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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Take precautions to make Christmas a celebration for all

Muppet is obsessed with our Fraser fir.

She ran to its base the moment it appeared the day after Thanksgiving, and she's most likely beneath it right now.

Last year we set up a hidden camera near the tree which snapped pictures every 15 minutes. The shots caught her tossing and turning under the tree all night long. After that we didn't have the heart to box the tree skirt, instead tucking it under a bedroom table so she could enjoy it anytime.

But the tree itself is her favorite thing all year - well, that and an exceptionally small box she likes to stuff herself into. Yet after a quick search online, it turns out the ol' e'ergreen can be a real hazard to pet owners who aren't careful.

Here are some guidelines to make sure your dog or cat enjoys the holidays as much as you do:

• If you have a climber cat or clumsy dog, choose a corner for your tree and secure it from two sides by small wall hooks in the walls. Another trick is to place a small hook in the ceiling and connect it to the treetop with clear high test fishing line.

• If you have a real tree, be persistent in sweeping up pine needles, which can cause vomiting and gastric irritation if ingested. Bits of plastic or aluminum that break off of an artificial tree can also cause intestinal blockage or irritation to the mouth.

• Keep a fresh tree watered - but don't add preservatives, which can be toxic to thirsty pets. Block the way to stagnant water with a pretty tree skirt.

• Spray bitter apple or Tabasco sauce on low branches to deter chewers. To keep cats away from the tree completely, add orange peels; they hate the smell.

• If Christmas lights are on when no one's looking, are they just as beautiful? For Mittens and Fido's safety, switch them off when the tree is not supervised. Also secure cords by taping them, burying them or positioning them higher than the pet can reach. Wire-chewing may cause burns or pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which can be fatal.

• Hang valuable ornaments on the top two-thirds of the tree. Otherwise expect playing, accidental breaking, eating and injury.

• Consider storing gifts in a safe area until right before the holiday - or do like me and add decorative ribbons no earlier than Christmas Eve, then keep pets away from the pile. Ribbons, string, tinsel and garland can all be ingested and cause intestinal obstruction that often requires surgery to clear. Tinsel can also cause cuts in the mouth, and angel hair, made of spun glass, can cause irritation on contact.

• Make sure dinner guests know what your pet can and cannot eat, just in case something accidentally drops from the table. Dangerous foods include chocolate, coffee, onions, grapes or raisins, fatty foods, alcohol and cooked bones.

• Amidst holiday excitement and romance, don't forget to use common sense. Menorahs, candles and liquid potpourri pots should never be left unsupervised when pets are enjoying the space, as well.

Other seasonal houseplants may also threaten your little one's health.

Poinsettias irritate cats' stomach and eyes. Berries of the Jerusalem cherry are toxic, and cause pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Holly and mistletoe, amaryllis, chrysanthemum, rhododendron, winter broom, Christmas berry, cherry, pepper and rose can all cause problems to pets that ingest them. For a list of plants that threaten dogs, click here.

So much to watch for, yet so much to enjoy about the holidays. Hope yours is shaping up to be safe, loving and memorable for all.

-- Sandra M. Klepach,


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