Making sure decorations and holiday foods are out of reach of curious cats can keep your pets safe this holiday season. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Holidays can be busy with people coming and going, an abundance of seasonal food and a higher level of home activity. All of this makes it joyous for people, but the furry and feathered members of the family may find it a bit much.

The last thing you want are holiday festivities resulting in a missing pet or an emergency trip to a veterinarian.

There is no reason pets should not be a part of family gatherings or parties, according to veterinarians. All it takes is some planning and making sure you know and respect your pets’ limits.

“The biggest thing I tell people is to be aware of holiday decorations and food,” said Dr. Mark Townsend at Veazie Veterinary Clinic. “There are lots of things they can get into.”

A cat’s natural curiosity makes anything string-like an issue, according to Townsend. That includes tinsel tree decorations or ribbons on wrapped packages.

“They want to play with anything stringlike and they can ingest it,” Townsend said. “It could cause some serious gastrointestinal issues.”

Another string-shaped hazard are Christmas lights and the extension cords that power them. Keeping wires covered prevents pets from chewing on them and risking shocks and electrical burns.

Ornaments — especially treasured heirlooms and glass decorations — should be hung higher up on a Christmas tree and out of reach of playful cats or rambunctious dogs who may knock them down. The last thing you need are shards of broken glass all over the floor that can slice pets’ or people’s feet. Glass can also be very dangerous when ingested by pets.

The safest thing is to avoid putting any decorations on the lower branches of a Christmas tree.

The tree can be a danger on its own, according to veterinary professionals. Cats in particular may be delighted to have an indoor tree to climb and explore or to use as a scratching post. It’s a good idea to use a sturdy tree stand and to tie the top of the tree to wall or ceiling hooks to prevent it falling over thanks to a cat in the branches.

Block off any access to the water for the tree because it can upset dog and cat stomachs. And swallowed tree needles can get stuck in your pet’s digestive system and need to be surgically removed.

“You always hear about poinsettia plants and how bad they are for pets,” Townsend said. “Poinsettias are not lethal, but if they chew on the leaves or flowers it can cause gastrointestinal or back of mouth irritation.”

The very nature of a holiday gathering makes it a bit of a minefield for cats and dogs.

Guests often bring large bags or purses into the house and set them on the floor.

Most pets are curious and will want to nose around inside anything within reach. So keep bags and purses off the floor so your pet can’t get any holiday food in shopping bags or medications, candy or gum in a purse.

It’s also a good idea to routinely scan your floor and make sure there are no small, plastic toys or batteries around that a dog could pick up and chew or swallow. Batteries contain zinc that can cause renal damage in dogs. Chewing on hard plastic toys or game pieces can break a dog’s tooth.

Food is a huge part of the holidays and all those wonderful smells are as inviting to your pet as they are to you.

“Especially for dogs I like to talk about treats,” Townsend said. “Chocolate is one really to watch out for — it probably won’t kill them, but in large enough amounts it can make your dog sick or even cause seizures.”

Keeping the different items on the holiday feast out of your pets’ reach will prevent them from gorging on food that can make them sick or, at the very least, uncomfortable.

Large gatherings with lots of excited people and activity can be a huge stressor for pets. So Townsend recommends having dedicated safe places for pets during the holidays, allowing them to come out when they want to greet your guests.

If holiday plans call for traveling with a pet, Townsend said it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian ahead of time in case you need medications to control nausea or anxiety.

If the pets are going to be guests at your house, Townsend said make sure you have a spot for them where they can retreat. And if you have your own pets, the first thing you should do is a low key meet and greet.

“Make sure they meet under very controlled circumstances,” he said. “Keep them on leashes and let them sniff around each other so they don’t just take off and knock over the tree.”

Should the worst happen and your pet gets sick or hurt, make sure you have the number of your regular veterinarian or an emergency animal clinic with you.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.