Keep your pets safe at Christmas

Photo: istockphoto.com/Henri Caroline
Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it is also a time when animal companions are exposed to a variety of holiday hazards. There are certain plants, foods and decorations that dogs, cats and other animal companions should stay away from during the holidays. Toxic plants Many festive plants are toxic in varying degrees to animals. Some can even be fatal. If you have animal companions, it's best not to have poisonous plants in your home or to keep them out of harm's way. Dangerous plants associated with Christmas include: mistletoe, ivy, holly, Christmas cactus, Christmas rose, star of Bethlehem, lily, yew, Jerusalem cherry, jequirity bean, poinsettia and hibiscus. Killing them with kindness While people often share food with their feline friends and canine companions, these offerings can put your "best friend" at risk. A change in diet can upset your animal's digestive system, while other foods can kill an animal. Ask family members, including children, friends and guests not to feed your animal companions human food. Keep some dog or cat treats handy should the temptation to let your pet participate in the holiday cheer get the better of you. Harmful foods Bones, particularly turkey and chicken bones which are brittle, should be avoided as they can splinter and lodge in an animal's throat or intestines. Onions can be lethal causing a condition known as Heinz body hemolytic anemia in both feline and canines. Garlic should also be avoided. No matter how cute it may look to get Fido slurping up a bon-bon, candies can make animals sick and the wrappers can be stuck in their intestines. Even though some pets love the taste, chocolate is an absolute no-no. It can be fatal along with grapes, raisins and Macadamia nuts. Coffee and alcohol should never be given to any animal under any circumstance. Put those cigarettes out of reach as well since nicotine is a stimulant that increases the heart rate to dangerous levels. Symptoms of over-indulgence Call your veterinarian immediately if your pet appears distressed, lethargic or in pain after indulging in forbidden food. Signs of toxic poisoning include bloody stools, vomiting or a distended or bloated stomach that is hard to the touch. Decorations to avoid The Christmas tree is equally fascinating to pets so you need to be careful about the decorations used. Decorations that can break into little pieces along with ribbon and tinsel can cause gastrointestinal blockages so shouldn't be used. Food decorations and liquid, bubbling lights should also be avoided. Evergreen needles that fall on the ground should be cleaned up as they can be harmful if ingested. Tree safety The Christmas tree should be safely secured at the top and the bottom to prevent problems with cats climbing the tree and dogs knocking it over. Never allow your animals access to the water in the tree stand and just to be on the safe side never use tree preservatives in the water. Candles, cords and fires (Oh my!) Electrical cords and wires need to be made inaccessible as well. Using electrical cords that shutoff power when a fire is detected is a good idea. Don't use candles in homes where animal companions reside. If you like the ambiance provided by a candle there are flameless LED battery candles that look real and even flicker! Fires in the hearth should have a safety screen to keep curious animals away from the flames and prevent sparks from flying into fur to burn or accidentally start a fire. Holiday stress A change in routine or a lot of holiday visitors can be overwhelming for some pets. Take your dog out for an extra walk -- it will help you both unwind. Create a safe haven for your cat and make sure they are not over handled by small and overly affectionate guests. Better safe than sorry No matter how careful you are, you may need emergency veterinary care for your animal companions. It is important to have your veterinarian's phone number (including their emergency or after hours numbers) as well as the phone number of the local emergency veterinary clinic. Christmas is a wonderful time of year for all members of the family. Ensure that your furred family members have a safe and enjoyable holiday too.