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Pet Safety for the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with family and loved ones, but it can be a stressful and dangerous time for your family pet. While the holiday season brings joy and cheer, nothing can halt that joy more quickly than an emergency for the family pet(s). Now that the holidays are upon us, Asheville Humane Society would like to offer the following tips to help keep your pet(s) safe this holiday season. Select a link below to jump to that section.


Christmas Trees and Presents

  • The family Christmas tree should stand in a flat, wide base. You might want to anchor it to the wall to avoid tipping. Cats often see trees as fabulous climbing posts. If your kitty shows a penchant for this activity, decorate with animal-safe items such as dried flowers, pine cones, resin-cast or wood ornaments. You might also want to consider putting the tree in a room with doors that close.
  • Whether your tree is real or artificial, both kinds of needles are indigestible. 
  • Metal ornament hooks can get caught in curious mouths. Use ribbon or yarn instead of hooks to hang ornaments. 
  • Refrain from using edible ornaments or decorations on your tree. Cranberry and popcorn strands can be deadly to pets, causing internal obstruction or getting wrapped around your pets' neck.
  • Tinsel can cause intestinal obstruction and blockage if swallowed.
  • Glass balls can shatter in an animal's mouth. Broken pieces can cut and be deadly if ingested.
  • Angel hair is spun glass, and will shred the intestines if swallowed.
  • Artificial snow or flocking can be ingested or inhaled and caught in the nasal passages.  
  • Cover your tree stand tightly with skirting. The water from the tree base can cause mouth sores, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. 
  • DO NOT use moth balls to deter your cat from climbing the tree, digging in your holiday plants or scaling garland. They are highly toxic and if even a little is ingested it could have serious consequences. A bowl of fresh lemon peels at the base of the tree can deter curious kitties plus add a nice scent to your festivities. Also, try spraying Bitter Apple or "Cat Away" on the lower branches. 
  • Exposed wiring can electrocute a curious animal who chews on it. Encase or cover cords or electrical plugs inside PVC tubing or under tape. Hide or tape down all cords to avoid tripping. 
  • Leave Christmas tree lights unplugged when out of the room to avoid electrocution. 
  • Keep gift ribbons, curling ribbon and bows out of sight to prevent chewing and swallowing. Do not put presents under the tree if your pet can access them. 
  • Many pets enjoy romping through discarded wrapping paper and empty boxes, but be sure to dispose of all bows, yarn and curling ribbon to prevent swallowing and intestinal blockage, or strangulation. 
  • If you are a cat owner, note that a disruption such as the rearrangement of furniture around the house to make room for a tree, perhaps may cause your feline to stop using the litter box.


  • The lovely bubbling holiday lights are moderate to lethal toxicity, depending on the amount of fluid (methylene chloride) inhaled or ingested.
  • Fire salts may be beautiful and breathtaking on a cold winter's evening, but they are moderately toxic to pets which can cause vomiting or convulsions. 
  • Resist the temptation to tie ribbons around your pet's neck for the holidays. The ribbons could tighten or get caught on something, choking the pet. 
  • Never leave burning candles unattended. Pets could knock over burning candles and receive serious burns by spilling hot wax over themselves.
  • Beware of simmering potpourri and/or potpourri oil. Most potpourri liquids contain natural or essential oils, which if ingested can cause vomiting, stomach upset, diarrhea, weakness and possibly liver damage. Some products also contain cationic detergents, which is even worse. Cats are often exposed to the oils by rubbing against a leaky bottle or pot containing the oil, or may spill it over themselves. When they try to lick the oil off of their fur, it poisons them, burning their tongue, mouth and esophagus. Dogs and ferrets often like the taste of potpourri, so make sure to keep an eye on them, too.
  • Keep batteries stored safely away. Batteries contain a highly corrosive acid that can burn a pet's mouth if it leaks or the container is broken by chewing. 

Food, Food and More Food

  • Keep food and bones out of reach and keep your dog out of the kitchen during preparation and serving. Even the most docile, well-trained dog might think that a turkey, roast or bone is worth fighting for. This could result in the dog biting anyone who attempts to take it away, including a small child. If your pet normally joins the family at dinnertime, remove him/her from the room with a favorite chew toy or treat.
  • Watch hot containers. Pets can easily tip them over causing severe scalding and burns.
  • Human seasonings aren't good for pets, and rich stock and drippings can easily upset pets' digestive system.
  • Pets are not garbage disposals for holiday leftovers. Any sudden change of diet, even for just one meal, can give your dog or cat stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating or other health problems. This is particularly true for older animals, whose digestive systems are often more delicate and nutritional requirements more strict.
  • BONES ARE DANGEROUS!  Please, please don't feed your pets bones, especially poultry bones, which splinter easily. Consumption of these bones can cause pain and sometimes death. Each year thousands of pets are treated for consumption of splintered bones. 
  • Aluminum foil or plastic wrap that smells of food might be attractive to a pet, ingestion of these items may cause vomiting, intestinal blockage or even more serious problems.
  • Candy wrappers, bright and attractive, can be a choking hazard or cause digestive problems. 
  • Spicy foods, alcohol, fatty foods may seem harmless but can lead to upset stomachs. 
  • Onions are extremely toxic to cats and dogs. 
  • Have appropriate dog and cat treats available and give sparingly.

Holiday Plants


A number of Christmas season plants are poisonous to pets if nibbled or eaten:

  • ivy - moderate to very toxic, all parts;
  • holly - moderate to very toxic, especially the berries and leaves;
  • mistletoe - very toxic, all parts, especially the berries;
  • Christmas greens such as balsam, juniper, cedar, pine and fir - all parts have a low level of toxicity;
  • hibiscus - may cause vomiting or bloody diarrhea if ingested;
  • Poinsettias - are not as poisonous as once believed, but are slightly toxic. It is probably a good idea to keep poinsettias out of reach of the pets, since when ingested in large quantities, it could make an animal very sick.
  • This is not a conclusive listing... there are many more toxic plants. It's wise to keep plants out of your pets' and children's reach.

If you think your pet has ingested any toxic plant or other poisonous substance, please contact your vet immediately. If one is not available, you can contact the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-800-548-2423 or 1-900-680-0000 for 24 hour emergency assistance. There is a $30 fee per case.


Holiday Parties

  • Crowds of people and holiday festivities can frighten pets. If you plan to entertain, plan ahead on your pets' behalf. Make sure they have a "safe haven" where they can retreat. Put pets in this safe haven before guests arrive.
  • Pets can escape through open doors as guests arrive and leave. Don't allow pets to have free access to your home during parties.
  • Noise and changes in routine can be very stressful for a pet.
  • Keep all pets securely indoors during firework displays. The noise and exploding fireworks are hazardous to your pet. In some cases, fireworks can cause pets to develop tremendous fears or long-term phobias. Put pets in a quiet room and try masking the noise with "white noise" as well as with music or other familiar sounds. Make sure dogs are walked long before the anticipated fireworks begin.

Holiday Weather

  • If ingested, anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) is often lethal – even in very small quantities. Because many dogs and cats like its sweet taste, there are an enormous number of animal fatalities each year from animals drinking anti-freeze. Poisoning from anti-freeze is considered a serious medical emergency which must be treated by a qualified veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. Fortunately, the Sierra Company now offers a far less toxic form of anti-freeze. They can be reached at (888) 88-SIERRA.  
  • Ice-melting chemicals and salt placed across sidewalks and roads can cause severe burning to your dog's footpads. Whenever possible, avoid walking your dog through these substances, and wash off his footpads when you return home. There are also products available such as Musher's Secret which can be applied to your dog's footpads prior to going outside, which may help reduce the pain that is often caused by road salt and chemicals. 
  • When a dog's internal temperature drops below 96°F (by being exposed to cold weather for long periods, or getting both wet and cold), there is a serious risk to the dog's safety. Small and short-haired dogs should wear sweaters when taken for walks during cold winter weather. Any sign that a dog is very cold – such as shivering – should signal the owner to bring the dog indoors immediately.
  • Your dog should have a warm area to sleep at night, away from drafty windows or doors.  Make sure your dog has warm comfortable bedding and his water isn't too cold.
  • To avoid fleas this time of year, wash your dog's bedding and vacuum your carpets weekly. Also, make sure your dog is on a monthly flea and tick preventative.
  • Your dog may require more calories in the cooler months. Talk to you veterinarian about whether or not you should increase the amount of food in the dog dish.
  • Most dogs shed their summer coats before putting on their winter coat. Make sure to brush your dog often to keep down the amount of hair dust bunnies found in your home.

Holiday Travel/Visiting Guests

  • Planning to take your pet with you when visiting friends and relatives during the holidays? Make sure to find out in advance if your pet is welcome. It might be best for you to board your pet or hire a reputable pet sitter.
  • If you are going away for the holidays, make sure pet enclosures are secure, your pets are wearing proper identification, and arrangements have been made for their care.
  • Increased activity and visitors during the winter holiday season can upset your pet's routine. Try to keep your pet on his regular schedule for feeding and exercise and be sure the pet gets plenty of love.
  • If you must travel, remember that most kennels and boarding facilities are booked for the holidays. If you are traveling and you can't take your pet with you, consider an in-home pet sitter or a licensed, referenced professional.
  • Please reconsider traveling with your pet via airline and the cargo hold. This is both traumatic and dangerous for pets.

Holiday Costumes

  • Costumes may look great for pictures, but don't subject your pet to something he's not comfortable doing. If he doesn't like wearing the costume, he'll let you know. 
  • Beware of any costumes with rubber bands, which can cause irritation or choking.

Source: Asheville Humane Society website