Naughty and nice pets alike hear a lot of “No” during the holiday season. What’s meant as a time for kindness and charity feels more like restriction and denial—our endless warnings and admonitions echo off the holly bedecked halls:

  • Leave it! 
  • Don’t eat that!
  • Sorry, you can’t have this. It’s bad for pets.
  • THAT is not a toy!

While keeping our pets safe from holiday hazards is important, you do not need to exclude them from the celebration. To ensure your pet has a howling good—and purr-fectly safe—holiday, Mill Creek Animal Hospital has prepared this brief guide to pet-inclusive holiday plans.

Keep your pet on their normal schedule during the holidays

Dogs and cats are comforted by familiar routines and patterns. Try to maintain your pet’s normal feeding and exercise schedule as much as possible—doing so will decrease any stress or anxiety caused by sudden changes, such as decorations, house guests, and prolonged periods alone. Physical exercise will improve your pet’s sleep, which may be altered by unusual late-night activity in the home. 

If you’re hosting an event and need to confine your pet, exercise them more during the day, to ensure they settle in comfortably.

Use pet-safe prep techniques

If you removed every unsafe ingredient from your holiday meal, you’d be left with some plain meats and vegetables—great for your pet, but a bit underwhelming for you. Instead, prepare your meals carefully, and you can have your turkey and eat it, too. 

  • Use a baby gate or exercise pen to keep your pet away from the heart of your prep work, but where they can still see and smell the action. This also helps prevent you from tripping and falling when curious pets get underfoot.
  • Once you’ve used a pet-toxic ingredient, immediately store or discard any unused portion. Also, be familiar with your dishes with toxic ingredients, and ensure they are not offered, or accessible, to your pet.
  • Immediately throw away bones or carcasses, or put them in the freezer until trash day.
  • Take out the trash often, or keep trash cans closed and safely behind a barrier or closed door.

Make a plate for your pet

As you’re preparing your dishes, set aside a few plain pet-safe ingredients, such as skinless white meat turkey, sweet potato, green beans, pumpkin, apples, and a few cooked cranberries. These ingredients are healthy in moderation, and can be placed in a Kong or similar hollow toy for a pet-friendly “plate.” Cats will appreciate some skinless white meat turkey and plain pumpkin on a lickable mat. 

Ask guests to leave their pets at home

As fun as extra pets may sound, allowing your guests to bring their pets can spell disaster. Unless all pets have previously met and get along well, introducing new dogs and cats on your pet’s territory can lead to resource guarding, bullying, and anxiety. Give your pet the gift of peace during the holidays by inviting only two-legged guests.

Give your pet some fun and practical gifts

If your pet is always rooting around under the Christmas tree, give them their own gift this year. But, stay away from the ubiquitous holiday rawhides and prepackaged pet cookie samplers, to avoid digestive upset and a potential emergency. Instead, give your pet a gift they are sure to appreciate, such as healthy homemade treats, a self-warming bed, a durable chew toy, or a treat-dispensing puzzle toy. 

If your pet is likely to ingest wrapping paper, try “wrapping” their present in tea towels—or bath towels for larger gifts.

Plan ahead with prepared food toys for your pet

Unexpected company is normal during the holiday season, so be ready for unannounced arrivals that may upset your pet. Stuff and freeze food toys, such as Kongs, Toppls, or Licki-Mats, with canned pet food or other soft ingredients and treats for a quick, safe, and healthy way to preoccupy your pet. Licking and chewing are naturally stress-relieving pet behaviors, and these toys are a great option for dogs or cats with social anxiety.

Pet-friendly decorating looks good to everyone

Pet-friendly decorating calls for an elevated look—literally. If you want to decorate your home, but not restrict your pet’s access anywhere, you’ll need to place decorations up high where your pet cannot reach. Hang pine boughs, garland, and string lights beyond your pet’s reach, set candles on the mantle, and put precious and breakable ornaments inside display cabinets, on tables or shelves, or in sturdy glass jars where they can be seen but not disturbed. 

Take a holiday walk with your dog

If you or your family enjoy a holiday run, walk, or post-meal stroll, bring your dog along—or bundle up and start a new tradition. If you tour the neighborhood to sing carols or admire the Christmas lights, ensure your dog wears a reflective collar or jacket and identification tags. 

Be prepared for fireworks with a cozy pet hideaway

Fireworks can trigger immense anxiety in pets. If you expect holiday fireworks, close the curtains and turn up the television volume, to drown out any outside noise and decrease your pet’s stress. Better yet, surround your pet with comfort and company by settling in for a family movie night.

This holiday season, replace “No” with “Yes” by adding your pet’s name to the guest list. With a little thought, you can plan a pet-friendly celebration, and feel as generous as Ol’ Saint Nick without Scrooge’s guilty conscience. 

We wish you pet-safe and happy holidays. However, if you know or suspect your pet has somehow consumed a toxic ingredient or a decorative object, don’t wait—immediately contact Mill Creek Animal Hospital, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.