Furry festivities: Give the gift of safety for pets during the holidays

Dec. 23—We might get sidetracked by the holidays, but our pets are still under foot around new decorations, special foods, presents and strange visitors.

Dogs and cats get curious — or frenzied — over package deliveries, wrapped gifts and alluring toy-like items dangling from a tree. Pet-friendly reminders can keep safety in mind, with tips from the American Kennel Club, State Farm Insurance and PEMCO Insurance.

Many holiday stories describe cats climbing Christmas trees or dogs chewing up gifts. If they eat holiday foods, that can be worse. Veterinary emergencies see a sharp rise close to Christmas from pets eating chocolate, said State Farm and Trupanion, a pet insurance provider.

Here are holiday factors to consider:

Christmas tree

Your tree likely is up, but it's best to have a stable, wide-based stand and perhaps ways to anchor a tree. Derek Wing, PEMCO Insurance spokesman, said it's not uncommon for pets — like those cats climbing — to knock over a tree, ending in shattered ornaments, damaged walls or ruined floors if spilled tree water goes undiscovered.

"We've even seen a few broken windows," Wing said.

Another PEMCO idea is to anchor trees from the ceiling with fishing line and an eye bolt, a tip to prevent the tree from falling, also, if toddlers grab it to steady themselves.

The American Kennel Club said some pet owners tether a tree to the ceiling with a plant hook and thin wire. If it's a fresh tree, keep pets away from consuming the water and pine needles.

State Farm and Trupanion added the reminder to avoid adding aspirin, sugar or other additives to the tree water in case a pet gets into the base to drink.

Hang bells on the lower branches to help alert you to your pet's exploration of the tree is another kennel club tip. Keep special, breakable ornaments at the tree top or in storage the years you have a puppy or kitten. Another option is to surround the tree with an exercise pen.

Make sure to skip the tinsel, Wing said. Shiny foil or Mylar icicles are nearly irresistible to cats and, if ingested, can result in intestinal blockages and an emergency trip to the veterinarian. Fake snow might invite your dog to view your tree as one giant stick to chew on, he said.

Also avoid older bubble lights, Wing said, because they're often filled with a chemical called methylene chloride. If it leaks and pets or children inhale or swallow a lot of it, or it absorbs through the skin, it's capable of producing symptoms similar to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Popcorn or other edible decorations can be problematic, Wing added. "The popcorn itself won't hurt them, but if they also swallow the string, it can produce intestinal complications similar to tinsel in cats."

With winter at your doorstep, this time also is when you might de-ice your driveways, sidewalks and stairs for visitors, but check that the de-icer is labeled "pet safe," the PEMCO tips advised. Avoid home remedies like lawn fertilizer since they can be corrosive to metal, damaging to concrete and dangerous to pets.

Wing said if your pet does ingest something poisonous, call your veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.

Another temptation might be the skinny cords on Christmas tree lights that are easy for a puppy to chew into, with the risk of electrocution, the kennel club said. Keep the cords covered. Also, consider keeping the lower branches of the tree free from lights or moved just out of reach.

Toxic plants and materials

Mistletoe and holly can be mildly toxic to pets when ingested. Poinsettias can cause mouth irritation if chewed on and perhaps vomiting or diarrhea, but it would need to be a lot of the plant. Lilies can cause life-threatening kidney failure in cats. Consider placing them in rooms or locations where your pets don't have access.

The kennel club also warns about yew, a coniferous tree which has red berry-like fruits, and most parts of which are highly poisonous and can cause heart problems if consumed. For safety, avoid bringing clippings in to use as garland unless you can identify the variety.

Other holiday plants carry risks: amaryllis (the bulb) and Jerusalem cherries and holly berries have a compound chemically similar to what's in chocolate. Dogs can't process it very well, and it can cause illness if they eat enough of it.

Christmas cactuses are a safer, pet-friendly holiday plant.

Around candles and oils, dogs can tip candles over or venture too close. Potpourri oils are dangerous when licked from the source. Place these high or avoid altogether.

Holiday foods

Leftovers and sweets can bring unintentional consequences. Make sure to keep your pets away from the table and unattended plates of food, and secure garbage cans. Mesh wrappers and leg holders on meats that smell good to eat can cause bowel obstructions.

Bones and fatty and spicy human foods shouldn't be fed to animals.

The kennel club said common holiday foods unsafe for dogs include chocolate, raisins, grapes, Macadamia nuts and sugarless products containing xylitol. Avoid putting food-containing gifts under the tree, wrapped or unwrapped, when your dogs will be in the room unsupervised.

As far as leftovers, too much fat from ham, turkey and other meats can cause pancreatitis or intestinal blockages.

Holiday travel

A PEMCO blog offers several reminders about seasonal travel with pets, mainly to keep them secured. Buckle in your dog's carrier or use a secured harness (never a collar) that attaches to your car's rear seat belt.

For miniature breeds, a booster seat improves the effectiveness of a harness. Don't let any dog ride unrestrained, as it can create a dangerous situation for both of you. In a 30 mph crash, a 60-pound dog can slam into the dashboard, or you, with 2,700 pounds of force.

Peace and quiet

With all the holiday shuffle, guests and parties, it isn't just people who can get stressed. State Farm tips suggest giving your pet a quiet space to retreat to from activity. If your pet is excitable or scared, consider a set up in another room with toys and a comfortable bed.

Wing said dog bites are a common reason people get sued, which is when a homeowner or renter insurance liability coverage can protect pet owners. For some canines around unfamiliar people and activity, that can trigger a dog's protective instincts. It might be better to have pets stay at a family member's home or a pet care facility if you're hosting to ensure holiday calm and safety for all.