If this is your first holiday season with a cat or dog in the house, you may need to make some adjustments to your usual celebrations.
First off: holiday decorations can be hazardous to your pets!
Take a good look at a few Christmas tree ornaments. Now take a good look at a few dog or cat toys. Now put yourself in your pet’s place -- are you surprised that they can’t tell the difference? No wonder Fido picks up one of the ornaments you’ve set down while decorating and starts crunching away on it!
And don’t expect the kitty to be satisfied with batting at the ornaments on the lowest branches; she WILL climb that tree at some point! It’s your job to make sure the tree is secure enough (such as tied to the wall with some strong monofilament) that it won’t fall over when she reaches that tempting angel at the top. Tinsel, ribbons, and sparkly garlands are also very tempting to a cat, and if any length is ingested it can cause havoc with their intestines, leading to expensive vet bills or worse. One way to keep kitty safe is to keep the door to that room closed so your feline adventurer can’t get in there without adult supervision.
Some dog owners go with a full-sized tree, but decorate the lower part -- up as high as the dog is able to reach -- with unbreakable, less-tempting ornaments. Or you might set up the tree in a corner and block access to it with baby gates or an X-pen. One client of mine switched to a three-foot-tall table-top tree when she adopted a very tall dog. If you have a fresh tree, make sure the water in the tree stand is covered so that the pets don’t drink from it.
Poinsettia plants have the reputation of being poisonous to pets. More recent research shows they are toxic -- if your dog or cat (or toddler) chews on the leaves they will likely end up with an upset tummy -- but not deadly. The leaves and berries of mistletoe are also toxic. Keep them up high where your family’s four-footed members are less likely to notice or bother with them.
Speaking of ingesting potentially deadly things, you probably know that some ingredients common to holiday gatherings -- red wine, raisins, chocolate, and onions, for example -- can be toxic to dogs. But do your guests, or the people who will be hosting your holiday gatherings, know? Make sure you share the information, and any dietary restrictions particular to your dog, with anyone likely to sneak your pet some holiday morsels. Find more information at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/thanksgiving-safety-tips.aspx
Make sure that stockings or gifts containing chocolate and other tempting treats -- such as the bison jerky you’ve put in your teenager’s stocking, or even yummy-smelling soaps or candles -- are well out of reach of your canine companions. And it’s best not to set out the toys and treats you’ve acquired for the family’s four-footed members too far in advance!
Dogs and cats love paper, so you may want to share the fun of opening gifts with your pets by letting them play with the removed gift wrap and tissue paper. Ball it up and lob it down the hallway for your dog to chase down and rip to shreds, or pile it up in big, crinkly sheets for the cat to hide under and pounce on. Don't let them help you unwrap gifts, or they may think it's okay for them to shred the paper on any gift they encounter in the future!
If friends and family want to give gifts to your critters, suggest specific brands you know and trust, or offer to take the dog shopping with them at a local pet store. You can also suggest making a donation to their local humane shelter or the organization where you found your four-footed friend.
Finally, if your pets will be around guests or hosts who aren’t “pet people” over the holidays, you will need to be on your toes, but avoid turning the experience into a long list of “Don’ts.” Have a good supply of healthy treats for the humans to share with your four-footed family members; cut back on your dog’s or cat’s regular meals a little if they are going over their calorie quota.
Ask for volunteers to help you with pet-related activities: preparing pet meals, taking Fido on a walk or to a dog park for exercise, running a brush through the dog’s or cat’s fur, practicing basic obedience (for treats!) and showing off tricks. Making these activities fun for visiting kids who don’t (yet!) have pets of their own is a great way to prepare your family’s next generation of responsible pet owners.