The parties! The meals! The decorations! What makes this a fun and festive time of year can also put your pet in harm's way. Veterinarian Dr. Courtney Campbell shares how to avoid the holiday hazards.

cat peering from under Christmas tree
Photo Courtesy Stocksy
| Credit: Photo Courtesy Stocksy

Give the Gift of Space

The best gift you can give your furry friend during this busy, crowded time of year is personal space. "Give him his own quiet place to retreat to, complete with fresh water and a place to snuggle in," Campbell says. This can be under a piece of furniture, in a crate, or in a separate room away from everyone else. If your pet doesn't already have a designated place like this, help him find one as soon as possible. Campbell suggests starting the process a few months ahead of the holidays.

Make Masks Work

"Dogs need to see facial expressions and body language when interacting with us," Campbell says, and face masks can be disorienting for them. Remind visitors who come wearing a mask to blink and look away when engaging with your dog, to help him see that your friend is not a threat. Have your guest reach out slowly, with a loosely closed fist, to see if your dog wants to sniff. If that goes well, your guest can start by reaching in to pet under his chin, then go from there. 

Avoid Toxic Treats

There are many potential dangers on a holiday table (think high-fat foods, chocolate desserts, or grapes from the cheese board—all toxic to your fur babes), so it's best that you don't feed your pet from it. Instead, Campbell suggests "treating" your pets with a piece of their usual kibble. "A morsel of their diet given at an off-schedule time or in the right circumstances (for training, reward, etc.) will feel like a treat to your pet," he says. 

Deck the Halls (Carefully)

Mistletoe and holly can be toxic if eaten, string lights can be gnawed on and cause an electric shock, glass ornaments can break and cut paws, trees can topple over, etc.! You can still decorate—just be smart about it. "Keep delicate ornaments at the top of the tree, and avoid decorating with food or anything sparkly that can catch unwanted pet attention," says Campbell. Use a tree skirt to cover the tree's water bowl, and wrap the stump in aluminum foil to discourage any chewing. Clean up loose needles often, keep plants out of reach, unplug cords when you're leaving home, and don't leave extra batteries lying around.

Prepare for Those Not-So-Silent Nights

Noisy poppers, booming fireworks, and raucous friends can be scary for pets. Campbell recommends the ThunderShirt (a tight-fitting tee that is comforting to a lot of dogs), a food-stuffed toy (to keep him busy), sending your dog to his safe space in the house, or even working with a veterinary behaviorist to try to desensitize your pup by playing recordings a few times a week. 

Pause for a Paw Check

Icy paths treated with salt can be bad for your pup's paw pads. "Wipe your pet's paws with a damp cloth or baby wipe as soon as he gets inside. And minimize paw licking until paws are completely clean," Campbell says. "Paw wax or doggie booties provide an excellent barrier to minimize risk to sensitive feet."

This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.