Holiday pet safety

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The holiday season is a special time to celebrate and spend time with your family and friends -- including your four-legged family members. But let's be honest, while spending time with family is an important part of the holidays, it's usually all about the food. From 2,000 pieces of Halloween candy to grandma's mouth-watering pumpkin pie and multi-colored candy canes hanging from the Christmas tree -- these yummy seasonal delights are just for humans.

Dr. Ernie Ward, Nutrish vet expert and founder/president of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has come with some great safety tips for dogs to get them through the holiday season. Dr. Ward recognizes not only how much "people food" dogs are more likely to consume from October to January, but other potential hazards as well. Here are some holiday precautions for families to be aware of for the upcoming season:


  • Candy for the kids, not the canine. Keep chocolate away from your pup, as it can be extremely toxic for your dog. Dogs may/can ingest food and candy wrappers -- increasing the risk of choking and gastrointestinal blockage. Keeping dog treats and plentiful food around for your pup so they have other options is a great alternative.
  • Destructive decorations. Every family loves to have spooky and haunting decorations around their home, including fake spider webs, streamers, skeletons and jack-o-lanterns. Be sure decorations are not in areas where your pup could get hold of them and that all power cords are out of harms way (your pets could chew on them). Be careful where you place candles around the house, as a pet's tail could easily knock one over and cause a fire.
  • Trick-or-Treaters. Everyone knows that kids and adults love to dress up for Halloween and kids go door to door looking for candy to fill their bags, but dogs are not humans who understand the concept. If you have a protective dog, try keeping them in an upstairs room or blocked off from the front door to avoid confrontations with small kids and their parents. If kids or friends enter the house, be sure to introduce your dog properly to them to ensure a positive reaction.
  • Costumes for dogs? Many dog owners find it adorable to dress their pup up in a fun costume for Halloween so they can join in the fun too. Some dogs enjoy this tradition, while others do not -- base your decision off your dog's temperament and lifestyle. Often, a simple Halloween bandana or collar is perfect and won't cause upset.


  • Food for thought. Your dog may beg for it, but you should never feed your pet bones from the Thanksgiving turkey! The small bones can splinter and leave shards lodged in your pet's throat, intestines or stomach, potentially causing choking or blockages requiring surgery.
  • Trash can woes. Be sure the trash can lid is on tight, and do not give your pet any leftovers. Greasy foods can cause severe stomach problems in pets. Offering your dog human food can give him an upset stomach, even if it's just one meal. Keep your dog on his regular food. Other no-nos: Onions in holiday stuffing, which can lead to canine anemia, and grapes and raisin toxins, which can cause kidney failure in pets.
  • Keep away from holiday treats. Chocolate can be toxic to pets: the higher the cocoa content, the more dangerous it is. Keep candy wrappers and aluminum foil away from your pet, as they could get stuck in their throat.
  • Keep an eye on Fido. Keep your pet inside and when opening the door for your guests, watch your dog closely so he doesn't pull a fast one on you and escape. Your pets should have current identification on them -- or better yet, make sure your dog has a microchip.
  • Set up a "safe room." Guests can be stressful on pets. Give your dog a quiet place of his own with food, water, and his favorite toys and bed. This will give your pet a place to relax in case your holiday celebration gets to be overwhelming. Make sure to take a few minutes to hang out with your dog and give him some love so he doesn't feel left out.


  • Mistletoe. Because there are several types of mistletoe, it is difficult to predict the clinical signs of poisoning with this popular holiday trimming. Some mistletoe species produce only gastrointestinal upset while others may lead to liver failure or seizures. Consider mistletoe to be a hazardous substance and keep it out of reach of pets and children.
  • Cooking. Keep pets out of the kitchen during the hustle and bustle of the season. The last thing you want is for someone you love to get underfoot and get burned from accidental spillage. Try keeping them in an upstairs room or block off the kitchen with a gate.
  • Dietary indiscretion. We all like to include our pets in holiday meals along with the rest of the family, but try to keep in mind that sudden rich diet changes are likely to upset a pet's stomach. Vomiting and diarrhea are not uncommon medical complaints we see from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. If leftovers are of an especially fatty nature, the pancreas may become inflamed and overloaded. This serious condition is known as pancreatitis and usually requires hospitalization and intensive medical treatment.
  • Ribbons and tinsel. These are of special interest to playful cats and kittens that see these materials as toys that need to be chased, pounced upon, chewed or swallowed. While chasing and pouncing are healthy physical activities for cats, chewing and swallowing ribbons can be harmful. These strings or "linear foreign bodies" can become stuck in the intestinal tract, leading to bunching of intestine as the body tries unsuccessfully to pass the string or ribbon. This is a life-threatening condition requiring surgery for correction. Supervise animals that play with any string closely.
  • Electric light cords. These are also tempting to cats who like to play with string, as well as young puppies that are teething and interested in chewing anything and everything. If a pet bites through an electrical cord, it could result in a severe burn to the tongue or even damage the lungs, causing respiratory distress. This is also an emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.

By following these simple tips and tricks, the entire family can safely enjoy the holiday season together.