"Pets are like toddlers on speed: They're everywhere, and everything goes in their mouths," according to Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). During the holiday season, the APCC receives anywhere between 800 – 1,000 calls per day, an increase of 10 percent over the rest of the year.
While a "pet parent" should have phone numbers handy for a veterinarian, a 24-hour animal hospital, and an animal poison hotline, you can avoid most potential problems specific to the holidays by recognizing the dangers below.
Tricky Trees: Keep the Christmas tree secured to corner walls so it can't be pulled over. Anything that hangs -- lights, wires, ornaments, edible decorations, and tinsel – should be kept higher than jumping distance. With a live tree, clean up pine needles frequently. Don't add aspirin, sugar, or other additives to your tree's water, and keep both solid and liquid potpourris out of reach.
Fire and Electrical Hazards: Even if you use it only on the holidays, make sure your fireplace is screened. Keep candles (including Chanukah candles) on a high shelf or mantel outside of jumping range. Tape indoor and outdoor wires to the wall or house. If you have a puppy or any pet that likes to chew, consider foregoing the electric lights altogether. Keep batteries or any other electrical hazard out of reach –- they can burn or even electrocute your pet.
Wrapping Trappings: Keep your pets away from paper, string, and tape, which can cause intestinal blockages. Stow the scissors away, too. Clean up promptly after opening presents.
Tempting Treats: Many folks know that chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats, but did you know that onions, raisins, grapes and some artificial sweeteners are, as well? Table scraps, such as fat-rich meats and gravy, can cause pancreatitis. Yeast dough? Digestive problems. Even bones can cause problems, especially cooked bones. The bottom line: Although it's tempting to "treat" your pet as well as you do your guests, they are far better off sticking to their regular diet.
Poison Plants and Rodenticide: Holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia are toxic. And while you might not think that rat poison screams, "eat me," every year many dogs and cats are poisoned by the chemicals in rodenticide. Pets can even get secondary poisoning if they eat a poisoned rodent. Keep the plants out of reach and find non-chemical means to get rid of unwanted critters.
Guests: Remember the saying about curiosity and the cat? There's a reason for that! Ask your guests to keep purses or other bags off the floor or couch, because candies, loose change, and especially prescription drugs are a dangerous temptation for Fluffy (or Snoopy).
If you have a dog, keep a fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a turkey baster at home – they can be used to induce vomiting (if your vet suggests it). Consider it 99-cent insurance.
Home Alone: It's not enough to tie up the garbage bag before you leave home. Dispose of food waste, including juice-soaked strings or packaging, in a tightly sealed trash container outside or somewhere truly inaccessible (most animals can open a kitchen cabinet door). When you leave the house, unplug decorations.
Travel Trials: If you're traveling with your pet, ask your veterinarian if your pet needs vaccines or how to best to travel by air (especially with short-nosed dogs). If Fido is staying behind, your vet can recommend boarding facilities and coach you on protecting your dog from canine flu (yes, dogs get flu). Use a proper pet restraint in the car, and bring your pet's usual food, medications, and medical records. (Don't change your pet's food when you travel because it causes intestinal problems -- and guess who gets to clean up the mess.)
Joanne Helperin is a Los Angeles-based writer/editor and marketer. Dubbed "The Research Queen" by friends and family, she’s known for leaving no stone unturned in her pursuit of stories on health, business, news, technology, and lifestyle. She has written for digital, print and broadcast for more than 20 years.