a wonderful idea to gift an animal. In actuality, it does not work out well, particularly for the animal.

“The Hermitage, and many shelters like us, do not recommend or allow purchasing/adopting a pet on behalf of someone as a gift,” said Crawford. “Is that person actually ready to adopt, and would this animal really be a good fit for them?”

Additionally, most shelters require permission from landlords as well as other documentation before permitting an adoption.

Consider purchasing an “adoption kit” and offering to pay the adoption fee instead. Create a kit with dishes, food, treats, toys, a bed and pan/litter (for cats). Allowing the recipient to pick out their companion is a gift itself. 

Harmful foods

(Shutterstock Photo)

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends the following foods and ingredients should NEVER be given to your pets:


Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death. NEVER give animals alcohol.


Primarily a problem for birds, rabbits, donkeys, horses, sheep and goats. Causes cardiovascular damage and death in birds. Other animals’ heads and necks may swell.

Chocolate, coffee and caffeine

Can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures, and even death. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is.


Stems, leaves, peels, fruit and seeds of citrus plants contain varying amounts of citric acid that can cause irritation and even central nervous system depression if ingested in significant amounts.

Coconut and coconut oil

The flesh and milk of fresh coconuts contain oils that may cause stomach upset, loose stools or diarrhea.

Grapes and raisins

Can cause kidney failure. Avoid feeding grapes and raisins to dogs.

Macadamia nuts

Weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia can occur in dogs.

Milk and dairy

As much as cats love it, milk and other dairy-based products cause diarrhea or other digestive upset.


Nuts contain high amounts of oils and fats that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis.

Onions, garlic and chives

Can cause gastrointestinal irritation and lead to red blood cell damage. Cats are more susceptible. Dogs are at risk if a large enough amount is consumed.

Raw/undercooked meat, eggs and bones

Salmonella and E. coli can be present. Raw eggs can lead to skin and coat problems. Raw bones might cause choking or grave injury should they splinter, lodge or puncture your pet’s digestive tract.

Salt and salty snack foods

Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning. Salty foods cause vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death.


This sweetener can cause insulin release, which can lead to liver failure. Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting lethargy, and loss of coordination. Signs can progress to seizures.

Yeast dough

Can cause gas to accumulate in the digestive system. This can be painful and cause the stomach to bloat and twist, becoming a life-threatening emergency. Yeast produces ethanol. A dog ingesting raw bread dough can become drunk (see alcohol).

If you suspect your pet has eaten any of these foods, note the amount ingested and contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 right away.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. We want our pets to be healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 7 to 11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3 FM. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Rosie on the House

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