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Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe This Holiday Season

The holidays are an exciting time for get-togethers, gifts and delicious food. While most people are up for the festivities your pet might feel differently. Extra noise and visitors can leave pets feeling stressed. Food and decorations can present hazards, too.

Here’s what to you need to know to keep pets safe this holiday season.


It’s easy to give in to the begging eyes of your four-legged companion. However, it’s important to know what is and isn’t safe for them to eat. For specific questions, check with an expert like your local veterinarian or a resource like the Pet Poison Helpline. Keep phone numbers handy for your vet and the local emergency vet, too – especially if you’re traveling. Generally speaking, here’s a list of what foods to avoid giving your pet:

  • Say no to sweets. We’ve all heard that dark chocolate is dangerous for dogs, however, bread dough and cookie batter are just as dangerous. Dough can actually rise in your pet’s stomach, casing bloating and severe pain. Plus, just like their owners, pets can get salmonella poisoning from raw eggs in cookie batter or an upset stomach from too much sugar
  • Avoid bones and fatty skin. Bones can get stuck in their intestines if they are brittle, such as those from turkey or chicken. On that note, make sure you dispose of bones carefully, just in case a sensitive nose goes sniffing where it shouldn’t. Fatty skin from a turkey is also a no-no. The skin is full of fatty juices and butter, and can be difficult for your pet to digest. High-fat foods can also lead to pancreatitis. A little white meat, free of seasonings, is usually OK as a special treat.
  • Keep an eye on your cocktail. While we know pets shouldn’t consume anything other than water, you may find your pet taking a sip or two from an unattended glass, filled with an adult beverage. While dogs love the smell of beer, the hops in beer are toxic to a dog’s system.
  • Spice is not so nice. on your pet’s digestive system, that is. Sage is a popular seasoning used on poultry. While it’s delicious for pet owners, it can cause pets to have upset stomachs or even more serious digestive trouble. Heavily salted foods, such as ham or other cured meats, can pose problems, too. Nutmeg is another culprit that can wreak havoc on your pet. The popular spice used in pumpkin pie can cause seizures and central nervous system problems if your pet digests it. Pumpkin on its own is a safe treat for pets. Just avoid anything that is seasoned with nutmeg.
  • Other foods to avoid: Many holiday foods can be toxic to pets, including onions, garlic, raisins, grapes and the artificial sweetener xylitol. For other foods to avoid, check out this list of harmful foods for pets from the Humane Society of the United States or ask your veterinarian for a handout.


Sparkly decorations can pique your pet’s curiosity this time of year. Here’s what to keep in mind when you’re setting up and displaying your holiday décor:

  • Trim your tree with care. Cats might see your Christmas tree as the ultimate climbing tower. Make sure your tree is securely anchored to avoid a serious fall. If you have a real tree, it’s important to keep pets away from the tree water. Tree water can be a breeding ground for bacteria. If you use plant food in your water, it could even be toxic. There are many recipes online for creating your own non-toxic tree food to keep your tree lasting throughout the holiday season.
  • Be cautious with tinsel. Tinsel’s shiny appearance is a magnet for inquisitive cats. However, if ingested, the tinsel can wrap around the intestines or get balled up in the stomach causing severe pain and (expensive) surgical removal.
  • Ornaments are not toys. Glass ornaments can cut your pet’s mouth or digestive system if swallowed, or damage their paws if stepped on. Homemade salt ornaments, while fun to make, can be fatal to a pet because of the high amount of salt at one time.
  • Be bright about lights… Lights are everywhere during the holidays—indoors and out. Try to keep electrical cords out of the reach of pets. Inquiring minds could confuse lights as a new chew toy and end up with a shocking surprise. Get more tips for safely decorating with lights at the holidays.
  • … and careful with candles.  Our pets aren’t as careful around candles as we are. Make sure they’re out of reach of paws and tails. Better yet, choose a flameless battery option that you can “light” without worry. Read more in our 10 Commandments of Candle Safety.

Holiday Plants

Holiday plants are often purchased or given to enhance a home’s décor during this festive time of year. Here are three popular holiday plants that can be dangerous to pets.

  • Poinsettia: Actually, this popular Christmas plant isn’t as dangerous for pets as people think – but it can still make pets sick. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, poinsettias have milky white sap that when ingested can cause skin irritation, drooling and gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting. There is a low level of toxicity if a poinsettia is ingested.
  • Holly: Your pet will be feeling anything but jolly if they ingest a holly berry or leaf. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea could occur almost immediately after your furry friend takes a bite.
  • Mistletoe:  If ingested, mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems in pets.

Your best bet? Purchase silk or plastic versions of these popular holiday plants to avoid any unwanted trips to the pet emergency room.

Travel and Entertaining

It’s great to include your pets in family celebrations, holiday parties and holiday road trips. Keep these considerations in mind when you involve your pets in your holiday traditions.

  • Noise and crowds: If you’re entertaining, consider establishing a quiet place (like a spare bedroom) for a shy or tired pet to get some rest. Keep an eye on small children around your pets, too. Even a well-behaved dog can bite if anxious or stressed. Finally, be a courteous host – ask ahead of time if your guests have any allergies or anxiety around animals so you can plan ahead. Learn to spot the signs of an anxious dog and prevent dog bites.
  • Traveling with pets: Pack their belongings in advance and know what to look for in a pet carrier or car harness. Get more tips for keeping pets safe in the car.
  • Keeping pets warm:  Consider dressing dogs in sweaters or coats (gift idea, perhaps?) to keep them warm, or use booties to protect paws from snow and salt. Use pet-friendly salt when you can to prevent salt burn on tender paws. If your pet loves to be outside, make sure they have adequate shelter and a UL approved water bowl to keep water from freezing. Finally, keep your pet’s age in mind. Just as humans are more sensitive to the elements as we grow older, so are our pets.

Home is where memories are made

At the holidays and all throughout the year, our pets have special places in our hearts. Being greeted by that warm, wet nose is just one of those things that makes a house a home.

Make sure your home is protected with homeowners insurance you can trust. See what makes ERIE different or find a local insurance agent near you.