Animal Safety

Keep Your Pets Safe and Happy This Holiday Season

The holidays are a time for celebration. However, before you start making merry, first make sure your pets are safe from holiday dangers. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure the safety of your pets during the holidays and give you peace of mind.


According to Kathy Wahlers at the Pet Poison Helpline, poinsettia plants get a bad rap, but they are only mildly toxic to pets. She says that holiday bouquets containing lilies, holly, or mistletoe are far more worrisome. Be sure to keep these plants well out of the reach of animals in your home, or consider using artificial versions.

“Lilies, including tiger, Asiatic, stargazer, Easter, and day lilies, are the most dangerous plants for cats,” said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, assistant director of Pet Poison Helpline. “The ingestion of one to two leaves or flower petals is enough to cause sudden kidney failure in cats.”

Other yuletide plants such as holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to pets and can cause gastrointestinal upset and even heart arrhythmias if ingested. One other common toxic plant used in wreaths is eucalyptus. I was actually guilty of forgetting this one. I recently purchased a live eucalyptus wreath from Trader Joe’s and hung it on my front door, not bothering to worry about its toxicity since it was hung outside. However, the leaves are starting to wilt and fall off when I open the front door, and I caught one of my cats playing with a leaf. While one leaf shouldn’t harm my cat, it’s worth paying attention to if you happen to have one of these wreaths!


Decorations such as tinsel, glass ornaments, and garlands can easily attract pets, but are dangerous because they are choking hazards. Tinsel is especially tempting to cats, who see bright shiny strings as something to be played with. Although tinsel does not pose a poisoning risk, it can cause severe damage to a cat’s intestinal tract if swallowed. Ultimately, cats run the risk of severe injury to—or rupture of—their intestines, and treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery.

Electric decorations such as stringed lights can brighten a room, but unfortunately can also give your pets a shock should they chew on the wires. Keep decorations out of their reach, or at the very least, spray electrical cords with bitter-apple spray (which pets don’t like).

Whether using a cut or live tree, keep the water stand covered to prevent accidents as the water for the live tree may contain fertilizers or bacteria. Avoid using aspirin in the water for your cut tree if you have a cat, as aspirin is highly toxic to cats. Also, don’t let pine needles accumulate on the floor, as these needles can perforate the intestinal lining of dogs and cats. Additionally, trees should be tethered to a wall or the ceiling to prevent them from falling on pets (or humans for that matter).

Do your gift wrapping on an elevated surface, where your pets can’t get into (and consequently eat) string, paper, and ribbons that can cause intestinal blockages. Recently, imported snow globes were found to contain antifreeze (ethylene glycol). One teaspoon of antifreeze when ingested by a cat, or a tablespoon for a dog (depending on its size), can be fatal. Signs of early poisoning include acting as if drunk or uncoordinated, excessive thirst, and lethargy. While signs may seem to improve after eight to 12 hours, internal damage is actually worsening, and crystals develop in the kidneys resulting in acute kidney failure.


It’s one thing to give your dog a taste of pumpkin pie, but it’s another to let him indulge in a turkey leg and some beer. Drinks such as alcoholic beverages can be toxic to pets if ingested. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure.

And you may want to skip sharing the turkey since poultry bones can splinter and cause blockages. Foods containing grapes, raisins, and currants (such as fruit cake) can result in kidney failure in dogs. Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion of small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea but large amounts can cause seizures and heart failure. Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.


According to the ASPCA, one of the most common holiday-related emergencies is the consumption of human pharmaceuticals. Make sure all your medications are securely locked away from pets and children, and be sure to tell your guests to keep their meds zipped up and packed away, too.


The unusual commotion of the holiday season can be stressful on animals as well as humans. Put your pets in a quiet room or quiet area of the house when guests are visiting. Soothing music helps not only humans, but animals as well. If possible, put on a nice, relaxing CD to calm your pet. Even though we’re all busy around the holidays, don’t forget to give your pets some attention. Try to keep your pets on their regular eating and exercise schedules. Leave a note on the front door reminding visitors not to allow your pet to run out of the house. Nothing puts a damper on festivities like turning a holiday party into a search party.


Unless it’s absolutely necessary to travel with your pet, leave them at home. It’s best to find a friend or pet sitter to come to your home to take care of your pets. Post your veterinarian’s phone number in a prominent location, like your refrigerator. This provides easy access to necessary information for your pet sitter, should a problem arise.

Before traveling with your pets by car or plane, make sure they have all the required vaccinations and are wearing identification tags or are microchipped. If you’re traveling by car, be sure to secure your pet safely with a seatbelt harness, crate, or barrier and make frequent stops, allowing pets time to exercise and relieve themselves. Too many accidents happen in cargo areas, so if you must fly with your pet, if it is not too large, it’s best to have it secured in a carrier, underneath your seat. Make sure to be prepared at the airport. Animals traveling in carriers must be removed from those carriers when going through security. Make sure your pet has a harness and a leash to keep it from running and proper ID to ensure it gets returned to you if something should happen.

By following these tips, both you and your pet will enjoy a happier and healthier holiday season!


Home for the Holidays

County Animal Services is promoting homes for the holidays by discounting all animal adoptions for the entire month of December. All dog and cat adoptions are discounted $25 through December 31, 2010. Adopting a dog will be $65. Adopting a cat will be $40. Adopting a rabbit will be $25. Every adoptable animal has been medically screened, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered.

There are over 1,000 animals awaiting adoption at Santa Barbara County Shelters. Visit the animals whose only wish this holiday season is for a home to call their own. Bring a little love home for the holidays. Adopt a shelter animal. However, as much as I want to encourage “Home for the Holidays,” adopting an animal should not be a surprise for a friend or even your own family. Visit the shelter together. Decide on which animal to adopt together.

County Shelters

• Santa Barbara Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road

• Lompoc Shelter, 1501 West Central Avenue

• Santa Maria Animal Center, 548 West Foster Road


Adoptable Pet of the Week

This 1- to 2-year-old, 42 lb., Siberian husky mix is very social with everyone he meets, including kids of all ages, and dogs. He has also lived successfully with a cat. He is clever about getting over fences, so it would be important for his new owner to have a non-climbable fence.

To find out more about Denali and all his pals, visit us at K-9 PALS, 5473 Overpass Road, (805) 681-4369 or online at

Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions,


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