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Pet Health

Christmas – Safe & Ready

Val Cairney December 10, 2021 156

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Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  Well it is that time of year when holidays are upon us, whether you are celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, our pets are usually included in all the festivities.  Our pets are part of the family, so just about every pet owner I know has their pet’s Christmas stocking hanging up to be filled by Santa Paws.  

Special occasions like Christmas can add a whole other dimension to our pet care and management.  And I’m sure that many of the tips and suggestions I will be making for holiday preparedness apply to other celebrations as well that are happening this time of year.

So, let’s start with the fun stuff with regards to getting our pets gifts for Christmas.  There are a lot of toys and treats in all the pet specialty stores and pet departments of other stores this time of year.  It is so tempting to load up.  I try to do a toy and a treat for my gang.  The dog probably gets a bit more being very honest here, but I do have to keep in mind that many of our guests bring treats for the dog at Christmas.  Now, our friends have come to know what kind of treats we give to Tundra and what we do not.  They stick to the list so that makes things a bit easier.  However, I can tell you, many people come in asking for a suggestion for a dog treat that they would like to take to someone’s house that has a dog and they do not know what to get.  We air on the side of caution here, suggesting something that has very few ingredients that we know is popular.  Many people do not know what to get your pet, and some may be choosing based on what they got their dog 20 years ago.  So, if you do get a dog treat gift that isn’t something you would give your dog or it will elicit an allergic reaction or upset tummy, I suggest being gracious and say you will add these to the treat bin for a later time.  You can always donate them later to your local shelter.  And if you end up with a bunch of toys your pets are not interested in, again, bundle them up and take them to the local shelter.  And remember, while you are hiding those treats and toys from your pet, make sure you have stored them in a place your pet cannot get to while you are out or not watching.  Tearing into a bag to get at a treat may just send you for an unwanted trip to the vet.  

Now, although we get our pets gifts for Christmas, one thing that is very, very important to follow, is that giving a pet as a gift at Christmas is a serious no, no.  Many shelters and rescues suspend adoptions just before Christmas to avoid the last minute shoppers who think giving a cat or dog to a relative is a good idea.  Now, there is the scenario where a family has had discussions and talks about whether getting a pet is something everyone will be committed to.  In this case if the family has made a collective decision taking into account all the pros and cons and have decided that as a family gift they want to get a dog or cat, then I can see this decision.  However, if the idea is to get Grandma a cat for instance as a companion because at some point someone suggested, “gee Grandma you should get a cat” and she said, “ yes, I’ve often thought of getting a cat”, this is not a good enough reason to surprise her with a cat on Christmas Day.  The shelters are trying to avoid the “returning” of pets and this is the exact scenario that contributes to this.  Grandma may have said in passing she thought of having a cat, but does she really want the lifetime commitment emotionally and financially of having a pet?  So, if you really think this is a good idea, wrap up some photos of shelter animals and say if getting a pet is something she wishes, after Christmas, she can pick out the pet she wants and the adoption fee is your gift to her.  Whatever the scenario, it is never a good idea to surprise someone with a live animal on Christmas.  

Okay, so let’s look a little more deeply at the things we need to be aware of during the holidays when we have pets. Christmas can be a very stressful time for our pets mostly because there is so much going on with decorations, baking and cooking and visitors.  So, one way to help our pets is to have some calming treats or supplements on hand in case they start to become anxious.  This should be thought of as a safety measure because stressed pets can do some rather odd things, so it is best to get ahead of any unwanted behaviour due to stress.  Other things to think about are candles, scented candles, and essential oil infusers. We love to have those Christmas-y smells in the house, but strong scents can be harmful.  According to, “the scents themselves can cause stress or airway irritation for your cats and dogs.”  They suggest that if you must have scented candles “opt for the “cleaner burning” candles that are made from soy, beeswax or vegetable wax.”  And don’t forget our little friends when it comes to this.  Rabbits can be quite affected by scented candles because of their heightened sense of smell and they can ingest chemicals as the fumes deposit on their fur leading to G.I. tract issues.  Plus, if the smell from the candle is a yummy warm cookie smell for example, be careful your pupper isn’t tempted to have a little nibble.  Essential oils are particularly concerning for pets, all pets including birds.  Tea Tree oil is particularly dangerous in its oil form.  According to, “Dogs are susceptible to certain essential oil toxicities but cats are much more so.”  “There is mixed opinion on the use of vaporized or aerosolized essential oils.  While the risk of acute toxicity is low with inhaled oils at low concentrations, some people believe there is the possibility of long term cumulative damage that may increase the risk of liver and lung diseases.  Others believe this risk is insignificantly low.”  So, the best idea here is to do some research about which essential oils are deemed safe, as there are some, and make sure you are using a diffuser so the oil is quite diluted.  Or just stay away from the whole thing if you feel uncomfortable after your research. 

Let’s talk about specific plants here.  At Christmas it is quite possible that we would have lovely poinsettias or mistletoe, holly and tree garlands and real Christmas trees throughout the house.  First, poinsettias.  According to “poinsettia plants are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs. While poinsettias are commonly “hyped” as poisonous plants they rarely are, and the poisoning is greatly exaggerated.”  But, you do need to be concerned if a large amount or the entire plant was consumed.  As for mistletoe, according to, “one bite has the potential to make cats and dogs sick, usually in the form of vomiting and lethargy.” So keep that mistletoe up high and secured well for those holiday kisses.  Holly can be particularly problematic because it can have those sharp little points and as stated by, it contains a soap like component that can cause severe stomach irritation.  Christmas trees, pine, fir or spruce or any evergreen so this would include those garlands around the house, can cause stomach upset because they contain small amounts of essential oils.  The issues with these are basically in volume.  If a large amount has been consumed, then you will probably have to visit the vet, quickly.  So, if your dog or cat has consumed something from these categories, take away any food and water for a few hours and see if their stomach settles.  If the vomiting continues, you will need to go to the emergency vet.  So, again, we have to keep our eyes on our pets throughout this time and if you would like to play it safe, a Christmas cactus is non-toxic. 

Also, at Christmas there are many tempting treats and hors devours being put out for guests and if your pup gets into these when you are not looking, you could be dealing with a pupper upset from either end.  Cats too are known to take a trip amongst the yummy offerings and they too can get upset stomachs as a result.  So, again, keep watch and inform your guests not to feed your dog or cat as this will just make things worse.  The other thing I should mention is to keep an eye on your pets and their whereabouts when everyone is seated and enjoying dinner.  One Christmas dinner many moons ago, I found our Samoyed had stolen the carved turkey off the counter and had taken it downstairs to eat when everyone had left the kitchen for the dining room.  Not only were we concerned about the bones he was crunching into, it turned out that while he was eating the turkey, he also ate some string that had been used to truss the turkey.  It wrapped around the back of his tongue and believe me this turned into quite the vet visit and he ended up being put under so the vet could cut this string away from his tongue.  Yeah!  That was not fun!!  

Okay, so besides food, we also need to watch the gift wrap and the ribbons etc. that can be left around while opening presents.  All of this wiggly ribbon is so tempting to cats that they can get themselves tied up in a ribbon that can choke them outside and in if they have eaten the ribbon.  After all the wonderful gifts have been opened the next thing to watch for is any small toys or soaps or anything that you can think of that could be a hazard to your dog or cat. Make sure things are out of the way and not left for them to ingest or destroy.  Of course, many of us have mature dogs and cats that are not an issue with any of these concerns, but if you have a pup or kitten or a rambunctious dog or cat, these are things to keep ahead of.  Puppies can be quite a handful.  So be super diligent with regards to eating things they shouldn’t, pulling trays of food off the counter, ripping open things they shouldn’t and bolting out the door when guests come over.  It may be a special occasion but use this opportunity to reinforce your ongoing training when guests arrive or if need be, puppy may have to go into its crate or another room until everything settles down.  People often dress up a bit when going out during the holidays, so a dog jumping on their nice clothes may not be appreciated, so work on that sit while people come in. Cats and kittens in particular can also get into many things and kittens are notorious for climbing Christmas trees and toppling the whole thing down.  Plus, ornaments at a lower level are way too tempting.  My Rory decided it was a good idea to crunch the lights on the tree where he could reach.  You can always tell a house with a young cat by how high their tree ornaments begin.  If you really need to deal with a tree climber, there are cat repellents at your pet specialty store you can try.  Remember, the spray bottle tactic is not effective as this only means they will stop climbing the tree when you are home and you also become a source of resentment to kitty.  Some old fashioned discipline with removing kitty and telling them “no” firmly is a good training method and again you can try the repellants.  

After Christmas, many celebrate New Year with, again, food, drink and friends.  Again, we need to watch our pets for an increase in stress and for joining the party partaking in the food or drink.  Alcohol is not for pets nor is cannabis.   It is not funny to have a drunken guest pour beer into your dog’s mouth.  According to, “Feeding a dog alcohol is actually quite cruel and dangerous and feeding a dog beer or booze is a form of animal abuse.  Dogs can exhibit severe central nervous system symptoms, hypothermia, vomiting, coma and diarrhea from consuming alcohol or absorbing alcohol through their skin.  Even small amounts of alcohol can trigger life threatening levels of toxicity, including a dangerous condition called metabolic acidosis.”  This condition creates an extreme increase in total body acidity. The condition can slow breathing, inhibit oxygenation of the blood, slow heart rates, hypothermia (decreased body temperature) and even cause a fatal heart attack”. So, no alcohol and make sure your guests know the rules.  And remember all those streamers used at New Year’s.  Kitty is probably just waiting to get his paws on all that fun, so we know we have to be diligent here to make sure there is no choking or ingestion of the party decorations. 

So, being a diligent pet owner means we have to keep our pet’s well-being at the forefront of our thoughts despite the fact that we have so many things going on.  I always say, make a list.  Think ahead of what you need for your pet, what your pet may like to enjoy the festivities and have you informed your friends that you have a pet and here are a few rules you would like to make them aware of.  Most people usually ask if they can give something to your dog, but there is always that odd person that thinks it’s okay, so maybe have at the ready something you can say that won’t hurt that person’s feelings or centre them out.  If children are coming to your home, again be prepared.  Are these children that know how to be around dogs and cats?  If not, you’ve got a teachable moment here.  Chasing your cat because they want to pet it is not acceptable, and you know, it can be so awkward with some parents that just don’t get it.  I’ve had people come in who are paying absolutely no attention to their children, and catch them beating our store cat with some toy or banging the cat tree she is sitting on annoying and scaring her to death.  At that point, my cat’s safety is a priority, so yup a child like that will be told to stop it, that is not how we treat animals.  So, you will have to have this scenario thought through if children are coming over.  Hopefully they will be like me when I was a kid and dragged to an adult affair with my mother.  If there was a dog or cat in the house, just show me the way and I’ll spend the evening, sitting with them and petting them or playing with them.  Don’t worry about me Mum, there’s a cat here!  

So, hopefully, all our pets will have a very special family time throughout the holidays.  And if you have a moment, maybe drop over some toys or treats for the shelter pets.  So, happy holidays and Merry Christmas from everyone here at Val Talk’s Pets and special hugs to all the fur kids.  I heard Santa Paws will be extra generous this year! 

Cheers everyone!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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