Tinsel on the tree gets eaten and ends up literally strangling or cutting the intestines. Candles on the menorah singe a curious dog’s hair. The water in the tree stand, laced with preservatives, proves toxic.
Because of all the unfamiliar decorations and other accouterments of holiday time, inquisitive dogs, particularly puppies, are apt to cause themselves trouble. That’s why, for the safest holiday possible:
1. Don’t hang any decorations on the tree’s lowest boughs, where a dog can reach. Better still, never leave a dog and a Christmas tree alone together, perhaps by putting baby gates in the doorways to the room where you have the tree set up.
2. Don’t leave a dog unsupervised anywhere near lit candles. Even small birthday cake candles take several minutes to burn out — plenty of time for a curious pet to inadvertently set the house on fire, or even cause a fire by unknowingly brushing a candle with his tail.
3. Keep poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe out of reach. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and more serious problems.
4. Do not feed your dog a lot of fatty table scraps, including stuffing, turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes mashed with butter, and so on. A heavier dose of fat than your dog is used to, especially over the course of several days as you microwave the leftovers, can lead to pancreatitis, a disease in which the enzymes released by the pancreas actually start digesting the cells of that organ itself and causing what can be life-threatening inflammation. Symptoms of the disease include loss of appetite, unremitting periods of vomiting, and sometimes fever. If you think the chance of your dog ending up with pancreatitis at holiday time is next to nil, consider that we see a lot of pancreatitis in dogs at our Foster Hospital for Small Animals right after Christmas (as well as Thanksgiving).
Emotional welfare counts, too
It’s not just a dog’s physical safety you want to consider at holiday time. Emotional safety is also at stake. Dogs love routine — they crave it in fact, and their routine can be thrown off significantly during Christmas, with people coming and going and lots of trips to buy gifts or prepare for holiday meals. Try to keep the canine schedule intact by walking your dog at your regularly scheduled times. And don’t forget to give him plenty of attention, even as people you don’t normally see take up a lot of your time. Indeed, a dog can be a way to take a break from intense times with loved ones in close quarters. “I have to walk the dog. ‘Be back soon!”
You can also protect a dog’s emotional well-being by not placing him under the tree as a gift in a box. Dogs are not gifts. They are family members, and they need loads of tender affection when they first come to live with you — not a lot of Instagram moments that look adorable but will only make a baby dog feel stressed and disoriented. Dogs new to your family are best gently folded into your regular routine, not introduced during the holiday hubbub.