Checklist for the sometimes naughty trying to be nice!

RemiBy Jo Marshall, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist at Pet Poison Helpline®

The Holiday season is upon us and with that, I have started my annual decking the halls for our holiday festivities. Having a rather rambunctious puppy this year, and knowing that she will put anything and everything in her mouth for a quick game of chase, I have decided to make a few alterations in our decorations and how we are decorating to keep things safe for Remi! So here is my checklist for a pet friendly holiday in our home.

First off, there is the tree! Yep, she would chew the branches and needles, remove the ornaments and likely chew on the light cords and garlands.  Some of the ornaments that are on our tree are the homemade type that my kids made while in grade school. They are the salt dough ornaments that can result in salt toxicity when ingested by dogs.  I would feel bad to lose those mementos of their grade school years but I would also hate having a seriously ill dog hospitalized over the holidays! Even though the vast majority of our ornaments are non-toxic, they can result in injury to the dog’s mouth or gastrointestinal tract or worse, an obstruction!   So this year it is either put the tree up in a safe place or just not have a tree. With 2 kids in the household, not having a tree is not an option. We choose to invest  in a long baby gate that will now divide our living room and dining room and the tree will be in the living room making it an off-limits area for the puppy.  I was pleasantly surprise that I could find a gate system that would go across that large of an opening. Amazingly, you can put a gate almost anywhere now; it is not just a doorway thing any longer.  Tree hazards eliminated – check!

On to gifts! The gate took care of a lot of these issues for us as well. Any gifts will go under the tree and that area is now off-limits to our little bouncing  bundle of joy, but I do want to say that many of the calls that I take at PPH involve wrapped gifts that are placed under the tree. Those gifts that are of the food persuasion are quickly sniffed out by dogs and are frequently the target of marauding! The top gifts being opened  by the family pet  include chocolates, candies, fruitcakes, and many of the home baked goodies being shared during the holidays.  Obviously, chocolate is a concern and can result in gastrointestinal distress, increased heart-rate, agitation and hyperactivity and even potentially seizures with high doses.  Fruitcake can contain alcohol and even worse, raisins or currents.  I am surprised that many pet owners are still unaware of the dangers of raisins, grapes and currents in dogs and the resulting potential risk of acute renal failure with even small ingestions. Baked goods can contain chocolates, raisins, or an artificial sweetener called xylitol. Xylitol is increasingly used in everything from gums, mints, dental products, vitamins and now home-baked goodies. Xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar and with high enough doses, we can see liver failure. An unplanned added bonus, now that all the gifts are in a puppy-free zone, my kids cannot say that the dog chewed the corner of the gift and I have not only kept the puppy safe but I have eliminated gift snooping by the children. Gifts protected from children and the puppy – check and check!

PoinsettiaDecorations throughout the house – more puppy safety concerns! But I guess that is the way we will roll this year with a 1 year old Vizsla in the house. I swear that there are days that I spend more time looking in and taking things out of her mouth than anything else! So I think that household decorations are likely to be limited in quantity this year, but I love poinsettias to brighten up the dark Minnesota winters and add that splash of holiday color. It just would not be the Holidays without poinsettias! I always surprise guests at my house by having them set about randomly and the comment is always the same “I can’t believe that you of all people have poinsettias out around your pets, knowing that they can be poisonous.” And this is where I can share with my guests (and now with you) that poinsettias are very over-rated as a toxicity. Their ability to truly result in toxicity has long ago been hybridized away. Worst case scenario with ingestion of this colorful plant is oral and gastrointestinal upset, and in most cases it is mild and relatively limited.  Mistle Toe is more concerning with vomiting, diarrhea and changes in blood pressure with large ingestions. Holly can cause vomiting, diarrhea and depression but again, these are generally mild. We use flameless candles in our centerpiece, but it will be kept out of reach and great caution will be taken with the batteries in these candles. The little button or lithium batteries are corrosive when ingested and can literally burn ulcers into your pet’s digestive tract. We see these types of exposure when the dog is able to chew up one of the candles or electronics that contain batteries.  Button batteries are not the only batteries that can cause concern – all batteries are dangerous to dogs because of their corrosive nature when chewed or ingested. Décor for the household – check!

Now onto the guests that will visit throughout the holidays. We receive many calls during the holiday season regarding dogs in handbags and backpacks. Well meaning guests can set their suitcases, backpacks and handbags on the floor or within reach of pets. We commonly hear about medications, sugar-free gums, mints or dental products, etc., that have been taken by the family pet. The same thing goes for those of you that will visit family and friends throughout the holidays and take your pet with you. Make sure that when you take your dog into a home that does not have a pet, take extra precaution to pick up rodenticides (mouse and rat poisons) that may be setting around and to take a little time to pet-proof when you arrive. You know what your pet may find enticing, whether it is the open trash can or the bowl of candy setting out. Ask your host or hostess to assist you in moving these items temporarily during your visit. Guests and travel precautions – check!

Ok- so now that you have pet-proofed the house and restricted access to areas of concern, what will become of the bored puppy?  Introduce some environmental enrichment at the same time! In our household, we are big fans of the type of pet toy that is somewhat interactive, indestructible and rewards the dog for playing or chewing on it.  Remi loves (and I do too) the Kongs or Busy Buddy Squirrel Dudes. These are hollow rubber dog toys that can be stuffed with food or a favorite treat.  As the dog chews, licks or drops them, the goodies dispense and act as a reward for the dog chewing on the right thing, Our Remi cheats and  drops her Squirrel Dude  down the steps to get the treats to fall out and she goes up and down the steps picking up the treats.  We like to add a little peanut butter smeared on the inside along with her regular food. I usually have a couple of these pre-loaded and ready to go and drop them on the floor when she is showing interest in something that she should not.  She now seeks them out and she finds them way more appealing than chewing the fingers off of my gloves! Above is our Remi enjoying her stuffed Squirrel Dude!

I hope this has been helpful to you as you ready your home for the holidays and prepare to enjoy your family traditions and festivities!  An ounce of prevention certainly goes a long ways and will hopefully help decrease the stress of the holidays for both you and your four-legged friends! Happy Holidays!