While the holidays allow for all sorts of good times, they also require we take extra care of our pups. Few people imagine their festive decorations and holiday foodstuffs as potentially dangerous, but for dogs, the holidays present several possible hazards.
Fortunately, a little knowledge goes a long way. Just keep your pup away from any of the items on this list and you'll all be able to safely enjoy your holidays.
Holiday meals alone present an entire list of hazards, but the big food item to be careful with is giving your dog bones.
As the daughter of a veterinarian, and as someone who has worked with numerous veterinary hospitals as an assistant and animal trainer, I can say that giving bones comes with some serious risks. You should especially NEVER give your dog cooked bones. These can shred and turn into extremely sharp pieces that can create a choking hazard and/or create intestinal damage if their digestive tract is punctured or blocked.
As for uncooked bones, they can create other issues, including running the risk of teeth fractures and breakage (ouch). If you do give bones to your dog, ensure they’re sized appropriately and note that there is always a major risk of teeth damage. Beyond this, throw out pieces of bone that are too small and may be swallowed whole by the pet resulting in a potential choking, rupture or blockage issue when ingested.
Instead of bones, you may consider other options that clean teeth, but that have fewer risks involved. This includes CET impregnated enzyme chews that have special additives that better keep the pet’s teeth and gums clean and healthy, while still providing that good chew time entertainment that dogs enjoy. Or consider a stuff-able enrichment toy like a Kong that you can fill with a mix of peanut butter and food and then freeze for a delicious treat that will keep your pup happily occupied.
2. The Turkey (or other fatty meats/foods)
The turkey in the picture above is fine for your dog to play with. However, eating Thanksgiving turkey can be hazardous. Yes, it’s hard to let things go to waste, but don’t give in to the temptation of giving your dog fatty pieces of meat pulled from the Thanksgiving turkey or ham. Dogs can develop a life-threatening condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is caused by an overabundance of fat that your dog then can't properly process. So limit your dog’s intake of overly fatty meats and other foods, including butter-soaked potatoes. If you want to top their normal meal off with a little non-fat, low sodium gravy, however, go for it!
This doesn't mean your dog can't join in on the holiday feasting! Pre-portioning a given amount that your pet can enjoy alongside during the feast can cut down on the pesky begging, and more importantly, allow your dog to enjoy themselves without feeling left out of all the fun. You can cook your pet a special meal that’s appropriate for their dietary needs and approved by their vet. In some cases, this may mean sticking to a more rigid meal plan for the dog, but still making it enjoyable for them (such as cooked green beans flavored with a small amount of low sodium chicken broth instead of butter, or cooking an egg or lean ground turkey or beef meat over rice, or providing unsweetened canned pumpkin or unsweetened and non-buttered cooked sweet potatoes for your pooch).
Remember that quantity should be limited in size to prevent dietary upset (too much of a good thing can still cause intestinal discomfort and diarrhea, or vomiting for your pet). And, if you can’t resist giving a piece of the turkey, steak, ham or other meat of the feast, provide your pet with the leanest pieces of the meat in small portions (work in some training by using it as a reward for good behavior).
You can also provide dog-specific holiday treats (like those that come in a BarkBox or Super Chewer subscription). Put them in a food puzzle that keeps your pet entertained and away from the table. Doing this allows the family and other guests to still spoil your pooch (I mean they're SO CUUUUUTE who can resist that faaaaace) saving your dog from a possible later diarrhea explosion or emergency vet trip.
3. Enterprising Food Thievery of Uncooked Ingredients (like bread dough)
Dogs may help themselves to food left unattended and unsupervised. Or, for especially emboldened pups, they may help themselves to what they can snag, regardless if a human's there or not (*cough hounds cough).
Food items that you think may seem harmless can actually cause your pet to go into great distress. For example, bread dough can be very dangerous for dogs. Why? Dough rises with heat. And when it comes to the dog eating uncooked dough that's say, left out on the counter before being placed into the oven, the result can be disastrous. The ingested portion can rise and grow into uncomfortable, unhealthy, or even life-threatening sizes inside your pup's GI tract and stomach. (Note: If a dog does eat uncooked dough, note that this is a serious problem that may be good reason for a trip to the emergency vet).
I can remember one time enjoying a holiday event with friends when their boxer threw his front paws up on the counter and helped himself in one gulp to an entire stick of butter being used to cook the meal and for buttering the bread. On the one hand, wow what an entrepreneur. On the other hand, large quantities of butter can be seriously dangerous for a dog. In an effort to avoid the intestinal upset and potential health complications that may result, Ryley was given hydrogen peroxide to get the butter stick out of his system before it did serious damage. The result was very much a no-fun holiday for everyone. Riley was unhappy, sick and frustrated and his frazzled pet parents had to monitor him to make sure he was able to expel the potentially dangerous food.
To prevent food theft, when cooking or eating, it's probably safer for your pup to hang out in their personal dog-specific space, such as their Fear Free Fortress area. Or, consider keeping the dog on harness and leash with a responsible person who can oversee the dog’s whereabouts and safety. Also, if the dog is trained to go to a specific space, like their mat, or to do a longer duration sit or down, they can be guided to such a behavior, and rewarded for remaining in place and away from the food using some of the pre-portioned amounts of their doggy designated holiday food.
4. Sweets (ESPECIALLY Chocolate) and other dangerous food items
We have yet to meet the pastry that is good for a dog. (Well, maybe these pastries.) So many contain chocolate and sugar, which can be incredibly toxic to dogs. No cookies, no pie, no gelt. No exceptions! Other off-limit items include coffee and coffee beans, macadamia nuts/ grapes and raisins/ avocados, alcohol and cannabis (including cannabis containing food items).
Dogs can become seriously ill from eating food that their body doesn’t tolerate the way a human would. For example, while small quantities of milk chocolate may only result in dietary upset and diarrhea, when it comes to more concentrated chocolate, the result can be life-threatening.
Keep unsafe items from your dog by using closed doors, securable cabinets, and putting up high, out of reach. In addition, warn guests to keep the dog out of such spaces using closed doors or gates and to be mindful of where they put down food.
5. Sugar-free containing products (xylitol)
A dog toy gum ball? Adorable. An actual gum ball? Not so great for dogs. Probably the biggest unknown culprit for serious and life-threatening complications are food items that contain xylitol, a sugar free sweetener. Xylitol lurks in a variety of products, from gum to vitamins, to syrup and candy. And, most disturbing of all, it takes very little wreak havoc on a dog's insides (for example, vital organs, like their liver, can start shutting down). Even one stick of gum that contains xylitol places a small-sized dog at very serious health risk, potentially even death.
Ensure that all items containing this ingredient are kept up and out of reach of the pet. And, consider what your pet may get into that you might be unaware of, such as the unwrapped gift items, or even the suitcase or purse of your guests that may contain sugar free products. If your dog does ingest anything containing xylitol immediately contact or visit the veterinarian to provide your pet with the timely help their body may need to deal with the potentially lethal ingredient. Also, always check the peanut butter jar's ingredients before treating your pup. Some peanut butter is now being made with xylitol, so make sure you don't accidentally give them the wrong kind.
6. Alcohol, cannabis and human medications
Although some human medications may appear harmless (e.g. Tylenol) if meds are ingested by your pet, they can pose a health risk.
Remember that your dog is better able to ‘chill’ with veterinary-approved chill pills, supplements and behavior modification strategies, not a home remedy of beer or cannabis brownies to help your dog relax.
Dogs have different metabolic systems than humans, and so tolerate things like alcohol and cannabis, quite differently than people, resulting in serious neurological issues if too much is consumed
Consider moving purses, unopened gifts, suitcases and other personal items like coats to an area that's inaccessible to your dog. Also always ensure all meds, even over the counter medications, are kept safely out of the pet’s reach via secure cabinets or other impregnable storage areas.
7. Rodenticides and antifreeze
We like to mention these specifically because holidays generally involve a lot of travel, which can result in anti-freeze being left out in garages. As for rodenticides, if you and your pup travel to a relative's house, you don't necessarily know what they lay out to keep the critters away.
Unfortunately, even a small amount of rodent control poison or lick of antifreeze can be lethal. And, because they often taste GREAT to your dog (they're sweet), your pup will probably happily eat them.
If visiting a friend or family member’s house, be aware of any items they may have lying around the house, garage, or yard that your pet may get into. Keep your pet’s whereabouts known and limited to areas that have been safely patrolled and deemed as safe. In addition, provide plentiful pup-friendly options for your pup that's safe to chew on, like dog-approved chews, stuffed food puzzles, or their favorite BarkBox toys.
Let's face it: your dog may be a door dasher. And while you're able to manage the situation in your day-to-day routine, during holiday events you may be less able to monitor entryways and exits. As a result, your pup may dash out and run away, become lost, or get into serious trouble by running onto the open road.
To prevent The Great Doggy Escape, consider gating or otherwise containing entryways. Alternatively, you could keep your dog on a harness and leash when you know people are coming over. You can also place door alerts that sound off when the door is opened or attach a GPS to your dog's collar, allowing you to check on Fido’s whereabouts and ensuring they're inside and safe in case a guest accidentally causes an outdoor adventure.
Also, consider placing signs at exit and entry points and reminding people to watch out for your dog as they come and go. You can also encourage people who go outside for fresh air to do so in a space where your dog can’t immediately dash out doors, like a fenced-in patio or yard.
Most importantly, ensure that your dog has up to date identification on their ID tag and has been microchipped. Make sure your pup's microchip always has up-to-date information on their profile as well so in case they get lost, you can hopefully be quickly reunited.
9. Real Holiday Plants
Mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias are all off-limits, and so is the Christmas tree. Each of these plants is naturally toxic to your dog. If you treat any of these plants with chemicals to preserve them through the holidays, they will only be MORE toxic.
To prevent ingestion put them well out of reach of naughty-minded or overly curious pups. Shelves are a lovely invention on which to place your festive plant. The floor by the stairs is probably not the best choice. You can also give them a BARK holiday mistletoe toy, and fun is guaranteed!
10. Decorations and Wires
Whether a bulb on the tree or a string of lights on the banister, it looks like a chew toy to your dog. Holiday decorations are often made of glass or run on electricity, neither of which are good for your pup (duh). Edible Ornaments can also be problematic. Be wary of using popcorn, cereal, or hard candies to decorate your tree or home. That's just asking for your dog to eat something it's not supposed to eat.
Try to use wire protectors when stringing around lights, and don't place ornaments that are within easy reach of your pup. If you don't trust your dog around a tree period, then encourage them to hang out in their Fear Free Fortress, or manage the situation so they're never too near the shiny, tempting things-that-look-like-tennis-balls-but-aren't.
11. Wrapping Paper
Wrapping paper poses many of the same problems that decorations pose: too many easily chewed items that shouldn't be chewed. Ribbon, tape, staples, stickers, and any of the other items used to wrap gifts should not be ingested by dogs or treated as chew toys.
Your home might have a few more batteries around over the holidays than normal. Since batteries range in size, they might accidentally be swallowed by your dog or treated like a nice big rawhide. Neither scenario is a good one.
Make sure to keep them in a nice safe area that your pet can't get into.
13. The Cold
Like number 1, this could easily be its own list. The winter tends to be harsh and unforgiving wherever the temperature drops dramatically.
If you take your dog outside for holiday fun, make sure you keep your pup warm, dry and hydrated during the snow season.
14. Tiny Human Toys
Your dog might mistake some of the new toys gifted to tiny humans for their own. But toys not designed to be chewed on or played with by dogs clearly shouldn't be used by dogs. Human toys have many more pieces than dog toys and they tend to be sharp. If ingested, they can cause serious damage to a dog's G.I. tract.
Make sure all children's toys are safely put away when they're done being used, and put them in dog-proof containers out of harm's reach. Also be sure to teach kids not to share their new toys with the family pup, since the dog may decide to play with it in an er, original manner. You can also have your child gift your dog with an appropriate dog toy, like the BARK flower toy bouquet pictured above.
Okay, so your in-laws aren't technically a threat to your dog, but if they don't know what's off-limits for your pup, they might not be able to help you keep your dog healthy over the holiday. In other words, educate your holiday guests and be an advocate for your pup!
If you'd like to learn more about keeping your pup safe for the holidays, you can read more at Fear Free Happy Homes!