How to pet proof your home during the holidays

This is the season when veterinarians see a steady stream of holiday-related pet injuries. Avoid an emergency trip to the vet.

As you deck the halls with holiday cheer, remember that all those stockings, ribbons and overflowing candy dishes can be extremely enticing for cats and dogs. Since no one wants an emergency vet visit on the to-do list this season, it’s important to exercise a little extra care.

“Our animals are inherently curious,” said Dr. Jennifer Pittman, a board-certified veterinarian who specializes in emergency and critical care with BluePearl Pet Hospital in Sandy Springs. “Anything that’s new and unusual during the holiday season may be a temptation to them, so just be aware.”

So, how do you pet-proof your home for the holidays? Pittman shares tips to help keep dogs — and cats — safe during the holidays.

Streamline and secure your decorations. Since Pittman has cats, she avoids adding ribbons or bows to packages. Tinsel and other string-like material are off-limits to avoid potentially dangerous ingestion. Tree ornaments also tend to be higher up on her tree, which is firmly secured to protect it from curious paws.

Credit: Brian O'Shea

Credit: Brian O'Shea

Avoid placing food gifts within paw's reach. From boxes of fancy holiday chocolates to wrapped dog treats, it's best to reserve food gifts until Christmas morning. Also, pay extra attention to holiday goodies that contain the sugar substitute xylitol, which is potentially toxic.

Pittman remembers one holiday season when she treated a dog with seizure-like behavior and extremely low blood sugar levels. The owner had no idea what caused the health emergency. After returning home, the owner discovered her dog had eaten a pack of sugar-free Ice Breakers gum, made with xylitol, that had been placed inside her daughter’s holiday stocking.

“Dogs are not able to metabolize the xylitol product the same way people can,” Pittman said, “so this little kiddo had to stay in the hospital with us several days while we regulated her blood sugar as this product worked its way out.”

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Be mindful when feeding table scraps. While many equate food with love, Pittman noted that much of what’s on the holiday menu can cause stomach upset for pets. Feeding treats from the table also introduces a bad habit. If you absolutely, positively must share what’s on your plate, stick with healthy options like carrots or green beans. She also gives the green light to very lean bits of boneless, skinless meat. But Pittman has zero-tolerance for giving pets bones or turkey carcasses. Throw those things away — and make sure garbage lids are secure.

“We’ve had cases where the bone gets stuck in the esophagus and doesn’t even make it down into the stomach,” she warned. “That can be a life-threatening emergency.”

Lock in your veterinarian’s number. Accidents happen. Pets always seem to find an unattended plate of food, or someone forgets that certain foods are off-limits. If you notice the tree looks a bit off-center, or your pet is behaving oddly and you’re not sure what happened, don’t hesitate to call for advice.

If you haven’t found a vet, visit the American Animal Hospital Association website to search for accredited locations near you. Pittman also recommends saving a poison hotline as a backup option. The Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) is one option that’s staffed 24 hours a day by veterinary technicians and veterinarians who are board-certified in veterinary toxicology. The company charges $59 to assess the issue and suggest treatment options. If the pet requires emergency veterinary care, the team will consult your pet’s doctor with treatment recommendations. Visit

Learn about potentially toxic household items. While pet owners typically know to be careful with chocolate or poinsettias, Pittman noted that mistletoe can pose an even bigger threat. Talk to your vet about potential household items that may be toxic to your pet. It also pays to download the free ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center app, which includes an extensive list of potentially dangerous items, along with common warning signs.

“Some of the most difficult [emergency room visits] we face are cases in which injury or harmful exposure is preventable,” Pittman said. “Staying up to date on potential hazards, and working to ensure these hazards are ‘pet-proofed’ in your house, is one of the best ways to avoid an unexpected trip to the veterinarian.”