REED CITY — As area children count down to Christmas, families and individuals with pets should take time to make sure their furry friends are safe during holiday celebrations.
With the decorations, special treats, parties and guests the season brings come sources of stress and possible danger to household pets.
"Don't feed pets human food," said Jill Trullinger, a licensed veterinary technician at Country Veterinary Service in Reed City. "If you wrap up candy or things like that for under the tree, don't put them out until it's time to open gifts. Pets often get into them and we see lots of pets that eat an entire box of candy.
"Chocolate is very, very toxic. It can create lots of havoc, such as central nervous system issues and vomiting."
Some people like to give their dog a ham bone to chew on, or provide them with a dish of gravy as treat, Trullinger added. While these tidbits may seem harmless, they can cause problems for pets.
"The calorie needs of cats and dogs are way different than what people need. Even a small amount of table scraps can wreak havoc," she said. "Lots of people feed ham bones, mashed potatoes and gravy or grease to pets and I would recommend you not offer any of that — it can cause your pet to be very sick, very quickly."
Veterinarians see increased cases of pancreatitis in pets during the holiday season because the animals are given foods they don't get any other time of the year.
Table scraps, in addition to possibly causing pancreatitis, also can be fattening and hard for animals to digest, notes the American Veterinary Medical Association website. Also, yeast dough can pose problems "including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating." Other dangerous food items include grapes and raisins.
For those who feel they simply must share human food with pets, Trullinger said safer options were baby carrots, pieces of apple or bread, but she strongly encourages people to opt for treats designed for their animals, such as crunchy dog bones.
Don't give Fido a colorful rawhide candy cane or bone, though, as they're not good for him.
"Lots of people feed rawhide bones this time of year, but I don't recommend those. They can cause abdominal obstructions," she said.
Keep pets in mind when selecting and setting up decorations, as well. Christmas trees can tip over if pets climb on them or play with lights and ornaments, notes the AVMA website, suggesting tying the tree to the ceiling or a doorframe with fishing line to prevent toppling. Water additives for real Christmas trees also can be hazardous. The AVMA recommends not adding anything to the tree water if there are pets in the house.
"Poinsettias and other holiday plants are very poisonous to cats and dogs — and for some reason, they will eat them," Trullinger said. "Keep them away from pets. Mistletoe will also create vomiting and diarrhea."
She also recommends pet owners avoid tinsel, which cats often try to eat, as it can cause intestinal obstructions.
When hosting holiday gatherings, give pets a safe space to go when the number of strangers becomes overwhelming. Trullinger recommends taking pets' blankets and toys to an empty room and leaving the light on for them. For cats, owners may wish to temporarily relocate the litter box as well.
"Anxiety can kick in with extra people in the home," she said. "There are so many people your cat or dog doesn't know and they're all trying to pet him or her."
Make sure pets have plenty of fresh water in the winter, as they tend to drink more, she added. Outside animals — livestock as well as pets — also need an insulated place to get out of the cold.
Owners should check their animals daily for signs of frostbite on their paws and ears and make sure the pets have good quality food. If anyone has questions about the best way to care for their animal, they should call their vet for specific advice, Trullinger added.