How to Have a Festive Christmas With Dogs (Safely)

Tangled Christmas

When you think about Christmas with your dog, your thoughts may center on which items to put in their holiday stocking this year. However, preparing for the holidays with a pet in the home involves much more than gift giving.

Dog-Proof Holiday Decorations

For many of us, decorating our home is the first step in preparing for the holidays, and most of the items we use are not typically found around the house all year long. Being naturally curious creatures, dogs will want to check out anything new that comes into the house. Unfortunately, this is where some potential problems can come into play. Keep these points in mind to keep both your decorations and your pup safe.

  • Keep salt dough decorations out of reach, as these can poison your dog if eaten.
  • Opt for plastic or resin ornaments instead of breakable glass.
  • Resist hanging ornaments at the bottom of the tree or ends of low branches where they'll present the most temptation to your pet.
  • If your dog is a chewer, use a bitter pet-safe deterrent spray on decorations to prevent chewing.
  • Avoid using tinsel or other long decorations that could cause a linear foreign body if ingested.
  • Skip long, decorative table runners that your dog could grab hold of and pull to prevent dinner from ending up on the floor.

Use Caution with Christmas Trees

Celebrating the holidays with your dog is bound to involve setting up the traditional Christmas tree. However, there are some considerations -- and some risks -- you can keep in mind to make sure you and your pup have the safest, most enjoyable holiday possible.

Live or Artificial?

Of course, there's nothing like the look and smell of a fresh, live Christmas tree, but how will it affect your dog? Live trees often carry unseen molds that can cause allergic reactions or respiratory distress in some pets and people.

If this is the first Christmas you and your dog will be spending together, you might want to try a little test before setting up the entire tree. Bring a sample branch -- foliage and all -- of your chosen evergreen into your home for a few days, allowing your dog to sniff it under your supervision. If you don't observe any negative reactions, it's probably safe to put up a live tree.

However, if your dog does show an adverse reaction, remove the branch immediately; wash your pet's face to remove lingering traces of the allergen and plan on enjoying an artificial tree this year.

Avoid choosing a pine Christmas tree, as pine can be toxic to cats and dogs. If they chew on or eat any part of the tree (needles, bark, or branches), they could be at risk of liver damage or death. Select a fir, spruce, or other variety of conifer instead.

Tree Set Up and Security

Choosing just the right placement for your tree also makes a difference to your pet's safety.

  • Consider purchasing a smaller tree and setting it up on a tabletop, out of your dog's reach.
  • Full size trees are best set up in a corner where your pet's access can be limited.
  • If possible, wire the top of the tree to a drapery pole or staircase banister to reduce the risk of it tipping over should your dog accidentally bump into it.
  • Wrap the base of the tree and stand in plastic wrap to keep your dog from being tempted to drink the water, which can be toxic as fertilizers and other chemical compounds leach from the tree.
  • Hide those electrical light cords at the back of the tree and cover any exposed cords or strategically place pieces of furniture to keep your dog from chewing them and possibly being electrocuted.
  • Sweep up fallen needles regularly to prevent your dog from eating them, as this can lead to an upset stomach.
  • Never place gifts containing food under the tree, as dogs can easily access and eat the contents.

Avoid Toxic Seasonal Plants

mistletoe bundled with a red bow

Seasonal foliage is abundant during the holidays, but sharing Christmas with your dog means keeping these beautiful plants out of Fido's reach. Many popular plants carry some level of toxicity for pets. The intensity of the reaction depends on the plant type, the size of your dog, and how much they ingest.

Mild poisonings can present with stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea, whereas severe poisoning can lead to seizures or even death. The initial signs of toxicity include drooling, lethargy, low appetite, and vomiting. If your dog chews on or eats a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian right away. Keep the following Christmas plants out of your pup's reach.

  • Mistletoe (highly toxic)
  • Holly
  • Pine trees
  • Poinsettias
  • Amaryllis
  • Yew
  • Lilies

Dangers of Candles

Candles play a prominent role in many holiday celebrations. Advent wreaths, Menorahs, and other light sources produced from open flame may enjoy a prominent place in many homes, but they can pose a threat to your pet or your entire home. A gentle bump or tail wag can send them toppling, which serves as a high fire risk.

  • If you choose to light candles, keep them on high surfaces where your dog cannot access them.
  • Keep candles off tablecloths or runners that your dog might be able to pull down.
  • Extinguish all flames before going to bed or leaving the home.
  • Better yet, opt for pet-friendly flameless candles.

Toxic Christmas Ingredients

Food is a big part of most holiday traditions, but many of the delicacies and treats we enjoy are not suitable for our pets. Avoid feeding your dog any dishes containing these harmful ingredients.

Pet-Safe Holiday Foods

Not everything in the spread is off limits. If you do want to share a taste of a bit of dog-safe holiday dish with your pup, do so in moderation. Too much of anything can upset a pet's stomach -- keep in mind that they are significantly smaller than humans, so a bite of cornbread could be equivalent to an entire tray for you. Reach for these healthy holiday foods if you do decide to share.

Choose Safe Gifts for Your Dog

Santa’s helpers

The most pleasurable part of celebrating Christmas with your dog is picking out a few choice presents for your furry friend. The same items that would be appropriate any other time of the year are good at Christmas, too.

  • Watch out for small toys or pieces that could break off an item and pose a choking hazard. Be sure that any item you give your pet is size appropriate.
  • Check the ingredients used in treats to make sure your pet isn't allergic to anything listed. Why not bake your own tray of dog-friendly treats to ensure they're safe for your special pup?
  • Interactive toys can keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated through the cold winter months.
  • Puzzle games are a great training tool and fun for dogs.
  • Tough chewers could benefit from a gift designed specifically to be indestructible.
  • Gifts don't always have to be tangible -- you could get your dog a pass to doggy daycare if they enjoy socializing, enroll them in a training course, or take agility classes.

Reduce Holiday Stress

While safety is of prime importance, the most important thing to remember about Christmas and your dog is to watch them for stress. Lots of hustle and bustle, changes in the home, and strangers coming and going can all take a toll on your pet. Be sure to leave some quiet time in the schedule to give both of you an opportunity to decompress.

Make sure your pup has access to a "safe zone" at all times. This could be a crate with a cozy blanket or a quiet corner in the bedroom where they can be alone. Guide your dog to this area whenever you sense that they are stressed to signal that they can take some time to regroup. If your dog is particularly anxious, you may want to speak with your vet about holistic solutions or anti-anxiety medication.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Finally, keep in mind that veterinary offices may be closed during the holidays. Refill any pet medications early and ensure you have enough to last through the week. It's also valuable to seek out the contact information of an animal hospital that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even through the holiday season, in your area should an unexpected emergency occur. Virtual services like Airvet may be available as well. It's unlikely that you'll need urgent care with the proper precautions, but it's best to be prepared.

Keep Dogs Safe with Intentional Planning

Pets are an important part of the family and should be included in the festivities. With proper planning, you can enjoy a merry and stress-free holiday alongside your dog.

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How to Have a Festive Christmas With Dogs (Safely)