The Christmas season is a busy time for the entire family. You have places to be, carols to sing, and a host of related activities. You’re probably running around, wrapping and hiding gifts, taking the kids to pageants, and attending your local ballet company’s annual presentation of The Nutcracker.
In the flurry of yuletide excitement, it is easy to overlook your dog’s needs. We love Christmas decorations, holiday feasts with family, fun in the snow, getting dressed up, and the rituals of gift giving. Each of these traditions carries its own special risks where are dogs are concerned, though, and we’re here to remind you of some of the most common ones.
Deck the halls, but deck them wisely
The immortal poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (commonly called “Twas the Night Before Christmas”), contains wisdom relevant to dog owners during the holidays. Note that “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.” Take your dog’s size and tendencies into account as you festoon the home. Is your dog a chewer or perhaps a jumper? Anything you hang, from garlands and wreaths to strings of lights, should be placed well beyond the reach of curious and agile dogs.
Live Christmas plants also accent many homes. Poinsettias should be positioned well out of a dog’s reach, while mistletoe and holly should be fastened securely to walls and doors. While these plants do present some risk of toxicity when ingested by dogs and puppies, unless you live in a greenhouse full of them, chances are that the worst your dog will experience is a little digestive upset.
Are you getting a fresh-cut Christmas tree? A frisky dog can overturn a tree not secured firmly to a stand or base. A tree falling in the home not only can do damage to the room it’s in, but can cause injury to a startled dog. If you keep the tree in water, a heavy cover or skirt around the base will prevent your dog from lapping at it. If you utilize tree preservative chemicals, this is even more important.
Food preparation and kitchen safety
Whether you’re preparing Christmas meals, a savory dish for the office holiday party, or baking cookies for Santa, there are a number of things to keep in mind where your dog is concerned. If your kitchen has a door, keep it shut to dogs and puppies. You’ll not only minimize the risk of them nibbling at uncooked foods and knocking over completed dishes, but also prevent them from running afoul of knives and other dangerous kitchenware.
During big event meals, restrict your dog’s access to the dining room or wherever food is consumed. Traditional Christmas feasts tend to contain excess fats, sugars, and spices that have little nutritional value to dogs, and which can lead to digestive upset if they are overindulged. Resist the temptation, great though it may be, as your dog pleads to share food from your plate.
Try to find a safe room and some toys that your dog enjoys to keep him occupied when you have guests over. When the egg nog, wine, and harder alcoholic beverages start flowing freely at your Christmas gathering, you won’t have to worry about where your friends and family set their glasses down. Berry and plant toxicities in decorations have nothing on the easy potential for alcohol poisoning in dogs.
The fire is so delightful … and dangerous
Do you live in a region where extreme winter weather — snow storms, hail, or freezing rain — is common? If you utilize a wood-burning fireplace during the Christmas season, make sure there is a sturdy protective screen in place. It will keep dogs from disturbing loose logs, minimizing the risk for fires and singed fur. Try to avoid fragrant incense and candles, which can adversely affect a dog’s sensitive nose. If you must light candles of any kind, see to it that they are secure and inaccessible to dogs.
When selecting winter coats for a small dog’s outdoor walks, it’s worth investing in one that is waterproof, or in a non-toxic spray that prevents it from retaining water. A wet coat provides neither warmth nor protection for a dog in extreme cold. Is your dog’s Christmas clothing more for fun than utility, like a cute Christmas costume? Make sure any holiday clothing does not restrict her movement or obstruct her hearing or vision.
Puppies are not presents
It only takes a glance at the most common hazards facing dogs during the Christmas season to realize that a puppy should not be a present, and certainly not a surprise. The dead of winter is probably not the optimal time to get a new pet, especially a dog, which will need daily exercise, training, and attention. If you or your children cannot commit to regular outside walks or the grueling process of toilet training a puppy indoors, you may want to rethink the decision.
Like bunnies and baby chicks at Easter, the novelty of a puppy as a present wears off quickly as he grows and his needs become clearer to first-time dog owners. A puppy is not a gift to hide from children, as the young dog’s need for attention and affection cannot be put on hold until Christmas morning.
Going out of town? Expecting visitors?
Finally, whether you are expecting visitors during the Christmas holidays or are visiting family yourself, plan ahead for your dog as well. This may mean scheduling an extended stay at a boarding facility, seeking out pet-friendly hotels, or checking with hosts about their pets or allergies.
The Christmas season is a hectic time for every member of your family. You may get a break from work or school obligations, but not from your duties as a dog owner. Be mindful that decorations, rich foods, cold weather, and increased traffic in the home can present as much anxiety and temptation for your puppy pals and canine companions as they do for you!
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