Safe Pets are the best Holiday Gift

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012
Contributing Writer For The Grand Traverse Insider

Dr. Jennifer Kavran, of Companion Animal Hospital, checks out Sparky Houghton of Traverse City. Photo by Marionette Kubicz.

NORTHERN MICHIGAN – The greatest holiday blessing is knowing that our families are safe. That includes the other-than-human members. Dr. Jennifer Kavran of Traverse City’s Companion Animal Hospital offers some simple tips for holiday pet safety.

“A lot of it has to do with company or things they can get into,” she said, “Some things are holiday specific so people have a tendency to feed their dog a lot of table food.” These foods are often too rich and fatty for the animal, and can cause serious gastro-intestinal issues and even pancreatitis.

Kavran stressed the importance of securing garbage. “Any strings associated with roasts or turkeys can cause some severe problems,” she noted.

However, foods aren’t the only hazards.

“As far as holiday decorations, we have a lot of concerns,” Kavran said. Cats are particularly likely to climb Christmas trees, possibly bringing them down to chew electrical cords causing electrocution, or to eat ornaments.

“Especially with cats, tinsel on the trees can be a problem. Anything that’s a string foreign body can cause real problems if that gets stuck,” she stated.

Ribbons from packages also should be well hidden.

“We worry about things that are toxic (such as) chocolate for dogs. I wouldn’t give that to cats, either,” Kavran said. Chocolate is particularly lethal to birds.

Kavran cautioned against certain toxic holiday plants such as poinsettia, mistletoe, Easter lilies (and other lily varieties), along with year-round dieffenbachia and philodendron. Even drinking water from the base of a live Christmas tree can poison an animal.

House guests and visitors might be unaware of quirky toxicities such as avocado for birds. The ASPCA warns against letting pets near sage, chocolate, candy with xylitol, bread dough, batter with raw eggs, onions and garlic, macadamia nuts, raisins and grapes, rich or spicy foods.

Guests might also allow a pet to escape while people are coming and going, and just having company in the house can be stressful for pets.

“Set up their own place somewhere in the house – a quiet room,” Kavran suggested. “If visitors are staying at your house, make sure they don’t leave medications around. Also, if they have a leak from their vehicle, a cat could walk through that and lick their paws.”

Guests should also secure their toiletries. Products containing tea tree oil, also called melaleuca are especially hazardous to cats.

When guests ask to bring their own pets along, hosts should make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations and that their own pets are too, to prevent spreading disease.

According to Mike Cherry of Cherryland Humane Society, a chaotic holiday is not the ideal time to introduce a new pet.

“It’s always been suggested that people not give the gift of an animal on Christmas Day,” he said. “There’s so many of them that end up being returned to the shelter. Christmas is such a hectic day for everyone – especially new pets – and they often don’t behave well.”

As an alternative, Cherry suggested giving a Humane Society gift certificate – allowing the whole family to come and select an animal together after the hustle bustle of the holiday is done.

“Don’t choose an animal for someone else,” he said. “Make sure everybody is comfortable with the animal since everybody is going to help with the animal’s care.

“There are a lot of animals that need a home, but everyone should be a part of the decision in selecting what pet is best for your household,” he said.

To learn more, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or Companion Animal Hospital (1885 Chartwell Drive) at 231-935-1511.

For after-hours emergencies, call your local vet or the Bay Area Pet Hospital at 231-922-0911.

For additional information from the humane society, call 231-946-5116 or visit

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