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Troye McPherson, a veterinarian in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, shares six safety hazards to watch out for.
1. String decorations
Tinsel and strings of cranberries or popcorn may make for beautiful decorations on your Christmas tree, but they can also lead to an emergency trip to the vet.
"It's not the popcorn that's the problem," explains McPherson, "it's the string in the middle of it." If your dog or cat swallows tinsel or string, it will bunch up inside his or her intestinal track and can actually cut it, she says. So it's best to skip the tinsel and popcorn on your tree.
2. Christmas tree
Whether you buy an artificial or a real tree, it's important to make sure that it's installed securely, as a climbing cat or a scuttling dog can easily cause it to fall over, says McPherson.
If you're buying a real tree, you should also make sure it hasn't been sprayed with pesticides. "We buy trees that haven't been sprayed, because you don't know what pesticide they're sprayed with," says McPherson. Either opt for an organic tree or simply check with the seller that the tree hasn't been sprayed with any chemicals that may harm your pet.
3. Holiday plants
Poinsettias, holly and mistletoe can all cause serious harm to your pet. According to McPherson, while the new generation of poinsettias no longer kills animals, if your pet does eat the plant he will likely get an upset stomach that could send him to the vet's office.
McPherson also advises choosing floral arrangements carefully. If you have a dog, keep all plants out of his reach. If you have a cat, you're best not to have lilies around. "Any part of a lily – including the stem, the flower, the bulb and the pollen – is toxic to cats," explains McPherson. "Deadly toxic."
4. Twinkle lights
Nothing brightens up a tree or a banister quite like a string of lights. Unfortunately, they're also a major hazard for pets. If your pet can reach the lights, she can chew on the wire, which may cause an electrical burn or even electrocution, says McPherson.
The bulbs are also a problem: if your pet nibbles on them she may cut herself. Finally, if swallowed, much like tinsel and popcorn string, the lights can get stuck in your pet's intestines.
5. Christmas dinner
The holidays are full of many yummy treats and it's fine to let your pet indulge in some of them, like turkey dinner, says McPherson. "However, if your dog or cat isn't used to eating treats like that, sometimes you can overdo it," she says. You don't want your pet to spend Boxing Day with the runs, so moderation is key.
Also be careful that your pet doesn't grab any turkey bones from the trash as the small bones may get stuck in his throat. Chocolate and candy are another hazard to watch out for. Dogs are attracted to chocolate and will eat it even though it's toxic for them; and candy often contains an artificial sweetener that can cause liver failure. So keep your candy-filled stockings out of your pet's reach.
6. Scented plug-ins
Many people buy scented plug-ins to fill their homes with the smell of pine trees, chestnuts roasting over an open fire or freshly baked cookies to help spread the holiday cheer. While these scents may smell delicious to us, they can be very overwhelming to your pet. Some pets even have allergic reactions to the odours, says McPherson.
"If you think about it, your cat or your dog, they're walking along on the floor level – and those things are heavier than air," says McPherson. "They're breathing in a lot more of the fumes than you're even smelling." To be safe, skip the plug-ins and break out the baking supplies instead to get the authentic smell of freshly baked holiday treats.
We've got more pet safety tips, including 15 reasons to keep your cat inside.