9 Holiday Hazards That Cause Pet Emergencies (and Big Vet Bills)

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Man wearing a hoodie holding his pet dog in a cute matching hoodie outfit
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Sure, it’s supposed to be a happy season, but holiday traditions put many of our pets at risk.

We love our pets, but some things we humans do in this season could hurt our four-legged friends — and cost us a big-bucks veterinarian visit, too.

Take note of these-often overlooked dangers so you can keep pets — and your bank account — healthy this holiday season.

1. Strangers

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For many (maybe most) people, having guests can make things a tad stressful.

That’s true for pets, too. The noise, smells, movement and strange people combine to overwhelm some furry friends. Make sure your pet has a safe, quiet place to retreat.

Consider getting your pet a respite by engaging a pet sitter or walker. Pet-sitting network Rover is one way to connect with capable pet sitters. Or, find a trusted neighborhood kid who wants to earn a few bucks.

2. Cold weather

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Many people believe that dogs, cats and other pets are naturally resistant to cold. But that’s not true, notes the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Dogs can get hypothermia or frostbite, just like humans. When not indoors, allow your dog and cat access to shelter that’s dry, off the ground and facing away from the wind. Provide non-frozen water and thick, dry bedding that’s changed often. According to the AMVA:

“Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.”

Additionally, some dogs — short-haired ones, particularly — suffer in the cold enough to need to wear a sweater outdoors on cold days, even for a short walk, says the Humane Society of the United States.

3. Car engines and wheel wells

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You may know where your pets are at all times, but not everyone is as conscientious.

Cats, squirrels and rodents sometimes crawl into vehicles’ wheel wells and engines to stay warm in winter. (They may also chew belts and cords, so occasionally lift the hood and check the engine.) Before you start your vehicle, speak loudly, slam the car door and make some noise to clear out any interlopers.

4. People food

Pug dog with cupcake
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Most pet owners know that chocolate can be lethal for pets. But so are many other of our favorite foods, including yeast bread dough, coffee, macadamia nuts, grapes and alcohol.

Keep a close eye on pets during the holiday feasting season and guard against overlooked poisons. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals publishes a list of common human treats that may prove deadly for pets. A few — like table scraps, gravy, turkey and turkey skin — may surprise you.

5. Decorations

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Tinsel is tempting. Poinsettias, ornaments, candles, potpourri (even liquid), tinsel, Christmas trees and tree-water chemical additives are a few more holiday decorations that endanger pets.

This AVMA article lists holiday decor that can kill or endanger pets.

6. Power cords

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Pet owners often use ropes and rope toys to play tug-of-war with dogs or entice cats to chase feathers attached to strings. It’s understandable, then, when a pet thinks a power cord is another plaything.

Gnawing a cord can cause burns or an upset stomach (especially if the pet swallows a part of the cord or the casing) and require expensive surgery. Protect pets by keeping cords out of reach or secured.

7. Decorative bows and ribbons

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It’s a lot of fun to rip open holiday gifts and let the bows and ribbons fall where they may. Pets, though, can become ill or die from intestinal obstruction if they eat them.

Ribbons and bows are most enticing to cats, but it’s a good idea to keep them away from all pets. If ingested, an emergency trip to the vet for surgery will be needed, writes Preventive Vet. Do without ribbons and bows, or keep them away from pets as you wrap and unwrap gifts.

8. Canine, feline or other animal visitors

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If you can, decline when guests ask to bring their dog, cat or other pets to your home. The addition of animals to your household may stress all of the animals. If you do have other animals in your home, monitor their interactions to see if the animals will tolerate each other. Even if they seem to do OK, keep a close eye on them to prevent fights.

You might suggest that your guests use a pet sitter instead.

9. Holiday outfits

French bulldog in a gingerbread costume
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Some people love to dress their pets in outfits for the holidays. Some pets love it, too. Some don’t. For senior dogs and puppies, especially, costumes are a bad idea. Why? Dressing arthritic dogs can be painful for them. And puppies may not have the coordination to get around in a costume.

Limit the time they spend in a costume, remove anything that restricts or could choke them or that they could eat, and keep your eyes on the pet the entire time it’s in the costume.

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