Joan Merriam: Holiday delights and dangers for your dog |

Joan Merriam: Holiday delights and dangers for your dog

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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.

The holidays are decidedly different this year, and there’s no denying that the atmosphere is a little more somber, a little less celebratory. We’re all doing a lot less visiting and having friends over, and hopefully not attending parties and gatherings … but even with all this pandemic has brought to our towns and neighborhoods, there’s still a sense of joy in the air.

For many people, their companion animals are a big part of this festive season: some 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.

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 — 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 pup tends to tear soft toys apart, remember that he could end up ingesting the plastic squeaker during these destructive forays.

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.

Along with most experts and veterinarians, I advise against giving your dog rawhide chews. Their dangers can include choking, vomiting, diarrhea, salmonella poisoning and exposure to various chemical residues. Also, keep in mind that rawhide is a byproduct of the leather industry, and that some may come from animals killed for the international fur trade.

If you’re going to bake or buy special holiday treats for your dogs and put them 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, 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 now 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 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. And never leave a lit candle anywhere near where your dog could accidentally knock it over.

Avoid feeding your dog rich and fatty table scraps. Large quantities of things 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, sugarless candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol, and raw bread dough (which expands in a dog’s digestive system, producing painful gas or even rupture of the stomach and intestines).

You may have believed for years that poinsettias are deadly to dogs — but according to the Pet Poison Hotline, while it’s true that the plant’s brightly colored leaves contain a sap that can cause vomiting, 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, and most dogs will avoid taking more than a bite or two.

Far more toxic are the plants I discussed in my last column: lily, mistletoe, and daffodil and Amaryllis 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 Joey!

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


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