With the holidays approaching, it’s time to think not only about celebrating, but also about dog safety.
By Nomi Berger
To ensure that the season stays merry and bright, plan ahead and start early. Change the appearance of your home from everyday to holiday gradually, over a period of several weeks. This will allow your dog time to grow comfortable with everything from new or additional furniture and tabletop arrangements to wall and window decorations. To encourage your dog to view this as something positive, reinforce the sentiment by keeping him occupied with Kongs filled with cheese spread or peanut butter, or puzzle toys to puzzle over while you slowly transform the space around him. Maintain your dog’s normal feeding and walking schedules. Ensure that your dog’s “go to” place for security remains the same, unless you know from past experience that his doggy bed, crate or favorite blanket should be moved to a room far from the festivities.
Whether you’re hosting a single event or several, follow the same routine to minimize your dog’s potential uneasiness. Ask any unfamiliar guests and all of the children to calmly ignore your dog. Monitor your dog for any signs of anxiety or stress, and lead him to his “safe” place if necessary. On the other hand, if he appears relaxed and is eagerly going from guest to guest, provide them with some of his favorite treats so that they can keep him happily fed.
Be conscious of and careful about the greenery you bring into your home. The sap of the Poinsettia plant is considered mildly toxic, and can cause nausea or vomiting in your dog. Holly is considered moderately toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, whereas Mistletoe is severely toxic and can cause everything from gastrointestinal disorders to cardiovascular problems. Christmas trees are considered mildly toxic. Their oils can irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling and/or vomiting, while their prickly needles are hazardous to your dog’s entire GI tract. Wherever possible, keep all plants beyond your dog’s reach, or else watch him carefully for signs of curiosity, interest or the impulse to either lick or chew. To err on the side of caution, buy artificial plants instead.
As appetizing as holiday fare is for people, it can prove agonizing, even lethal for pets. The most notorious offenders are:
GRAPES: Although the precise substance which causes the toxicity in grapes is unknown (some dogs can eat grapes without incident, while others can eat one and become seriously ill) keep them away from your dog.
HAM: High in salt and fat, it can lead to stomach upsets and, over time, pancreatitis.
MACADEMIA NUTS: Within 12 hours of eating macadamia nuts, dogs can experience weakness, depression, tremors, vomiting and hyperthermia (increased body temperature), lasting between 12 and 48 hours. If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.
BONES: Whether rib roasts or lamb chops, turkey, chicken or duck, they all have bones. Thick ones and thin ones. Brittle, fragmented and splintered. Whatever the size, shape or texture, they all spell the same thing: danger. From throat scratches to stomach perforations to bowel obstructions. To safeguard against these painful possibilities, all leftovers, particularly bones, should be carefully wrapped and disposed of promptly.
ALCOHOL: It’s traditional to celebrate the holidays with more alcohol than usual – both in cooking and in drinks such as eggnog and fruit punch. For safety’s sake, keep these temptations (including partially eaten plates of food and half-empty glasses) out of the reach of your dog.
CHOCOLATES: Although chocolate has long been taboo for dogs, most chocolate comes gift-wrapped in foil for the holidays. Now, not only can your dog get sick from eating the chocolate, the wrapper itself can get stuck in your dog’s throat or cause problems as it works its way through your dog’s digestive tract.
CHRISTMAS PUDDING, CAKE AND MINCE PIE: All three are filled with currants, raisins and sultanas (the “dried” version of grapes) and therefore pose the same health risk. They are also made with fat and suet, and laced with alcohol — from scotch and brandy to sugary liqueurs – all of which can cause severe stomach upsets.
With some strategic planning beforehand, you and your dog can be assured of spending the happiest and safest of holidays together.
Nomi Berger is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto with her adopted Maltese, Mini, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.