Winter holidays are a busy time for the nation's vets. That's because holiday pet hazards overlooked by busy owners can spell disaster for your dog, cat or other pets.
Even if you're the ultra-careful type, keep the contact number for your vet handy, suggested Jim Cook, DVM, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and a practicing veterinarian in Lebanon, Ky.
Next, check how savvy you are about the top 10 holiday pet hazards -- and how to reduce the risks.
Holiday hazard #1: Chocolate
Any chocolate is off-limits for pets. "Baker's chocolate is the most [toxic]," Cook said. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to pets. Theobromine and caffeine are the toxic ingredients.
Holiday hazard # 2: The tree
Curious dogs may sniff and paw and pull the tree over on themselves; cats like to get up and try out this strange indoor tree.
Anchor it, Cook said. You can use wire to secure the top of the tree; then run the wire up to the ceiling or the wall and secure it.
Watch out, too, for the tree preservative often put in the water around the tree trunk, so your dog or cat doesn't lap it up. It can cause gastrointestinal problems.
Holiday hazard #3: Seasonal plants
Poinsettias get the bad rap as the most poisonous, when actually they are fairly low on the toxic scale. But eating them may still cause some gastrointestinal upset, according to the journal Veterinary Technician.
Other problematic holiday plants to keep out of reach: Christmas cactus, mistletoe, holly, cedar, balsam and pine.
Holiday hazard #4: Table scraps
Rich, fatty foods are often holiday favorites, but they can result in life-threatening pancreatitis, Cook said. Anything salty, spicy or greasy qualifies. Bones from chicken or turkey can splinter in the stomach. Keep table scraps out of reach, and be sure the garbage isn't accessible to your pet.
Holiday hazard #5: Ornaments
Tinsel can be too fascinating for a cat to pass up as a snack. Small decorations hanging low on the tree can be gobbled by both dogs and cats, and intestinal blockage can result.
Holiday hazard #6: Holiday cheer
Slipping a dog, cat or other pet alcoholic beverages to see how they act when inebriated isn't funny, and could be very dangerous, Cook said. "It can make them very sick, with vomiting and diarrhea."
Holiday hazard #7: Dangerous foods
Certain foods on the dangerous list all year may be more plentiful around the holidays - or your guard may be down. Be sure your pet has no access to coffee grounds, grapes, raisins, onions, chewing gum or mints with Xylitol. This sweetener, also used in baked goods and candy, is associated with liver failure and death in dogs, according to the AVMA.
Holiday hazard #8: Socially shy pets
Some pets simply aren't comfortable around a lot of people. Some get scared, others get hostile.
Whatever way your pet's party-shy personality tends to turn, put it in a spare bedroom with food and water, out of the way of guests, Cook suggested.
Holiday hazard #9: Escape artists
Pets "can be like little kids," Cook says. "They like to get out, too." So you've got company--maybe guests who aren't used to keeping track of pets--and someone leaves the door open and out they go.
Besides alerting guests to your furry escape artists, "make sure you have a way of finding your pet," Cook said. That means either a microchip, or at the least, a rabies tag or ID tag with your contact information, the vet's contact information, or both.
Holiday hazard #10: Aluminum foil
Crumpled up, with food sticking to it, aluminum foil can be irresistible to a pet. If swallowed, though, it can cause puncture wounds in the gastrointestinal tract, Cook said.
The holidays can be a busy and stressful time, but it's also a time to reconnect with your family, friends, and of course, pets. So be sure to take the proper precautions to ensure everyone has a safe and happy holiday season.