Your friends and family are coming to town for Christmas, or maybe you’re going out of town to visit your loved ones. Either way, when you have a special party or meal planned, it’s important to remember that celebrating Christmas with dogs needs special consideration to make the holiday fun and safe. Make sure everything goes smoothly for your dog this Christmas with these dos and don’t for pet parents.
Safety, of course, is always the first priority. Holidays are a very busy time, and it's easy for your dog's care to slip through the cracks. For example, with people coming in and out of your home so often, it's easy for your dog to make a quick escape.
If you travel during the Christmas holiday, you need to pay even more attention to your dog than you would if you were at home. Whether by plane, train or bus, traveling with a pet poses many risks of its own. Not to mention, if you're staying with relatives or in a hotel your dog will be in a strange environment.
Christmas with dogs can be a lot of fun, as long as you're watching out for Fido during the festivities. Make sure that any guests in your home know about your dog and any specific rules that you have for him. Also, be sure to line up accommodations for your pet well in advance if you're going to be traveling.
Christmas with Dogs: 22 Dos and Don'ts for Pet Parents
Making it Fun
DO make the Christmas tree dog-friendly. If you’re going to set one up this year, make sure that there’s no tinsel. If your pet ingests it, tinsel can block their intestines. You also shouldn't hang lights on the lower branches, because if your dog bites them he could receive an electric shock.
You’ll want to keep ornaments high up too – not only are they a choking hazard, but if they break, they could cut almost any part of your dog’s body. Avoid edible tree decorations like popcorn, cranberries, candy canes, and cinnamon dough ornaments. If they smell like food, they’ll be too irresistible for your pooch.
To make sure you can hear if your dog is trying to climb or jump on the tree, place small jingle bells on the lower branches so you’ll know if he's getting into trouble. It's also best to anchor your tree to the ceiling or wall if you're celebrating Christmas with dogs.
If you’ve chosen a live tree, make sure to keep pine needles quickly cleaned up as they fall. Though they may seem harmless, they could puncture your dog’s intestines if he ingests them. Live trees also may have antifreeze or other chemicals in the water at their base that could make your dog very sick if he drinks from it.
DO supervise children at all times with your dog. While your nieces and nephews may be delighted with your pet and are trying hard to be gentle, many of them, especially those who are less familiar with pets (and your dog in particular) may be unintentionally rough or handle your dog in a way that bothers him. For everyone’s safety and comfort, make sure that your dog isn’t left unsupervised with children.
DO consider setting up a special room for your dog to play in during the meal. You’ll be busy refilling drinks, carving a ham or turkey, clearing away plates, and serving cookies and eggnog. You’ll have a much easier time without your dog trying to get your attention the entire time.
Set up a comfortable bed or crate, your dog’s favorite toys (this isn’t hard if he's gotten some new ones on Christmas morning), and perhaps try some relaxing holiday tunes (test these ahead of time to make sure that the music doesn’t have the opposite effect and make your dog frantic).
DON’T put other holiday decorations within reach of your dog. For example, snow globes can be very dangerous for dogs. They’re filled with chemicals, and broken pieces can cause serious intestinal damage if ingested. Flowers like poinsettias, holly, amaryllis, and mistletoe can be eaten and make your dog very ill.
Candles can fall and start a fire, and flame-less candles with batteries can be swallowed. It’s fine to enjoy holiday decor, but make sure that it’s out of the reach of your pets.
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DO include your dog in the Christmas morning gift-unwrapping. While everyone’s tearing open their presents, you can make sure your dog has a stocking full of toys and treats that will keep him occupied. Dogs love presents as much as we do, and there tons of great Christmas gift ideas for dogs to entertain your pooch as well.
DO make sure to get stocking-stuffers and presents out of the way quickly if they’re a temptation for your dog. Watch out for the chocolates spilling from the stockings, scissors used to cut ribbon on packages, and half-full beverages left on the floor.
If you're celebrating Christmas with dogs, it’s a good idea to set your room up ahead of time in a way that lets guests easily put their drinks, cinnamon rolls, or other breakfast options out of your dog’s reach.
You can also make sure that a trash can is handy to put paper, ribbons, and other packaging away. Remember to give your dog some extra snuggles and be ready to remove him from the situation if it becomes too overwhelming. This can be a stressful time for Fido and you’ll only be disappointed if you have unreasonable expectations.
DO make the time for a walk or a game of fetch, especially if the weather’s good. After an hour of intense socializing with guests or a rich dinner, some exercise will be just what your dog needs to recharge.
This is a great time to get out some of those new toys and go try them out. If you’re going out in the snow, consider doggy boots to keep your pup’s feet from freezing and a warm jacket to help him regulate his body temperature.
DON’T let your dog snack all day long (especially not on cookies, coffee cake, or other human food that’s not good for him). Even if the treats are healthy, your dog can get pretty sick if he has too much to eat. Instead, get him a dental chew or an interactive toy to keep him busy while everyone else is watching a Christmas movie.
Christmas Food Safety
DON’T expect your dog to entertain himself when the counter tops are covered in tempting food. Locking your canine companion in another room while delicious aromas of a Christmas ham or warm cookies waft his way will make him over-excited and frustrated. Instead, find a friend or relative to play with your furry friend while you’re finishing up the details of the big meal.
DO prepare your dog something he’ll really enjoy eating. Christmas with dogs should be a time to make memories and bond with your pet. There are many creative ideas for dog food online (try a Pinterest search) for everything from complete Christmas dinners for dogs to healthy, pet-safe “cookies” complete with festive, dog-safe decorations.
DO ask your guests (or relatives) not to sneak your dog food during the meal or throughout the day. If you're celebrating Christmas with dogs, make sure children know that sharing Christmas chocolate with Fido could make him very, very ill.
DO give your dog his special meal before everyone else sits down at the table so his tummy will be full and he’ll be less tempted to beg for scraps.
DO keep your dog entertained while everyone else is feasting with a toy that hides a treat, a food-filled Kong, or a long-lasting stuffed bone.
DON’T give your dog human food. It is frequently bad for dogs and can make them ill very quickly. Some things you’ll want to avoid include:
- Rich, fatty foods like turkey skin, chicken skin, ham, sausages, and pork crackling
- Filling from a turkey like onions and sage
- Cranberry sauce
- Grapes, raisins, and currants
- Nuts, especially macadamia nuts
DO feel free to offer your dog limited options from the Christmas table that are good for him, including:
- Skinless, boneless cooked turkey or chicken
- Steamed, plain green beans
- Steamed, plain carrots
- Gravy free of onions, spices, herbs, and sweeteners
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DO watch out for non-food (or non-edible) hazards that your pet may be able to reach, like the following common items found in the kitchen during a Christmas feast:
- Baking strings – used to secure a turkey or chicken, can cause obstructions if your dog gets a hold of them.
- Cooked turkey or chicken bones – can splinter in the digestive tract, causing your dog serious problems that may require surgery or could even lead to his death.
- Turkey brine – is a salty, sugary solution that may make your turkey moist and juicy, but if your dog drinks it he can get salt toxicosis, which results in brain swelling.
- Alcohol of any kind – could cause your dog to go into a coma and die.
DON’T leave trash cans open. Open trash cans are an easy target when celebrating Christmas with dogs. Even a small dog can knock an open trash can over and get himself into trouble quickly. Close all trash cans and take tempting-smelling trash out of the room where your dog will be spending time so he won’t paw at it all day long.
DO warn your guests to keep their medication away from your pet. If Grandma’s open purse is left on the floor where your dog can reach it, he may be quick to smell it out and ingest it before you notice. Plan a place to keep guests’ personal items out of reach (both for your dog’s sake and your guests’ sake).
DO keep your vet’s phone number and the Pet Poison Helpline number close at hand in case an accident does occur. You won’t want to spend a single second looking it up if your pup is in trouble.
Traveling for Christmas Safely
DO make sure that your pet is wearing a collar with an ID tag. If you’re traveling for Christmas with dogs, this is absolutely essential.
Even if you’re home, hosting guests means that doors are opening and closing, and not everyone may be aware of whether your dog is coming or going, or fully understand your rules about where he's allowed to go. Keeping an ID tag on him ensures that in case he's lost, you’ll have a much better chance of finding him again.
DO update your dog’s microchip. Again, it’s easy to lose your pet when you’re out of your normal routine, and whether you’re at home or traveling, it’s so much safer to have his microchip up to date.
DO make sure that you leave your pet with a friend, dog boarder, or kennel you can trust. If you leave him home alone, accidents can happen without your awareness. If his water bowl spills, he can become severely dehydrated.
It’s also impossible to know when your home or apartment could have a problem with heating or air conditioning, or when a pipe could burst or a fire could break out. Leave your dog in good hands so both of you can feel safer and rest easier.
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