holiday pet safety

We, as a society, love the traditions of the holidays. However, the sights, smells, sounds, and good cheer can drive some pets crazy.  Having a Holiday Pet Safety Guide is an excellent idea to review this time of year.

Understanding that holiday celebrations can adversely affect your pets is a significant first step to ensuring a wonderful season for the entire family.

Holiday Pet Safety Guide

Be Aware

A happy holiday season for furred, feathered or scaled family members starts with recognizing a few key things:

  •  Changes in the home environment can create stress for pets. 
  •  Things that we bring into the home for the holidays can pose a physical danger to our pets.
  •  Pets should not be forced to participate or experience situations that are frightening to them. 

Many pets are seen as part of the family and as such, pet owners want to include their pets in the merriment that happens this time of year. The fact is, many pets would do better if they sat out some of these events. It’s not just anxious pets who may need a break—any pet can be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells, and the inevitable changes in their routine.

Stress dog at Christmas

Travel and Pets

When considering whether to travel with your pet, remember many pets are often still recovering or just recovered from the stress associated with summer vacation and back-to-school activities; for some pets, this may have meant travel already or possibly a move.  

If you are going to be traveling with your pet, you should make every effort to help make their travel experience safe and comfortable, whether you will be taking the train, a plane, or an automobile. 

Pet Carrier

  •  All pets should travel in a pet carrier or crate. Take the time to make the carrier welcoming and cozy. Let them investigate it ahead of time and reward them for calm activity around and in the carrier. This helps the pet see it as a good place to be, rather than as a punishment or something to fear.
  •  If you are traveling across state lines or by commercial transport, you will likely need a health certificate; this includes a health exam of the pet, which must be done no more than ten days before your departure at your veterinary clinic.  
    • If you are traveling abroad, there are specific requirements for every country you will be entering, and it can take weeks and even months of planning.
  •  If your pet is typically anxious about travel or disruptions in its schedule, you may wish to consider having stress-relieving products on hand such as pheromones or anxiolytics. For anxious animals, having pheromones and the proper anxiolytic medications can mean the difference between a Merry Christmas and a Blue Christmas!
    • Additionally, you may wish to have a supply of anti-nausea medication on hand.


Reducing Stress for Pets that Stay Home

For many families and pets, traveling isn’t worth it. Just because the pet is home, however, doesn’t mean all is well. Any disruption to the normal routine can create fear, anxiety, or stress. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy is key to ensuring those pets have happy holidays too.

  •  Visitors- If your pet doesn’t like strangers, they won’t like people coming into the home. 
    • Create a safe space now, with favorite toys and bedding to serve as a retreat when friends or family come over. Most people know when they will have visitors. Pets should be escorted to their safe place before the company arrives.
    • Whenever possible, meet your guests at the door, so the doorbell isn’t always going off and sending pets into a frenzy or increase feelings of anxiety. Alternatively, you could tape a sign over the doorbell – asking them to knock instead.
    • Provide them a special long-lasting treat or foraging toy at this time.
    • For anxious animals, this is a lot more fun than meeting new people.

 Stressed cat and dog

  •  Decorations- Some families add a Christmas tree to the living room. Others rearrange the furniture, too. Or they add something that moves or makes noise. A train running around the base of the tree? A dancing Santa or snowman? Flashing lights and candles? We might find these beautiful, but they can overstimulate and frighten pets.
    • Any change in the home—no matter how insignificant it may seem to you—can make a pet anxious.
    • Holiday decorations themselves can pose significant health risks to pets.


  • Oh, Christmas Tree: Securely anchor your Christmas tree, so it doesn’t tip and fall, causing possible injury to your pet. Securing your tree will also prevent the tree water—which may contain fertilizers that can cause stomach upset—from spilling. Stagnant tree water is a breeding ground for bacteria, and your pet could end up with nausea or diarrhea should he imbibe.
      • Avoid Mistletoe & Holly: Holly, when ingested, can cause pets to suffer nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. And many varieties of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested. Opt for just-as-jolly artificial plants made from silk or plastic, or choose a pet-safe bouquet.
        • Little rosemary trees with a ribbon on top make a lovely gift and can be attractive to your pet. But rosemary contains essential oils that can be dangerous to pets. In small quantities, there is no problem — eating a lot causes irritation to the GI tract. Large amounts can cause kidney damage and low blood pressure. 
        • Poinsettias– Many people panic about poinsettia ingestion, but this plant is not that dangerous. Although a pet chewing on a poinsettia may create mild vomiting or diarrhea signs, the more common toxicity is caused by the sap in the leaves. The pet’s skin can become red and itchy if in contact with the sap. Ingestion of poinsettia sap by pets can irritate the mouth and cause excessive salivation. Eyes may become irritated if the pet gets the sap in them.
    • Tinsel-less Town: Kitties love this sparkly, light-catching “toy” that’s easy to bat around and carry in their mouths. But a nibble can lead to a swallow, which can lead to an obstructed digestive tract, severe vomiting, dehydration, and possible surgery. It’s best to brighten your boughs with something other than tinsel.
      • That Holiday Glow: Don’t leave lighted candles unattended. Pets may burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over. Be sure to use appropriate candle holders, placed on a stable surface. And if you leave the room, put the candle out!
      • Wired Up: Keep wires, batteries and glass or plastic ornaments out of paws’ reach. A wire can deliver a potentially lethal electrical shock and a punctured battery can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus, while shards of breakable ornaments can damage your pet’s mouth and digestive tract.
      • Potpourris not for pets: Potpourris” should be kept out of reach of inquisitive pets. Liquid potpourris pose risks because they contain essential oils and cationic detergents that can severely damage your pet’s mouth, eyes, and skin. Solid potpourris could cause problems if eaten.

cat and tinsel

Confining pets to a safe place whenever they are left home alone will decrease the chance of illness, injury, or stress due to all the possible holiday hazards.

  •  Foods A large part of holiday merriment centers on food, whether it’s a full sit-down dinner or a casual gathering with snacks or other special treats. Families want to treat their pets to have special foods, too.
  • Leave the Leftovers: Fatty, spicy and no-no human foods, as well as bones, should not be fed to your furry friends. Grapes, raisins as well as onions and garlic pose health risks for pets.
  • Careful with Cocktails: If your celebration includes adult holiday beverages, be sure to place your unattended alcoholic drinks where pets cannot get to them. If ingested, your pet could become weak, ill and may even go into a coma, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure. Additionally, some holiday nuts ie macadamia nuts are extremely toxic to pets.
  • Say, no to Dough: Yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating.
  • Skip the Sweets: It is a widely known fact that chocolate is dangerous for pets. Equally harmful is anything sweetened with xylitol. Pets can and will go to great lengths to enjoy something yummy? Make sure to keep your pets away from the table and unattended plates of food as well as purses or bags and be sure to secure lids on garbage cans. 
  • Selecting Special Treats: Looking to stuff your pet’s stockings
    • For Dogs — Stick with chew toys that are indestructible, Kongs that can be stuffed with healthy foods or chew treats that are designed to be safely digestible. 
    • For Cats — Long, stringy things are a feline’s dream, but the riskiest toys for cats involve ribbon, yarn, and loose little parts that can get stuck in the intestines, often necessitating surgery. Surprise kitty with a new ball that’s too big to swallow, a stuffed catnip toy, or the interactive cat dancer.


For some pets, a kennel or pet resort will be their home away from home during the holidays while the human family travels. To help reassure an anxious pet, consider packing a favorite blanket or a sweatshirt that smells like home. Ensure your pet gets extra staff time with personal on-one-attention or exercise times during their stay. It is also a good idea to bring your pet’s regular food with them to help prevent GI upset.  


Many families feel compelled to give gifts to their pets. The best gifts are those that are pet safe and stimulate the pets’ brain, i.e., a food puzzle makes a great toy; instead of an elf costume, it doesn’t want to wear in the first place.

Use caution with pets and gift wrapping. Keep wrappings and ribbons out of reach of pets. Ribbons and bows are tempting for pets to eat and could result in serious health issues like a bowel obstruction. 

New Year’s festivities Fireworks at the stroke of midnight are standard in many communities. Here are three tips for families to help pets cope with holiday fireworks.

  1. Pet owners should build the pet a safe spot. A safe spot helps insulate him or her from noise and flashes of light, which can be a significant source of fear.
  2. Use pheromones to provide a sense of calm and comfort.
  3. If the pet is still distressed, consider prescribing anxiolytic medications to help provide relief.

Pet anxiety from fireworks

After the Holidays

The festivities are over, so everything goes back to normal, right? Wrong. Disruption lingers. You, the pet owner, need to know how to recognize stress in your pet and use positive encouragement to create positive associations. Pets need to adjust to that new treadmill in the corner of the room or the toys the kids may be playing with. Providing treats and reassurance when the pet is exploring these new objects helps them get used to the changes with good feelings. 

Pets also need to become accustomed to their owners not being around as much; most people take a lot of time off during the holidays, and kids are home from school. Food puzzles can help prevent boredom that may happen when the house is empty again.

It is not uncommon for pet owners to find a pet may begin to destroy things in the home when left alone or is soiling the house; these behaviors do not mean the pet is angry and seeking revenge. Instead, they indicate the pet is stressed and will need additional help in adjusting to the post-holiday routine.

There are few times during the year when as much changes in the home as it does during the holidays. By being aware of some of the pitfalls and dangers, stay calm and prepare for the physical and emotional needs of your pet; you will reduce stress and distress for you both, and the holidays will be truly merry for all!

Happy Family at Christmas

About Brook-Falls
Brook-Falls Veterinary Hospital and Exotic Care is dedicated to providing quality care to all companion pets and exotic animals. Brook-Falls is a Menomonee Falls, WI-based full-service veterinary hospital with an extensive range of comprehensive medical, dental, diagnostic, and surgical services to meet the varying needs of all patients. Brook-Falls Veterinary also offers informational and educational media and seminars for pet owners by way of blogs, digital TV series (Expert Veterinary Television), e-books, whitepapers, infographics, and more.
Help us spread the word!