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Keep pets merry at Christmas by keeping them safe: Avoid possible hazards

Roxie, a 3-year-old female Boston terrier, craves attention and might be happy to have lots of guests for the holidays or at any other time. She is available for adoption through Prairie Paws Rescue, at prairiepawsrescue. com. Photo courtesy Prairie Paws Rescue

By Kari Lucin

The Jamestown Sun

Tinsel and shiny ball ornaments might be perfect on the tree, and the good cheer guests bring may be welcome, but they can be holiday hazards for pets.

Veterinarian Dawn Entzminger recommends simply not decorating the very bottom of the Christmas tree at all.

“Tinsel and garland are shiny, dangly things cats like to chase. They ingest it,” Entzminger said, explaining that the tinsel or ribbon could then get wadded up inside the unfortunate cat and cause a blockage. “Oftentimes, with these kinds of things, they need surgery.”

Dogs, on the other hand, seem to be more attracted to ball ornaments, she said, though cats will sometimes bat those right off the tree too. In either case, if the ornament breaks it could leave glass shards that can cut paws and feet alike.

Ribbons on presents might be another holiday-related object particularly attractive to cats, so Entzminger recommends that people either hide their beribboned presents or simply avoid using ribbons at all.

Then there are the less-obvious seasonal hazards, such as poinsettias, which are toxic to pets and should be placed in places that pets cannot reach. Mistletoe and holly should also be placed out of reach of dogs and cats.

Potpourri liquid is toxic if ingested, and if any “freshener” substance is placed in with the water for the Christmas tree, that might be toxic too.

“Any time there’s a new water source, pets want to test it,” Entzminger warned.

Electrical cords can be a hazard, if people are decorating with lights, because pets like to chew on them sometimes.

Plenty of festive foods that are safe for people are potentially dangerous for pets. For example, chocolate, coffee, tea, alcohol and even raisins or grapes are toxic to pets. Sweeteners used in sugar-free gums and candies can harm pets, and macadamia nuts can be harmful to dogs.

Every year at the holidays, Entzminger gets at least one call from a pet owner about a holiday-related concern. Most often, it’s about chocolate.

Pets shouldn’t eat chocolate, but if they do, dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate are more dangerous than milk chocolate, and solid chocolate is more dangerous than chocolate-covered items.

But even an innocent-looking hotdish covered with tinfoil can be hazardous, if the tinfoil has enough food on it for a dog to gobble it up by mistake.

“Ask about the rules or don’t offer the pet anything,” Entzminger advised. “If they overindulge on people food, they can get a condition called pancreatitis, and that can be deadly.”

Fatty foods are more likely to cause inflammation of the pancreas, but even ordinary food can be a problem if quantities are sufficient.

Guests who are on medication pose another potential hazard to pets and even small children. People need to be sure to pet-proof their medications, keeping them out of sight and reach, the North Dakota Department of Health noted.

Entzminger recalled the case of a dog that suddenly began urinating on everything. After a barrage of medical tests, it was finally discovered that the dog had swallowed a diuretic pill. In that case, the dog was fine as soon as the medicine had passed through its system.

The scope of the danger to pets depends partly on age — younger ones seem to get into more trouble than older ones — and size — toxins affect smaller animals more than larger ones.

Like some people, some pets simply find holidays stressful, with their complement of new people, new smells and new objects.

“Some pets love all the extra attention. ‘Ten more guests means 10 more people to pet me!’ But then you have the shyer, higher-anxiety pets,” Entzminger said. “If a pet seems like it doesn’t want your attention, leave it alone.”

Generally adults seem to recognize the signs that a pet has had enough attention and wants to be left alone, but children might not, she added.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at

Kari Lucin

Kari Lucin joined the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia producer in August 2014. Previously, she worked for a few years at the Jamestown Sun in Jamestown, N.D., as a staff writer, and prior to that, for about six years as staff writer and later online content coordinator, at the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. A graduate of Jackson County Central High School and Augsburg College, she has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. Find more of her writing at her blog, Oh Look, a Shiny Thing! or on Twitter at @karilucin.

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