It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and also one of the busiest. There are decorations to put up, gifts to buy and wrap, special foods to cook, parties to host and attend–and all kinds of trouble for cats and dogs to get into. Here are some of the potential problems.

Decorations. Cats and dogs can tip Christmas trees and break or eat ornaments and lights. You may need to anchor the tree to the wall and use nonbreakable ornaments. Be sure to supervise your animals around the tree, or ban them from the room if necessary.

  •  Many cats like to play with tinsel, ribbon, and other stringy things. Unfortunately, these strands can get caught up in the stomach and small intestine, requiring surgery to remove. Avoid tinsel altogether, and look for decorations that are less attractive, or less dangerous, for your pets.
  • What about the greenery? Many cats and dogs will drink the water from the base of the Christmas tree, so don’t use any additives to keep the tree fresh. Chewing on a poinsettia will cause mouth burns and possibly vomiting, as will many other plants, so keep them out of reach of plant-nibblers.
  • Many cats are attracted to the warmth and flickering light of candles or scent warmers. They can get close enough to catch their fur on fire or tip hot oil on themselves. Never leave a candle or scent warmer unattended within reach of a cat—and remember, cats can reach places you’d never expect them to!

Gifts. Your dog or cat may unwrap those gifts as fast as you can wrap them—especially if they contain food! Hide the goodies securely if you have a potential gift-grabber. And keep the gift ribbon under lock and key as well if you have a string-obsessed cat.

Visitors. Some animals love company, others not so much. Understand you pets’ personalities and make a plan to keep them safe. If your dog is shy or overly exuberant, you may want to have him sequestered in a quiet bedroom while guests arrive, then introduce him to the group once everyone is settled. Cats generally do a good job of hiding if they’re not fond of crowds.

Food. The temptation to share special holiday treats with your pets can be overwhelming. Listen to me: Don’t do it. A seemingly innocuous bit of food can make your dog or cat vomit or have diarrhea, and who needs that during the holidays, of all times? Be sure to tell any guests not to slip your animals any goodies either.

Travel. Does your dog love car rides, and are your mom and dad excited to have a him sleep over at their house? How about their animals—are they equally happy about seeing the grand-dog? (Be honest now.) If so, great. If not, board him. It’s too late to make that reservation for this year, but make a note on your calendar to call the boarding kennel next September. You can always cancel if your plans change later. As for cats—I’ve met, oh, maybe three that enjoyed traveling. The rest want to stay home and have a servant (ie, a cat sitter) come once a day to feed them and clean their litterbox.

All of us here at Fanwood Animal Hospital wish you a joyous, peaceful, and healthy holiday season. We hope your furry family members stay healthy as well, but if they don’t, we’re here to help.

Betsy Brevitz DVM
Staff veterinarian at Fanwood Animal Hospital and author of The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook (Workman Publishing)