Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

Tempting Trappings and Forbidden Feasts

By Sarah Liu

Points on Pets-Headshot SarahThe weather’s getting colder and the holidays are upon us! As you enjoy this season of sharing, it’s important to be mindful of the unique set of circumstances presented to your animal companions. The following is a list of considerations to help you and your pets make the most of your time together:

  1. Decorations – Whether glimmering candles or tempting trees, there are some decorative items that few pets can resist. When it comes to Christmas trees, climbing cats and wagging tails are the biggest threat. Prevent toppling by securely anchoring your tree and placing it in a corner. Avoid breakable ornaments, or hang them out of reach. Clean up needles frequently, and prevent your pet from drinking water from the tree stand. Both can be toxic, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. Avoid tinsel, angel hair, garland, and ribbon. When ingested these can lead to intestinal obstruction and require surgery. According to Dr. Anne Mixson Williams, veterinarian with Del Ray Animal Hospital, if a pet does ingest these items, check to see if the material is lodged under the tongue, but never pull from the mouth or the rear as this may damage your pet internally. Dr. Mixson Williams also cautions pet owners to be mindful of electrical cords and to watch for ulcerations in the mouth that could indicate electrical burns. It’s a good idea to frequently check hanging or decorative lights for signs of fraying or chewing, and use a grounded three-prong extension cord as a safety precaution. As for candles, make sure these are placed high out of reach, and never leave them unattended. Be mindful that a candle on a shelf is a great curiosity to an agile cat, and can be a serious hazard to your pets and your home if knocked over. Finally, while holiday plants are popular, many are poisonous to cats and dogs. These include poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe.


  1. Holiday Food – Another great thing about the holidays, is delicious abundant food. However, it’s never a good idea to let your pets over indulge. Dr. Mixson Williams particularly advises against sharing spicy, rich food, such as ham, or allowing meats that might contain bones such as turkey or chicken wings. Dogs and cats should never be allowed chocolate, candy, certain fruits & nuts such as grapes, raisins, and macadamias, or sugary sweets including those made with artificial sweeteners. For a more complete list of dangerous foods, see the Humane Society’s page at And of course, holiday celebrations often include special beverages. While many pet owners wouldn’t consider them interesting to cats or dogs, beer, wine, and liquor, including egg nog, can make your pet quite ill or even be life threatening. All in all, while we want to share holiday feasts and treats with our companions, it’s always better to stick with foods designed for pet consumption or opt for pet appropriate toys such as balls that are too big to swallow and catnip stuffed mice.


  1. Pets as Gifts – The holidays are a wonderful time to welcome a new addition to your family, but before you make that commitment, each member of your household must be willing. The American Humane Association recommends, rather than gifting your family with a new pet, putting together an adoption kit with a new collar, leash, toys, and other pet appropriate items. After gauging the acceptance of your household, the whole family can visit a rescue shelter to select the new member. And of course, as a general rule, it’s never a good idea to give a pet to someone outside your household. That cute puppy or fluffy kitten might seem like a great gift idea for your grandson or niece, but can often end tragically. A successful adoption requires care and thought. Many people don’t want or aren’t ready for a pet, and can’t afford the time and financial commitment. When the person is ready, it’s a better that he or she choose their own pet, to ensure a proper bond and a good fit.


  1. Holiday Stress – Finally, with all the festivities, excitement, holiday music, and general hub-bub of guests and gifts, it’s important to be mindful of your pet’s stress tolerance and comfort. When entertaining visitors, it’s crucial to provide your companion with a quiet place for privacy and solitude. Establish good rapport between guests and pets by discussing your pet’s personality and preferences. Prevent potential injury by making sure small children are attended while petting, playing, and interacting. Take time out to comfort your pet and dedicate some alone time every day. As well as relieving stress, this will provide an opportunity to observe behavior and monitor health. Take dogs for an extra walk to relieve holiday stress for both of you. As possible, maintain your pet’s routine by feeding them at the same time as usual and taking walks according to a familiar schedule. If you observe signs of extreme stress or anxiety, consider trying a home diffuser product such as Feliway or Adaptil. These come in wall plug- in varieties that can help calm your pet by releasing a scent that replicates stress relieving pheromones.


As we all know well, the holidays can be both wonderful and stressful. Following these tips can help ensure a healthy fun-filled season for you and your pets. As always, keep your veterinarian’s number close at hand, and seek guidance in concerning situations. Finally, in a season of giving and sharing, take time to appreciate these valuable members of your family. Remember the greatest gifts are your extra love and attention.


Sarah Webber Liu resides in Alexandria and is a long-time volunteer at King Street Cats. She is devoted to her cat, Mrs. Huggins, and loves animals of all kinds.


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