Holiday season is the one time of year that we really embrace change—we decorate, and we forget our budgets and our diets. We can also sense the excitement of the coming festivities, because we see the decorations, hear the music, and smell the cooking. Of course, we want our beloved pets to join the celebrations, but they take in experiences differently. Let’s touch on—no pun intended—the three senses and how your pet gets a taste—oops, another pun—of not only the holiday fun, but also the holiday hazards. Dove Mountain Veterinary offers advice from your pet’s perspective.

Your pet sees …

Does something flicker, dangle, shine or look pokeykind of like that old-fashioned toy? Did you hang a bright object from one of your cat’s perches? Did you arrange a cheerful display of lights where your dog walks? Where you see beautiful decorations, your pet sees something to play with, or to eat. But, decorations are not meant for play—they are made with wires, chemicals and toxic materials, and it will make for a frightful day if your pet chokes, gets burned, acquires a gastrointestinal blockage, or ingests a life-threatening toxin. So, knowing your pet is thinking, “I see something. It looks good. I want it,” is critical. 

Similarly, seasonal plants that we love to have at the holidays are another tempting item for our pets to chew. However, holly, mistletoe, daffodils, amaryllis, and lilies are all toxic to pets, especially cats. There are many battery operated, flameless, shatterproof, nonedible decorations to adorn your house with. Keep it careful by unplugging lights, anchoring your tree, covering your tree’s water with a skirt, and choosing artificial or non-toxic plants.


  • Don’t feel guilty — If you decide your pet cannot be part of the festivities for safety’s sake, don’t fall into a guilt trip. Your pet doesn’t anticipate the joy of Christmas like we do, and what they see doesn’t make them say, “It’s so beautiful. I will look, but not touch.” Also, they have a short attention span and will happily go on to the next temptation, or their favorite spot by the fire.
  • Safety substitutes — Decorate your house with battery-operated candles, shatterproof ornaments, and lifelike, artificial greenery, or non-toxic plants. Pay special attention to the tree, ensuring the tree itself is stabilized, the water, which contains toxic chemicals, is inaccessible, and fragile ornaments are hung high.

Your pet smells …

Pancreatitis, diarrhea, lacerations, intestinal obstructions, gastritis, vomiting, fever, and lethargyhow do all these problems, which occur more frequently during the holidays, happen? This time, the sense of smell is partly to blame. All those leftovers in the trash that smell disgusting to us smell like heaven to your pet, who likely will not be able to resist dumpster diving. Pet toxins around the holidays include the fatty, greasy scraps in the trash, the yeasty dough rising in the kitchen, the chocolate and sugar-free goodies ready for dessert—not to mention the yummy gifts that waft from the unzipped luggage of the well-meaning, visiting relatives.  


The nose knows — Your pet’s nose may be cute as a button, but pets have a much stronger sense of smell than people that, in situations like these, needs to be monitored and redirected. Your pet will rarely think, “I smell something. I’m not sure if I will like it.” They will smell and go for it. However, know that your pet is most comforted by what they sense as familiar and consistent.

  • Safety substitutes — Never let your pet eat or drink the following, which are all toxic to pets:
    • Turkey skin
    • Salty turkey brine
    • Side dishes rich with dairy foods, such as butter and sour cream
    • Side dishes that contain Allium family members, such as onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots
    • Chocolate, raisins, or macadamia nuts
    • Alcohol

The list of toxic foods is long, but you don’t need to feel humbug about your pet’s lack of special treatment—they’ll be happy with safe, scrumptious treats like a holiday Kong or a Licki-mat. Also, plenty of pet-safe chews and treats are available, but ensure you check the ingredients.

Your pet hears …

A hyper pet is not necessarily a happy pet—often they are an anxious pet. Think about the time you were nervous and jumbled your words, kept repeating things, and couldn’t keep still. Not a jolly moment. So during the holidays, when you hear laughter, rustling noises in the kitchen, and little feet pounding down the hall, your heart is touched. Well, those same noises touch your pet’s heart, but not in the way you’re likely thinking. They are probably feeling overwhelmed by all the hustle and bustle and commotion.


  • The body talks — Pets do not think, “I hear something. I need a moment to gather my bearings.” Unfortunately, your pet won’t always retreat from a threatening situation, and likely will react quickly. If you misread your pet’s body language as interested, when they actually feel threatened, unfortunate events can be put in place, such as:
    • Your pet looks to escape, and dashes through an open door or gate, and becomes lost
    • Your pet is injured as they try to escape
    • Your fearful pet bites someone
    • Your pet will be banned from the party and not understand why, escalating their anxiety
  • Safety substitutes — The idea here is not to put on your Scrooge hat and find ways to exile your pet. We know that feeling overwhelmed can be negative or positive, but our pets cannot differentiate. If your pet feels overwhelmed, you need to redirect their attention for their peace of mind, as well as yours.
    • First, know your pet’s body language, so you can take them out of a situation before it escalates. 
    • Provide them with a safe retreat in a quiet room with their bed and favorite toys and treats. You can also consider safe, over-the-counter calming supplements, and pheromone diffusers (e.g., Adaptil or Feliway). If your pet is particularly sensitive, ask our veterinary team if medication can help.
    • Ensure they are microchipped and always wear a collar, and that the information with the data company and on the collar is current.

Your pet may have an impeccable memory that makes them trainable and conditionable, but their sensitivity, curiosity, and impulsiveness are triggered more often this time of year. They don’t anticipate the holidays like we do—on the contrary, they expect consistency in their daily routine, seeing, smelling, and hearing their happy place—which is you. 

We understand, so don’t forget that Dove Mountain Veterinary is always a phone call away. Contact us, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, if you suspect your pet has eaten something toxic. Also contact us if you would like your pet microchipped before the holidays, or you think they need anti-anxiety medication. We want the holidays to be happy and safe for you and your pet.