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Holiday delights, dangers for your dog

The holidays are a wonderful time for most of us. Our towns take on a sparkle in the winter chil, people seem somehow friendlier and more cheerful.

Even amidst the hustle and bustle and holiday chaos, there’s an inescapable sense of joy and wonder in the air.

If you’re anything like me, your companion animals are a big part of this festive season.



Many of us have special gifts for them, give them extra treats and dress them in seasonal outfits that I’m convinced would render them abjectly humiliated if they could see themselves.

After all, a dignified, gray-muzzled golden retriever has no business being subjected to the indignity of wearing a set of red velvet reindeer antlers with battery-powered lights that flash on and off like a neon “Eat at Joe’s” sign.




Oh, yeah, I’ve done it to Casey.

Indignities aside, we all like to do special things for our four-footed friends during the holidays.

But it’s important to know what’s safe to give them — whether in the category of food or fun — and what isn’t, and what pet dangers can lurk in the holiday home.

Let’s start with playthings. In most cases, dog toys make great gifts — unless your dog is like Casey and couldn’t care less about toys. Just make sure the toy is appropriate for your dog. If Rover is a fierce chewer, for instance, you probably want to focus on chew-resistant rope toys and hard rubber toys like Kongs or Nylabones.

“Squeaker” toys are very popular — and most dogs find them irresistible — but if your dog tends to tear soft toys apart, remember that he could find the plastic squeaker during these destructive forays and may end up ingesting it.

Keep in mind your dog’s size when choosing toys. A golf ball-sized toy in the paws of a large dog could easily get swallowed or lodged in his throat, resulting in a very expensive veterinary bill, or worse. And be sure to remove anything like ribbons, strings, eyes and anything attached to the toy with sharp connectors that your pooch could swallow.

If you want to give your dog rawhide chews, be cautious when purchasing them, as some low-quality and foreign-made hides can contain illegal or toxic materials.

As with most pet products, I recommend those made in America. Also, keep in mind that rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry, and that some may come from animals killed for the international fur trade.

Many people bake or buy special holiday treats for their dogs — just remember that if you’re going to put their treats under the tree, they need to be inside a dog-proof container in case Fido decides to do a little “snooping” while you’re away!

Finally, as I’ve mentioned in a previous column, make sure that any treats you buy are made in the U.S. and contain healthy ingredients. Local stores like Scraps Dog Bakery that bake their own treats are an excellent choice, or you can bake your own.

So, let’s talk about keeping your pup safe during the holidays. I mentioned keeping treat-gifts under the tree away from your dog, but the tree itself can also pose hazards.

Things like tinsel, garland, glass ornaments and electrical cords are dangers that could tempt a curious dog (or cat) to investigate, and the results can be catastrophic. If you decorate with snow globes or bubble lights, keep them well away from your dog’s reach as they often contain toxic chemicals.

Avoid feeding your dog table scraps, especially those that are rich and fatty.

Large quantities of food items like turkey skin, meat drippings, pie crust and whipped cream can cause serious pancreatitis.

Always keep your dog away from onions, grapes and raisins, chocolate, poultry bones, alcoholic beverages, raw bread dough (which expands in a dog’s digestive system, producing painful gas or even rupturing the stomach and intestines), and sugarless candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol.

You may have believed for years that Christmas poinsettias are deadly to dogs, but according to the Pet Poison Hotline, these plants are only slightly toxic.

It’s true that the poinsettia’s brightly colored leaves contain a sap that can cause vomiting, but most animals won’t eat a large enough amount to cause poisoning because of the sap’s bitter taste. Many people also believe that Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus are toxic, but as with poinsettias, these plants are only dangerous in large quantities. Most dogs will avoid taking more than a bite or two.

Far more toxic are the lily, holly, mistletoe and amaryllis. In fact, the ingestion of one or two lily leaves or flower petals is enough to cause sudden kidney failure and death in cats. Daffodils — which many people grow during the winter in indoor vases as Paperwhite Narcissus — are also extremely toxic to both dogs and cats, especially the bulbs.

With all that being said, don’t let these hazards keep you from decorating for the holidays or having seasonal goodies around the house.

Just take a few common sense precautions, and keep your furry friends safe and happy during this wonderful time of the year.

Happy holidays from Joan and Casey!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.


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