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The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world.

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Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

Posted December 15, 2012 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

If you want to avoid coming home to a Christmas tree that's horizontal rather than vertical (see image), read on. This blog entry contains some warnings and tips related to pet safety during the holidays.


Trees and poinsettia and tinsel - oh my! Much of the stuff we spread around to create an atmosphere of holiday cheer is potentially dangerous to pets. Your cat may ignore the stuff that's been hanging on the walls all year but suddenly there's new and exciting décor to explore!

Take the extra time to anchor your Christmas tree so that it cannot fall when your pets wrestle or bat at the ornaments (again, see photo). Cover the access to the tree's water supply. Why cats like this so much? I'm not sure, but it's not an ideal water source for them. Tinsel, poinsettias, and mistletoe are likewise harmful if ingested.

The added hazards of additional electrical cords and candles can be dangerous for everyone, not just pets. Keep them out of the way if possible and if it's not, keep your pet away.


If you're like my beagle then you probably think everything's edible, but this section will cover food, specifically. Most people are aware of the fact that dogs and chocolate don't mix. The theobromine contained in chocolate is hazardous to pets' health, especially the concentration in that dark chocolate fudge. (Just ask the beagle - she's gone three rounds with chocolate, all of which were unpleasant and expensive.) There is a long, long list of other foods to avoid, too.

Essentially, do not allow your pet to indulge in foods that are out of the ordinary just because it's the holidays. Stick to the basics, with the right treats and bones, of course avoiding the many kinds that have been recalled.

If the temptation to counter-surf that holiday feast is too great, keep your pet in a crate or other safe place for the duration of the festivities. Provide toys and bones to help prevent boredom from taking over and leading to unwanted behaviors like chewing a hole in the door to escape.


Speaking of tempting food, sometimes your guests may feel tempted to feed it to a pet because he or she is "so cute" or "so well-behaved." In my house this cannot be tolerated because one dog has so many food allergies. Whenever we're near the food I warn new guests against feeding the dogs.

Be very firm about this - if you seem wishy-washy on the topic then guests might not listen. If they feed the dogs anyway, be clear about what they've done and why it's wrong, and remove the pet from the situation. In cases such as this, I put my pets into their crates or into another room with treats in a Kong to keep them busy.

Some visitors may not want to get near enough to your pet to feed it. Allergies, fears, and excited pets can be an unwanted combination. Relatives that are allergic to cats, for example, don't want yours rubbing against legs and jumping into laps. Be respectful of your guests and keep pets away during the visit.

Consider those that are afraid of your excited dog that begins jumping all over visitors when they arrive. Keep pets away from the entrance and release them after the humans are done saying their hellos. They're likely to be calmer when the people are, too.

Many guests ask whether the cat can go out before opening the door; some do not. If you're concerned about a pet escaping this is another reason that he or she should not be attending the party.

While most of these tips are common sense, the big takeaway should be not to forget about your pet in your flurry of unwrapping. He or she may not understand holiday etiquette or be able to read the name tags on the gifts. Have patience and be safe. Happy holidays to all!

Related Reading: Winter Wear for Dogs; Gift Ideas for Animal Lovers; Five Gift Ideas for Pet People; On Dasher, On Dancer - Who's Really Pulling Santa's Sleigh?

Resources: AAHA - Holiday Pet Hazards; ASPCA - Holiday Safety Tips


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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/15/2012 7:20 AM

And here I thought you were going to give me some insight on how to keep the cat out of the tree!

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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/16/2012 5:10 PM

We had some success with a small water gun.

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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/19/2012 7:34 PM

We have had cats over the years and of course battled with knocked down ornaments, etc.

The last couple of years we have a "particularly obnoxious" cat. While Vinnie has been one of my favorites because he is so funny, he is the most destructive. One day I came out to the tree and looked at him eye-to-eye, he climbed up the artificial tree that far (artificial since a past dog was alergic to pines!!)

This year I finally thought of an idea - I purchased a motion detector alarm (about $30) The tree is against the wall, so I placed the sensor under the coffee table facing the tree - had to rubber band it to the table leg, Vinnie kept rubbing it and knocking it over. I was at first upset, the alarm had a 30 second delay to allow you to enter and dis-arm. BUT, it did have an instant chime if it sensed movement. Such as someone entering your shop.

Worried the chime would not be effective, I still set it up and of course heard plenty of chimes the first night. His sister Mona is also quite curious. After the second night, two chimes, no ornaments on the floor! Third night, no chimes.

Still trying to convince my wife I'm a genius. But she wondered why it took me so long to become a genius!! Merry Christmas - Happy Holidays!! ss

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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/15/2012 9:31 AM

Our cat is such a perennial tree fixture that we made a Christmas card out of him in it. He mainly goes in it when he feels he's entitled to food.

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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/16/2012 9:49 AM

If you have a big dog and a real tree (as opposed to the imitation ones) with lights on it, I guess this could always happen

Or, a little too much of the amber coloured fluid, and flake out under the tree

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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/16/2012 6:16 PM

Why cats like this so much? I'm not sure, but it's not an ideal water source for them.

One of my cats goes out of its way to drink the poorest quality water it can find, I caught her last drinking out of the plant pot.

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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/17/2012 5:57 AM

Living in the country has many perks, but also the downsides.....We own goats, and they are notorius for getting out. One female would jump the fence and hollar at the front window until my wife came out with a morning treat and greeting. When we put a real wreath on the front door, she would jump out and nibble on the wreath. Not a terrible issue until the boys didn't close the door tightly when leaving for school. "Annibelle" knocked the door open, walking into the living room and helping herself to the Christmas tree!! She ate one side, including the lights ( no, they were off at the time) and the wife came home from work to a goat in the living room. Surprisingly, she left no "presents" anywhere and calmly walked back to the fenced in yard. Pets indeed!! The lights didn't seem to affect her diet any, she was back at the wreath the next day and she lived many years later, finally taking up with a herd of deer and going wild on us.


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Re: Avoiding Holiday Mishaps with Pets

12/18/2012 4:00 AM

On behalf of cats I feel I should point out that being tormented on an annual basis with tempting shiney dangly things is contrary to the European Convention on Feline Rights.
Sorry, gtg... there's someone dangling tinsel...

health warning: These posts may contain traces of nut.
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