This time of the year is bittersweet for those of us in the animal care world. Although we look forward to enjoying the holidays with our friends and families, we often dread the cases that we invariably see in the clinic because of the heartache for the owners and the suffering of the pets. I know you all see the warnings every year from multiple pet sites and might get tired of them and tune them out, but I’ll add my 2 cents anyway 😉

Your pets face many “threats” during the couple of months from Halloween through New Year’s that they may not during the rest of the year. These threats can include: rich foods, decorations, costumes, unusual numbers of guests, and loud sounds, the list goes on and on…

Food: We’ve survived Halloween and Thanksgiving so far this year, but still have a couple of holidays to get past. Most people are aware of some of the human foods that can cause disease in our pets, including chocolate, onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, raisins, etc. But toxic foods are not the only concern we have with food. I’ve had at least half a dozen pancreatitis cases in the past month. Many people are not aware of the threat that that bit of ham fat or turkey skin can present to a dog, until the pet is vomiting with nasty diarrhea and has a terribly painful belly. Dogs can be especially sensitive to dietary fat. Just because your pup regularly gets table scraps doesn’t make it safe. While I won’t go into the details of pancreatitis here, I can assure you that hospitalizing your best friend because you just wanted her to get a treat like the rest of the family at a holiday dinner can put a damper on your festivities.

Decorations: These can pose several issues. Mostly this is a concern if the pet eats them. Everyone understands why a cat wants to play with shiny, moving tinsel. No one really understands why they might choose to eat it,
but some will, and it can result in horrible intestinal tears. My recommendation if you have cats – just don’t use it. The tree will still be pretty.

Dogs also have a bad habit of chewing and/or consuming decorations. Some tree ornaments can look a lot like the balls they get to play with. They can leave some pretty nasty cuts and fragments in a mouth, not to mention what can happen downstream if they swallow pieces.

Costumes: Some pets love them, some hate them. If your pet hates them, please don’t torture them. If they love them, make sure they fit appropriately. It is easy to get legs caught up in sweaters that might be bit too big.

Guests: Having unfamiliar people around can be a very big cause of stress for your pet, and this depends on the level of socialization to which your pet is accustomed. A happily social dog who may be fine with 4-6 guests may be completely overwhelmed with 15. And also, PLEASE do not try to get that “cute” dog/baby picture with a baby in the family the pet does not know. To dogs not familiar with infants or toddlers, they are not small cute humans, but are frightening aliens. Please, don’t put your pet into such an uncomfortable situation. Being crated for a day is far preferable to a tragedy.

Noise: New Year’s Eve is especially difficult for those noise-sensitive dogs when people are firing off fireworks. Please do all you can to protect them. Some pups find considerable comfort from a Thundershirt (, an herbal supplement like Composure or ambient noise (radio, TV). Others need medication. If your pet needs medication, please let your vet know well in advance.
This is clearly not an all-inclusive list, but hopefully you will think about looking at the holidays through your pet’s eyes, and consider some ways to keep them a bit safer this holiday season. As much as we at Young’s Animal Hospital love to see you, we’d prefer if it was a scheduled wellness visit 🙂

Wishing you all a great holiday season!

Angela Bockelman, DVM, PhD

PS: Dr. Obvious here: unsupervised pets and flames (candles) don’t mix. End point.