With holiday gift-giving and celebrations dominating the season, experts warn sometimes the jolliest time of the year can lead to numerous safety concerns for dogs, cats and other household pets.
Keeping furry family members safe during the holiday festivities can prove difficult, but it’s important to be mindful of a pet’s well-being. From unhealthy treats and toxic plants to hazardous decorations and presents, the list is never-ending, said Erin Askeland, a pet behavior expert and training manager at Camp Bow Wow, believed to be the largest pet care franchise in the world.
Among the helpful tips offered by Askeland is for individuals to treat their pets as they would a child; take caution with wires; avoid holiday plants and candles; hide the trash can; utilize a sofa cover; and to be careful with fruit and candy baskets.
“Active puppies and kittens can easily get into dangerous situations,” she said. “Use safety gates in areas where dangerous holiday items are to prevent your pet from getting into trouble.”
The holiday season can be stressful for pets because they pick up on their owners’ stress, said Kathleen Slagle of the Pocono Animal Welfare Society Inc., or PAWS, in Pennsylvania.
Slagle said there’s typically more drinking during the holidays and, with various visitors and family members coming and going, it’s important pets are prevented from getting out unnoticed.
She said it’s a good time to make sure they have ID tags with current information.
“Another Christmas issue is people getting pets as gifts,” Slagle said. “Animals should never be given as presents.
“Animals can be a 15-year commitment and giving them as presents is not appropriate,” she said, noting that many that have been given as gifts end up in shelters, chained outside or abandoned after their “cuteness wears off or the kids don’t want to take care of them as originally promised.”
Slagle also referred to a healthy pets’ webpage which pointed out that in the weeks leading up to Christmas, certain disreputable individuals and businesses are bursting at the seams with all the latest popular puppy models.
Most of these babies are shipped in from puppy mills. Some are healthy, many are not. Many are bred and born in inhumane, often filthy conditions.
Every time a dog is purchased from an irresponsible breeder or mill operator, it is an incentive for those businesses to stay up and running.
So, while individuals may give a puppy mill baby a good home for Christmas, her mother remains back at the mill, having litter after litter until she’s too sick or old to reproduce — at which point she’s disposed of, she said.
Slagle noted that since some shelters and rescue organizations shut down adoptions this time of year to prevent problems associated with giving pets as Christmas gifts, there is a greater tendency by people who would ordinarily adopt to go the pet store or backyard breeder route.
“Please don’t be one of them — wait until the holidays are over and visit your local shelter or rescue organization,” she said.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that the holidays are a time of year when we spend time with our family and celebrate the things that we are thankful for, said Gillian Kocher, the director of public relations and marketing at the SPCA.
“At the SPCA, we feel that animals are a big part of that, and are most certainly family members,” Kocher said. “During this season, and all year long, we hope that pets are celebrated as members of the family and cared for in that matter as well.”
Askeland at Camp Bow Wow noted that pet owners should never let their dogs off the leash in snow or ice.
Although it may seem like a fun option to let your pup frolic in the snow, it can prove to be extremely dangerous for dogs who tend to lose their sense of smell in extremely cold weather and become lost.
“Believe it or not, winter has the highest rates for lost dogs,” she said.
Individuals should also take care and thoroughly wipe down pets when they come back into the house after being in the snow.
It is common for dogs to ingest salts for melting ice as well as anti-freeze, which can prove to be very toxic, she said.
“Not only is ingesting toxins a problem, but snow being left between your dogs’ toes can cause ice chunks to freeze on their fur, possibly causing your dog to rip their fur or pads,” Askeland said.
Pet owners should also use dog-friendly, pet-safe ice melt when de-icing outdoors and they should never leave their animals in the car during winter.
“Whether always an outdoor dog or just outside to play, make sure to have a shelter for them from the wind and snow,” Askeland said, noting that fresh water should also be provided at all times.