A Dog-Friendly Home for the Holidays

Ease the stress of the coming season with these expert tips.

By | Posted: December 2, 2014, 8 a.m. PST

You’ve decked the halls, wrapped packages, and shopped till you dropped. But have you done everything to protect your dog from potential holiday hazards?

Holiday Safety 

Given the demands of the season, it’s easy to understand why,  "The holidays are hectic,” says Deirdre Chiaramonte, DVM, a veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in New York. "Busy owners can overlook common hazards.”

To make sure the holidays are happy and safe for your dog, follow these simple prevention tips from the experts: 

Around the House 

Christmas Trees

Keep your dog from toppling the Christmas tree by securing the tree to a wall, ceiling, or drapery rod with sturdy fishing line, Chiaramonte suggests. Make tree water, which can harbor dangerous bacteria and chemicals, a no-drinking zone by covering the tree stand reservoir with aluminum foil or a tree skirt. Pick up fallen pine needles, which can injure your dog’s intestines if eaten, and tape down or cover electrical cords to prevent shocks, burns, and other serious injuries.


dog and tree



Skip the tinsel. This time-honored holiday decoration has long been a no-no for pets. If swallowed, tinsel can cause choking, or intestinal blockages and tears. It often requires surgery to repair.

Packages and Gifts

Keep dogs away from wrapped packages as well as wrapping supplies, since eating string, glue, rubber bands, staples, ribbon, plastic, cellophane, cloth, and even wrapping paper can lead to intestinal blockages or choking, Chiaramonte says. Keep in mind that some wrapped packages may contain dangerous edible items, such as dark chocolate or macadamia nuts. Ask the gift giver whether the package contains food before placing it under the Christmas tree.

 dog eating a gift

Children's Toys

Small toy pieces and balls can cause choking and intestinal blockages, Chiaramonte says. After opening gifts, set aside small items or stow them in a nearby closet until they can be safely put away.

On the Table

People Food 

Many holiday foods such as fatty meat, garlic, onion, some nuts, gravy, poultry skin, dough, raisins, coffee, bones, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol can cause illnesses ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to pancreatitis and other toxic reactions, says Steven Hansen, DVM, senior vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Designate a family member to guard unattended plates and glasses, or place your dog in his crate or a quiet room until the meal is done or guests go home.


Place menorahs and other holiday candles far from your dog’s reach so he can’t knock them over, Chiaramonte suggests. Extinguish all candles before going to bed or leaving the house.

 hannukah dog

Toxic Plants

Some of the most popular living symbols of the holidays are toxic to dogs and can cause symptoms from gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhea to cardiac problems, even death, Hansen says. Plants to avoid include Christmas cactus, holly, lilies, mistletoe, poinsettia, hemlock, and ivy. If you can’t ban these problem plants altogether, keep them far from your pet’s reach, and immediately pick up and discard fallen leaves, stems, and berries.

 dog and poinsetia

At the Party 

Guests Who Feed Your Dog

Ask your guests to refrain from feeding people food to your dog, Hansen says. Aside from encouraging begging, feeding your dog rich holiday table scraps can result in serious illness, including pancreatitis. If you’re throwing a party, consider boarding your dog for the day, or create a quiet zone for him far away from the action. If you want your dog at the party, provide a limited number of dog treats for guests to give your dog, and ban toxic ingredients like chocolate from the menu.

 dog cartoon

Open Doors and Gates

Holiday guests and other activities can leave you distracted, so be sure to close and lock doors and gates after guests arrive or leave. Better yet, place your dog in his crate or a quiet room with the door closed while guests come and go, Chiaramonte says. Be sure your dog is wearing his collar and ID tag, and if your dog is microchipped, check with the microchipping service to confirm that your address and phone number are current.


Busy and erratic holiday schedules, steady streams of strangers, and even changes to your home like rearranging furniture to accommodate a Christmas tree can stress out even the most mellow of dogs. Limit stress by maintaining your dog’s regular exercise and feeding schedules. Give him a nice, long walk before guests arrive or before you go out for the evening. Provide a quiet spot where he can "get away” from company. And add a fun toy or dog treat to your holiday shopping list. Special treats can provide a great distraction for a stressed-out dog and help him — and you — to better enjoy a happy and safe holiday.

Maureen Kochan, the former editor of DOG FANCY, is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Southern California.

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Melian and Tiny   Etna, CA

12/28/2014 11:58:31 PM

Still good to remember

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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

12/7/2014 5:20:15 AM

Great ideas. Good meaning visitor to your home need to be watched because some will sneak a little bit of something to your dog. When you have a dog like mine with food allergies this could means a week of distress for your dog.

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