How to make sure your pet is safe during the holiday season

Veterinarian answers questions about pets during holidays

DETROIT – Pet owners know dogs and cats are curious, and they get into everything when you turn your back, sometimes right in front of you.

The misadventures sometimes lead to unexpected and unpleasant vet visits, but veterinarians said most mishaps can be prevented.

Winter weather and holiday fun can be hazardous for pets, so it's important to keep an eye on them at this time of year. Dr. Kelley Meyers shared some tips to keep pets off the naughty list.

First, keep your Christmas tree from becoming a jungle gym.

"Go fake instead of real," Meyers said. "A fake tree is slipperier, so they can't grab on quite as tightly. Push the lights in really deeply so they don't have things dangling. Start 2 feet up or 3 feet up from your tree, so don't put a lot of stuff down around the outside.

"Put soft ornaments on the bottom half of the tree, so if they do knock them off, they're not going to break. Tying the tree to the wall is a perfect idea -- even for kids it's great."

She said colored lights should be kept away from curious chewers.

"A lot of times they'll come in and they'll have burn marks inside their mouth or around their lips," Meyers said. "They maybe won't eat, and then you open up their mouth and they can see it. So a lot of times owners don't actually see it, but we see it as veterinarians."

Avoid other holiday hazards such as tinsel and ribbon.

"It can get wrapped around their tongue, and then as they swallow it, the intestines actually, because of peristalsis, will actually walk their way up that string, and cause an obstruction," Meyers said. "We light candles a lot of times around the holidays, and they can be a danger for cats. Cats especially as they're walking by, or dogs with wagging tails. They can catch their tails on fire. They can knock them over, causing house fires, things like that. Fireplaces, too. Really make sure there's a nice barrier around the fireplace.

"Poinsettias, most cause irritation within the mouth. They are poisonous. Not as poisonous as we think, as far as ingesting them. It's more of a local toxin.

"Chocolate in general for pets is toxic, but it's really dose-dependent. Then it also is the percentage of cocoa in that chocolate, so the higher the cocoa amount, the more toxic it is.

"If they ingest chocolate, you want to be careful and talk to your vet about the dose that they got and how much they got. If you don't know, it's always good to make sure that we induce vomiting to get rid of that chocolate. They can have side effects, too, not only vomiting and diarrhea, but their heart rate can go up because there's caffeine in chocolate.

"Then, also, you have to worry about the wrappers. I actually had my own personal pet have the wrappers around the chocolate cause an obstruction, and so you have to be careful with that as well."

Beware of visitors during the holidays.

"Parties are pretty common around the holidays, and so be thoughtful of your pet," Meyers said. "Your pets aren't always as excited about having people over. They're not used to other people. Sometimes our relatives bring their own pets with them, and so this is a new experience. Make sure to give them a nice place where they can go and kind of get away from all of the attention and all of the excitement happening."

Also, beware of unwanted visitors.

"When you think about winter, things are moving inside because it's cold outside," Meyers said. "So you have rats and mice. Nobody wants to say that they have rats and mice, but they do. Some of them. So if they're moving inside, you're going to be more likely to put out rodenticide and other things like that, and that can be a real danger for pets, and can be deadly for pets. Rodenticide is a huge killer of dogs, especially."