Holidays Tips

Ah, autumn coolness, and the rains have returned at last – with hope of more in a strong El Niño year. Thus begins the holiday season, full of gatherings and remembrance, decorations and good food and celebration. Our pets are part of the family and so we like to include them in all these things, but there are some hazards to our furry friends that we should keep in mind amid the whirl of preparations.

Eating All the Things

“It’s just a little bone.” “She loves pumpkin pie!” “We don’t want him to feel left out.” We mean well when we feed our cats and dogs from the table, we really do! But the rich, fatty or spicy foods we love, as well as sweets, can do a number on a pet’s digestive system. Pancreatitis isn’t fun for anyone. The toxicity to pets of grapes and raisins and things sweetened with Xylitol have been in the news a lot lately, but be sure to remember onions, garlic (turkey stuffing might include these, so be careful) and chocolate on the to-avoid list. Turkey bones – poultry bones in general, when cooked – can break into sharp pieces and cause gastrointestinal perforations, or even if whole, obstructions, necessitating surgery. Not how you or Fido want to spend a holiday. There are a number of nutritious snacks you can feed your pet instead. Remind your guests not to feed table scraps, too. Also make sure there is plenty of fresh water available – Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers and/or bacteria. Ick!

On the Foreign Object front, crinkly wrappers on candy, aluminum foil, tinsel and ribbon can also cause obstructions if swallowed, as can Styrofoam “berries” or “candy” in wreaths or other decorations.

Holly and mistletoe can cause vomiting. Lilies can be fatal to cats. Poinsettias are not especially poisonous, despite their reputation, but can cause mild stomach upset.

Decorative Hazards

Hide or tape down electrical cords – for lights, train sets, etc. – so puppies and kittens can’t chew on them. Aside from that one scene in A Christmas Story, electrocution isn’t fun. If your cat or kitten likes to climb, it might be prudent to make sure the Christmas tree is secure and stable, anchoring it – high up on the tree – to the wall with wire or high-test fishing line if necessary. Avoid tying yarn or ribbon around a pet’s neck. Spiffing them up for the festivities is easier and safer with a colorful holiday collar that has Velcro or a breakaway clasp.


Whether by plane, train or automobile, millions of Californians travel for the holidays, and many take their pets along; so here are some tips to make a trip safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

  • If you’re going to be driving more than a couple of hours, remember to stop every 100 miles to let your pet walk around, drink, and eliminate if necessary.
  • Have water, food and clean-up materials ready to hand. Pets can get carsick too.
  • Never leave your pet alone in a car.
  • Airlines require a rabies certificate and a health certificate signed by your veterinarian within 10 days of departure. Other requirements may vary by airline, so call well ahead to make sure of restrictions and guidelines.
  • Make certain your pet’s ID is current. Consider getting them microchipped. Crowded and strange surroundings may lead even mellow pets to try to bolt out doors or windows. Take your pet’s leash, collar or harness, license and ID tags, any medications they may be on, favorite toys and blanket, a photo of your pet, current shot records and your veterinarian’s phone number.
  • Take plenty of your pet’s regular food as changing diets suddenly can be upsetting to their digestive system. Have lots of fresh water available. Indoor heating can really dry out the air and your pets can get dehydrated as much as we do.
  • It’s a good idea to have a quiet space where your pet can retreat from the holiday bustle. Bring a crate from home, or block off a room with a baby gate.
  • Some hotels are “pet friendly”, while others do not allow pets. When you call to make your reservation, let them know you are bringing an animal with you. Some hotels may require that the pet not be left alone in the room and/or may have an added fee.
  • On the morning of the holiday, try taking your dog for a brisk walk to wear him or her out before the party gets going. (This is also good at home, for before guests arrive.)

If you decide to board your pet, ask to tour the facility first. Note cleanliness, how the pets are handled, whether or not there is a veterinarian on-site, and whether they can accommodate a pet’s special needs. Ask about services they offer, like structured playtimes or other activities. If your pet hasn’t been boarded before, it could be helpful to board them for a night or two as a trial first, before going on an extended vacation.

If you prefer to have someone come in to house-sit/pet-sit, search for certified, insured, professional sitters, and ask for references. Have them come over several times per day or stay in the house with the pet. Make sure they have your emergency contact numbers. A written permission to seek emergency veterinary care letter can be a good idea, if you are comfortable doing that.

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