ManyPets guide to winter holiday pet safety

December 15, 2022 - 3 min read
holiday pets

Whether you’re decorating a Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, or just throwing a party, the winter holidays are meant to be fun and festive. In practice, though, they can be very stressful.

Sorry to say, pet owners may have a few additional things to stress over. For dogs and cats, the winter holiday season tends to be chock full of toxic foods, inedible decorations, open flames, and visitors streaming through open doors.

So as we head into this stressful/festive (strestive?) season, here are some key tips to help make sure both your furry and non-furry loved ones have a safe holiday.

Be Careful With Food

A great number of foods that are perfectly healthy for humans can make your pup very sick. And some of these foods are quite popular around the holidays.

Never Give Them Sweets

If your pet gets their jaws around a dessert, the situation can become dire very quickly. Certain sweets are downright dangerous for cats and dogs. For instance:

  • Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, chemicals that are toxic to both dogs and cats. Chocolate poisoning can impact your pet’s heart and nervous system, leading to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and even death. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is (though, to be clear, all chocolate is unsafe for your furry friends).

  • Xylitol, a common artificial sweetener that can be used in many different kinds of desserts, can be dangerous for both cats and dogs. It causes low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, and death.

  • Sugar and Fat: Even the less toxic desserts aren’t particularly healthy for your pet. Sweets containing large amounts of sugar and saturated fat can lead to conditions like vomiting and diarrhea, and even — if eaten frequently over a long enough period of time, obesity and pancreatitis.

You should also keep in mind that a lot of desserts contain milk products, and many dogs and cats are lactose intolerant.

No Leftovers or Table Scraps — Unless You’re Very Careful

If you’re planning a holiday feast, bon appétit! But before you let your pet eat any of it, be sure to do your homework.

There are indeed many human foods that are safe for your pet to eat. Certain lean meats, along with certain fruits and vegetables, can be perfectly healthy in small or moderate portions. (Though do keep in mind: Your pet should eat roughly the same number of calories every day — so if you feed them table scraps, you’ll need to reduce their other meals accordingly.)

On the other hand, many human foods are downright dangerous for your furriest family members. Here are some common holiday foods that are dangerous or toxic for dogs and cats:

  • Ham, bacon, fat trimmings, and poultry skin: Fatty foods can cause stomach issues and even pancreatitis

  • Bones: Cooked bones are unsafe, especially poultry bones, which can block or damage your pet’s digestive tract.

  • Onions, shallots, garlic, chives, and leeks: Foods from the “Allium” family of plants can cause life-threatening reactions in both dogs and cats

  • Nutmeg: Nutmeg can cause health emergencies like diarrhea and even seizures.

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is toxic to both dogs and cats

  • Alcohol: Alcohol can cause heart arrhythmia and alcohol poisoning in pets

  • Certain Nuts: Walnuts and macadamia nuts are toxic to pets.

  • Grapes and Raisins: These can cause severe kidney damage in dogs and cats

  • Yeast Dough: Raw bread dough can cause bloating and alcohol poisoning

  • Dairy: Many dogs and cats are lactose intolerant.

  • And as we’ve already discussed, avoid sweets: Chocolate and xylitol, in particular, are extremely toxic to pets.

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Please note that this list isn’t meant to be 100% comprehensive.

If you still have any doubts about which foods are safe, be sure to consult a vet — or simply refrain from feeding table scraps or leftovers to your pets

Christmas Trees Can Be Dangerous

Fir and fur don’t mix.

Depending on the size and weight of your Christmas tree (and also the size and weight of your furry friend), it’s more than possible for an energetic pet to knock over the tree, and even get pinned under it. Gifts under your tree are good; pets under your tree are bad.

Your pet may also try to chew or even eat ornaments and electric lights, which can be very dangerous. And on top of all that, pets can eat the needles from your tree, which can cause damage to their digestive tract.

But not to worry — you don’t need to leave your Christmas tree in the forest. Just take some simple precautions. For instance:

  • Secure Your Tree: You can keep your tree upright by securing it to another surface in your home — say, with some fishing line

  • Try a Pet Deterrent Spray: Bitter pet deterrent sprays are an effective way to keep your pet from nibbling on trees or ornaments (or any other decorations, for that matter)

  • Keep Ornaments and Lights Out of Reach: If you place your Christmas tree decorations high up on your tree, your pet may not be able to get to them

  • Buy an Artificial Tree: This is a good option if you’re worried about your pet eating tree needles.

  • Use a Gate or Fence: If you’re intent on keeping your pet away, you can always place a special gate or fence around your tree.

Deck the Halls Safely

Classic holiday decorations like plants, tinsel, and more can pose risks to your pet.

  • Plants: Several plants commonly used as holiday decorations are toxic for pets. These include holly, mistletoe, amaryllis, and more. Keep these plants high up and out of paw’s reach, or in areas of your home that your pet can’t access.

  • Tinsel: Keep your dog or cat away from tinsel; they can become extremely ill if they eat it. If you think your pet has eaten tinsel, get them to a vet immediately.

  • Candles: Pets can knock over candles and start house fires. Keep your pet away from open flames. (If you’re using a menorah, you’ll have to be careful eight nights in a row.)

  • Lights: Your pet can suffer an electrical shock if they chew through lights, so keep them away.

  • Garbage: Garbage is kind of the all-of-the-above entry on this list: It can contain any and all dangerous items that graced your home this holiday. So just make sure you take any full trash bags out of your home right away.

Prepare for Visitors

If you’re hosting a party, you may need to take some steps to keep your pet safe from your guests — and to keep your guests safe from your pet.

For one thing, you should always tell guests you have a pet ahead of time. One of your invitees might suffer from a pet allergy, and that person will urgently need to know if you have a dog or cat in your home. (Even hypoallergenic pets produce some dander.)

You should also be prepared for what your pet might do when visitors are streaming in and out of your home. The last thing you want is for your pet to bolt out the door as your friends and family members arrive (or leave). You may need to keep your pet gated off from the entryway so they can’t get out.

And finally, be sure to (politely) tell your guests not to feed your pet. You’ve now learned which foods to keep away from your furry friend — but your guests probably haven’t read this article! Children, in particular, may not know any better; it’s perfectly acceptable to ask their parents to speak with them about not feeding your pet.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.