Keep pets calm during the holiday madness

As you celebrate the holiday season, follow these simple tips to minimize stress on your pets and keep them safe.

Decorate with pets in mind. Set up your Christmas tree in a room that can be closed off―cats and dogs don’t understand that they shouldn’t climb the tree or gnaw on its branches, says Sue Farinato, program assistant for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States. And keep ribbons, tinsel and garland away from pets. If your animal chews on them, it could choke or suffer an intestinal blockage. Don’t let your furry friend eat poinsettias, potpourri or holly―they can make it sick.

Stick to a routine. During the holidays, you’re busy shopping, decorating and baking, but your cat or dog will stress out if you don’t adhere to its normal schedule. Feed and groom them at the same time everyday, and play with them on a regular basis.

Segregate animals during parties. Loud gatherings make some pets skittish, so consider designating a room for your cat or dog. Stick a “do not disturb” note on the door. Put your pet’s food, water and litterbox (if you have a cat) inside. Turn on a radio or TV to drown out noise.

Hire a sitter if you’re traveling. Your pet will probably be happiest at home. Boarding at a kennel can be scary because it’s an unfamiliar place, so ask your vet’s office for sitter recommendations. If you must bring your pet on your car trip, secure it in a roomy carrier. Are you flying? Call the airline ahead of time and ask how it ensures pets’ safety.

Don’t welcome other pets. Expecting houseguests? Encourage them to leave their cat or dog at home. Meeting a new animal―especially with all the other hustle and bustle going on―will likely agitate your pet.

Watch pets around open flames. You probably love to light candles and build a blaze in the fireplace around the holidays, but curious cats and dogs can burn themselves if they come too close. Stow candles in a place that pets can’t touch them, and don’t let animals near the hearth.

Be careful with costumes. Sure, pets look adorable in a Santa suit or elf outfit, but putting one on your dog or cat may stress it out. If you do play dress up, check that the costume fits properly and doesn’t restrict your pet’s ability to move or breathe. Also be sure there are no strings or pieces on the costume that could come off and become a choking hazard.

Keep food out of reach. Don’t leave leftovers sitting out―certain foods are toxic to cats and dogs. For example, they could choke on bones from a turkey, or if they ingest chocolate, it could cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased heart rate or seizures. And if they lick up any alcohol, they could suffer from decreased coordination, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, coma or even death.