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Christmas with Dr. Courtney: Here’s how to keep your pooch (and your kitty) safe from holiday danger

Abundant food, friendly visitors, strange plants and breakable decorations — the Christmas season is fun, but does pose a few risks for your pets. Here’s how to keep them happy and healthy
Dr. Courtney Andrews, associate veterinarian at Lockerby Animal Hospital, with her pooch pal. (Image: Jenny Lamothe)

At its very base level, a holiday celebration is a time when we get together with those we love, and well, eat. We laugh, we share stories, we take the time to enjoy those who have brought joy to our lives, and thank them for it. For many, these loved ones include pets, those devoted family members whose unconditional love can enrich life itself. 

But for their enrichment, we need to celebrate our pets very differently than we do our human friends. 

Dr. Courtney Andrews, associate veterinarian at Lockerby Animal Hospital, says that keeping our pets safe this time of year means checking in with your vet before the holidays hit, being mindful of how we decorate, and keeping our plates to ourselves – no matter how cute those begging eyes may be. 

First things first. Your veterinarian has a demanding job — physically, mentally and unfortunately, emotionally — and they need time off, too. That’s why it’s best to check in with your clinic to find out their holiday schedule, ensure you have enough food and refill any medications your pet requires. As well, though there is always a veterinarian on call in the city, how you contact them may vary, so verify with your clinic the best way to contact them when you need assistance. 

Dealing with anxiety

If you have an anxious dog, it might be in your — and their — best interest to check into any relief that can be offered, especially if you are about to host a houseful. 

“Being in a new place or having a lot of people over to your house can be stressful even to the most social of pets,” says Dr. Andrews. “New Years’ especially, with fireworks, noise makers and poppers.” 

In addition to making sure that your pet has a safe place away from people, whether it’s their bed, a room or a kennel they feel safe in, make sure to watch for open doors that pets may try to escape through, and have their identification and collar information on and up to date.

“If you know your pet gets anxious, talk with your veterinarian about different methods to help ease anxiety,” says Dr. Andrews. “There are a variety of options available, from Thundershirts, nutraceuticals or medications that may be appropriate depending on what behaviour your pet is showing.” 

Plants, decorations and food

The rest of the worries can be summarized in three words: plants, decorations, and food. 

“Holiday plants can cause problems ranging from upset stomach and diarrhea to cardiovascular problems or kidney failure. Lilies and Mistletoe tend to be the most dangerous.” 

This can even be an issue with water additives put in tree stands to help the tree last longer, which should be avoided or covered around pets. 

If you have concerns over a plant in your house, Dr. Andrews recommends checking the ASPCA poison website, which has a list of plants and their possible side effects when ingested.

And speaking of ingested, be on the lookout for the possible ingestion of decorations, as well as “people food.”

“Food is one of the best parts of the holidays, but our pets should not be included in our feasts,” says Dr. Andrews. “Everyone is aware of the hazards of chocolate, but new sugar-free alternatives, specifically xylitol, can cause catastrophic damage to the kidney and liver of pets at relatively small doses.” 

Even sharing a small bit of dinner can be an issue. 

“One thing we see a little more frequently at major holidays is inflammation of the pancreas — pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in dogs is linked to high-fat meals. A small tidbit from the table might seem like no big deal, but when you have 8 or 10 people it adds up.”

And of course, if you’ve had both a pet and a Christmas tree, you know what a recipe for disaster that can be. 

“Decorations can often seem like toys for pets, particularly cats, and can lead to emergency visits and possible surgery. Tinsel, streamers and New Years’ poppers are dangerous as one end of the strips can get trapped, leading to a bunching of the intestines and a blockage that can require surgery to correct,” says Dr. Andrews. “The tree can seem like a great play toy and place to climb, so make sure it is well secured to it doesn’t tip and fall on your pet.” 

Gifts for our furry friends can also pose a problem, so ensure that you are buying from a trusted source, not based on price, and keep an eye on them while they enjoy any “chewers” to ensure they are not trying to inhale it as one piece. 

If you suspect any issues with foreign body or toxin ingestion, the best rule of thumb is to contact your veterinarian for advice. If necessary, in addition to their toxic plant list the SPCA has a free advice hotline: (888) 426-4435, but a call to your clinic will always be the better choice.

Make sure your home is welcome not just for the friends and family that make your life better, but for your animal family members too, and you can all enjoy the best of the holidays.

Jenny Lamothe is a freelance writer, proof-reader and editor in Greater Sudbury. Contact her through her website,