Keeping Your Dog and Cat Alive Over the Holidays: 12 Tips

You need to watch your pet like a hawk during this time of the year.

Warning: do not give your dog or your cat tinsel to play with. It could be deadly! (Photo: Jane Burton / Getty Images)

Dec 20, 2012· 3 MIN READ
wrote the bestseller Soldier Dogs and was staff writer at USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The holidays are a warm, feel-good, festive time of year with ho-ho-ho’s and wishes for peace on Earth at every turn. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, because I’m about to snow on your parade for a few minutes.

Never leave unattended candles near pets. If in doubt, blow it out.

I’ve been assigned by my editor to be the Grinch of your gaieties, the Scrooge of your social engagements, the pooper of your parties. It falls on me this season to let you know that if you are lucky enough to have a dog or cat in your life, you need to watch your pet like a hawk during the holidays.

It can actually be a lifesaver. So forgive the Debbie Downer/Gloomy Goodavage nature of this column, where I tell you that most of the things you hold dear to your holiday traditions can be flat-out dangerous to your beloved pets if you’re not careful. Here they are, as short and sweet (but chocolate-free!) as possible.

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Christmas trees. Cats like to climb on them, exuberant dogs tend to knock into them. If your tree isn’t set up well, it can fall when your pet gets up close and personal. Shore up your tree, or keep particularly active pets away.

Treated tree water. Cats and small dogs hankering for a beverage may be attracted to the closest—and newest—water source. If you’ve just got plain water in there, it’s no big deal. Your furry friend may just end up with fir-scented breath. But if you’ve put things like aspirin or a chemical preservative treatment in it, that could be trouble. Just give your tree plain water, and everyone will be happy. (The tree, too. Many think simple water is the best thing for these arbors.)

Tree decorations. When my dog Jake was a pup, he ate a shiny green Christmas ball. It broke in his mouth as he crunched it (we had thought he had a tennis ball up to that point), and he appeared baffled at the shardy “aftertaste.” Fortunately he was fine, and we simply kept ornaments out of his reach the rest of that season. Glass ornaments can shatter, and lights can be chewed for a shocking finale. If your pet is an explorer, best to keep him or her away from the tree—or at least the decorations.

Poinsettia, mistletoe, and holly. The three most festive holiday plants can be mildly toxic, causing stomach upset and diarrhea—not fun for you or your pet. Mistletoe can also cause cardiovascular problems. If your pet’s a plant eater, just don’t bring these plants into your lives.


Candles. All it takes is the wag of a big dog tail or the whack of a pouncing cat to turn a candle-lit evening into a four-alarm fire. Never leave unattended candles near pets. If in doubt, blow it out.

Fireplace. Pets like to bask in the glow of a fireplace on a cold winter night. Be sure they keep a healthy distance, though. I know a dog who got his whiskers burned off when he stuck his head inside the fireplace after coming in from the cold. The dog shall remain nameless, shan’t he, Jake?

Ribbons. Cats like to eat them. They’re pretty, but can be deadly if they get wrapped in a cat’s intestines. Dogs aren’t as drawn to them, but ribbons can cause the same issues with the canine set.

Tinsel. Ditto.


Cocktails. Besides the fact that most pets aren’t 21, booze just isn’t good for dogs or cats. Too much can be deadly. Just don’t let ’em imbibe. (Fringe benefits: They won’t lose their licenses, and won’t do or say stupid things they’ll regret the next day.)

Fatty food. Jake once ate an extra-large pizza by himself as we prepared another room for the feast. When I came back to the kitchen, Jake was standing beside an empty pizza box looking very full and content. It was too cute to be too upset, but I did worry about the outcome. Thankfully he was able to use the doggy door all night to deal with the results of his indiscretion. Excessive fatty foods can lead to bad things, like pancreatitis. Watch pets around gravies, meats, and other fatty chow that’s everywhere during the holidays.

Chocolate. You can’t turn around during this time of year without being confronted with chocolate. Too much in pets can cause chocolate toxicity, which can be fatal. Watch your sweetie with sweets around.

Other food. Since there’s generally just more food around at this time of year, you should know that a bunch of other foods can be toxic to pets. These include Macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes, onions, white garlic and mushrooms. Here’s a more complete list.

OK now, you’ve read it. Heed it, and get back into the holiday spirit!

Which of these 12 tips do you think will help you the most this holiday season? Please tells us in the COMMENTS.