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Celebrating the season:
Pet safety guide

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Table of contents

With the change of season, many families are preparing for holiday travels and seasonal celebrations. While safety of children may be a natural priority during this time, approximately 85 million families may also need to consider pet safety. Travel, decor, festive foods and even scents can affect your pet’s wellbeing. 

Holiday Decorations

As festive as seasonal decor may be, it can also present a serious health and safety threat to your pet. For example, glittering strands of holiday tinsel can quickly be fatal if consumed, getting wrapped in your pets’ intestines and requiring immediate veterinarian attention or surgery. 

Ornaments are especially enticing to cats, who love the reflections and shadows that they can create. Tackling such items could bring down a tree, short an electrical wire or shatter fragile ornaments creating risk of injury to delicate paws.

Here are some other decorations to be mindful of during the holidays.

Lights

When decorating your home, there are a number of decorations with twinkle lights or other electrical elements that can pose a risk, such as icicles, netting and garland. These items can all cause electric shock if your pet chews or tries to eat the wires, so owners should keep an eye out for any fraying or signs of chewing on cords. 

Punctured batteries can cause severe burns to the mouth and esophagus, so keep batteries out of your pet’s reach. Nationwide recommends using a grounded three-prong extension cord for extra safety.

Candles

The National Fire Protection Association reports that between 2014 and 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 7,610 home structure fires. Each of these fires was started by candles — a source which accounts for an average of 81 deaths and $278 million in property damage each year. However, damage caused by pets generally isn’t covered by insurance, meaning you could be on the hook if a pet knocks over a candle that starts a fire.  

Be sure to move all candles well out of reach, and never leave them burning unattended. Not only can your pets be hurt from fire and hot wax, but you could risk burning the house down if an errant pet knocks over a table or display. 

Essential Oils

Safer than candles, essential oils can seem like the best way to make your home instantly feel more cozy and festive. But although there is limited research available on the extended effects of essential oils on animals, some have been proven to be toxic or even fatal if ingested by your pets. 

According to the ASPCA, permethrin is the most common cause of toxicity of cats, causing tremors. Unfortunately, it’s used in many household products, so be sure to check the labels of anything that could be within your pet’s reach. You should also avoid the use of certain oils in active oil diffusers, such as nebulizers and ultrasonics, which can cause respiratory issues to your pet if inhaled and are poisonous if ingested.

Essential Oils Toxic to Pets

DogsCats
AniseCinnamon
CinnamonCitrus (d-limonene)
Citrus (d-limonene)Clove
CloveEucalyptus
GarlicLavender
JuniperOregano
PinePine
PennyroyalPennyroyal
PeppermintPeppermint
Sweet birchSweet birch
Tea treeTea tree
ThymeThyme
WintergreenWintergreen
YarrowYlang ylang
Ylang ylang

Toxic Foods and Plants 

Everyone loves a great holiday celebration, but many of our favorite foods and plants are actually extremely harmful — even deadly — to our furry companions. Before you plan your holiday menu, there are considerations to keep in mind regarding edible plants and food choices.

Plants

Nationwide includes reference to certain holiday plants to watch out for this holiday season. Plants like mistletoe, poinsettia and lilies can all be extremely toxic to pets and even lethal. If you must bring them into your home, keep them out of reach. Should they become ingested, call the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 1-888-426-4435.


Pine treesPine tree needles can cause severe sickness, such as oral irritation, vomiting and diarrhea. Pets may also experience lethargy or fatigue, trembling and weakness.  
Tree waterA cover for your tree stand can help keep pets out of the tree water. Tree water can be harmful to pets, because it can contain harmful bacteria and pathogens, as well as fertilizers that can make your pet very sick.
PoinsettiaPoinsettia may cause vomiting if enough is ingested. Regardless of quantity, irritation to your pet’s mouth and stomach is also common.
MistletoeMistletoe is another plant that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Pets can also suffer from erratic behavior and other serious symptoms, such as trouble breathing, hallucinations, collapse and even death.
HollyHolly is also toxic to pets, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. Depression is also a common symptom.
LiliesLilies are a beautiful flower that are especially prevalent during the holidays. Though beautiful, Nationwide warns that “as little as a single leaf from any lily variety is lethal to cats.”

As this list is not comprehensive, use the ASPCA’s toxic plant search tool to look up others not included here.

Food

Visiting family and holiday parties means constant entertaining with yummy spreads left out for casual grazing. However, many of these foods can be very harmful to your pets. 

For example, xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many baked goods and candy that has been linked to liver failure and even death in canines.  Also harmful are fatty meats, such as turkey —  and its bones, which can cause internal injury to pets if ingested.

Keep the following foods away from your dogs and cats for safety-sake:

Foods to Avoid for Dogs & Cats

ChocolateNutmeg
Onions Nuts
CaffeineRaw eggs
Fatty foodsRaw meat 
Apple seedsRhubarb
RaisinsSalt
MushroomsAlcohol
Fat trimmings and bonesGarlic
Milk and dairy productsGrapes

Party Safety

The holidays often bring higher foot traffic through the home. Like young children, pets can have some trouble adjusting to the sudden crowd and noise that can cause disruption to daily routines. Some pets may not be as outgoing or adjusted as others, so you may need to keep your pets separate from guests until they can acclimate to all of the excitement. 

Although your pets should be kept separate from high-anxiety situations, you should never leave your animals outside in the freezing temperatures or other winter elements are present.

Here are some tips to help your pet better adjust to the festivities this holiday season.   

Helping your pet adjust to company

New visitors mean new sights, sounds and smells that can be both unfamiliar, and thus distressing, to your pet. 

Ask your guests to keep food, decor and other items somewhere secure where your pets won’t be able to gain access. Pets also love to scavenge the trash for leftovers, so choose secure lids for trash cans and make sure everyone disposes of all garbage immediately. 

Visiting guests or hosts may also be unfamiliar with the dos and don’ts of pets. The wrong treat from a well-intentioned guest could easily mean a serious vet bill or, worse, the loss of your pet. Also, the constant arrival and departure of guests can result in frequently opened doors that provide the perfect escape for your pet. 

The best thing to do is to find a safe, comfortable and climate-controlled space, such as an extra bedroom, where your pets can enjoy their time in peace and safety. Be sure to provide food, water and adequate lighting. Music or sound machines can help drown out the sound of exuberant guests, and a favorite chew toy or blanket can help them relax and nap until the visit is over.  

Holiday Travel

For some families, the holidays mean extra travel. Whether you choose to take your pets with you or not will ultimately depend on your plans. If you travel by plane or car with your pet, or leave them at home under the watchful eye of a pet sitter, special considerations should be kept in mind.

  • Car Safety

If you plan on taking your pets in the car with you, extra measures can help ensure their safety. Never leave your pet alone in the vehicle, no matter the weather, and all pets should ride secured. 

A car restraint or crate is always a good idea because in addition to keeping your pets safe in an accident, it can keep them more calm and relaxed while you drive.  It is also safer for you as a driver because you won’t have to worry about the distraction of a loose pet roaming around.  

It’s also a good idea to keep leashes and harnesses within reach so you can quickly secure your pet if something happens and you need to exit the vehicle. 

Finally, don’t forget about food and water bowls. Depending on how far you will be traveling, your pet may need refreshment, and water is an essential at a minimum. 

  • Getting a Pet Sitter

Hiring a pet sitter can be a great solution if your trip isn’t pet-appropriate or if your pet does not do well with travel. 

Before you confirm your pet sitter, be sure to check your homeowners insurance policy to ensure your liability is adequate. Should an accident occur, such as a dog bite, you want to be mindful of what is covered. In addition, ensure that all vaccinations are current for your pet.

Unplug and put away any decorations that are within range or reach of your pet. Separation can sometimes cause anxiety in pets; circumvent possible accidents by removing any potential threats before you leave.

Don’t forget to leave important information for your pet with the sitter, including veterinary or other emergency contacts. 

Bottom Line

The holidays can be a busy and exciting (sometimes stressful) time for the whole family, and that includes the furry members of your household, too. In all of your holiday planning and preparations, don’t forget to give special consideration to your pets who may require a little more of your attention this holiday season.

The most wonderful time of the year can quickly become the most dangerous to your pets if you aren’t careful. Err on the side of caution this year by removing any potential hazards and keeping your pet safe in secure accommodations, wherever you go.

Pet Emergency Contacts and Resources