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Protect your pets this holiday season

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Photo by Leah Kelly / Pexels
Photo by Leah Kelly / Pexels

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holiday season can lead to unexpected dangers for our furry friends. According to Google Trends data, "Pet ER" searches spiked between December 15 and January 2. Washington ranked in the top 10 for this particular search.

But the most common holiday-related disasters are highly preventable. Here are some ways to keep your pets happy and healthy all season.

Food safety
Feasts bookend the holidays in America. However, many of our favorite holiday treats can be deadly to cats and dogs. Most dog owners know that chocolate is toxic, but gummy treats often also include an ingredient known as xylitol. When consumed, xylitol can lead to liver failure and, in severe cases, sudden death. This holiday season, keep stockings and all edible Christmas gifts far away from your pets.

Avoid sharing holiday table scraps and leftovers with your pets too. Many common seasonings contain toxic ingredients for dogs and cats. Onions, raisins, olives, and grapes are just as deadly as chocolate for dogs, so if any of these ingredients find their way into your holiday feast, keep them far away from your pet.

Another common mistake pet owners make is allowing dogs to chew on turkey bones after carving the holiday bird. While raw, uncooked turkey bones can be a fun and healthy snack for dogs, cooked animal bones become brittle and can splinter in a dog's throat, causing choking and asphyxiation. Consider dog-specific bones and treats as a safe alternative.

Deck the halls
Decorations can also cause danger to pets of all sizes. We've seen the traumatic cat scene in Christmas Vacation, but unfortunately, the holiday comedy isn't far from reality.

Christmas trees cause most cat-related holiday disasters. Live trees used in American homes usually include fir, spruce, and pine. These beautiful plants are all mildly to moderately toxic to cats. When ingested, they cause digestive problems. Many tree farms also suggest water additives for live trees to preserve their color until Christmas. These chemicals are deadly when consumed by dogs and cats.

If using a live Christmas tree, keep it in a location your pets can't access, and avoid toxic water additives.

Festive plants, like poinsettias, are also incredibly poisonous to dogs and cats. If you plan on bringing one of these plants into your house for the holidays, keep them far away from any curious nibblers.

Plastic trees are also enticing to cats, who may try to eat some branches. Animals cannot digest plastic, and consumption can cause dangerous blockages in the intestines.

Tinsel is another tree decoration cats are drawn to, due to its shininess. Vets recommend avoiding using tinsel or other small decorations that cats may try to eat, and never leaving your cat alone with your tree.

Prevent sudden electrocution by indoor or outdoor Christmas lights by wrapping wires in electrical tape or using a wire hider. This will keep young teething pets from exploring extension cords.

Most pet parents know not to leave candles burning around pets without supervision —- one wagging tail or curious kitten can lead to a disaster. However, many don't know that candles release toxins into the air that can irritate pets. When burned constantly, they can even cause respiratory issues. So look for pet-safe soy blends, and avoid paraffin wax or candles with additives. Unfortunately, most bath and bodyworks candles include paraffin wax, but small businesses, like Paddywack in Mill Creek, carry pet-friendly options.

Gift guide
Young people will spend a small fortune on pet gifts this holiday season. It is important to know which are safest for your animals.

Most dogs love chewing bones, but vets warn consumers to avoid those made from rawhide, as it is the leading cause of stomach blockages and choking. Rawhide doesn't break down in the stomach like natural treats.

Great alternative chews include bully sticks (but don't google what they're made of), Chhurpupu Yak Chews (which can be found at Mud Bay), and Northwest Naturals frozen uncooked bones.

There's nothing cuter than a pet in a holiday sweater, but owners should never leave dogs and cats in clothing without supervision. Prolonged time in sweaters can cause stress and overheating. Outfits can also become choking hazards if your pet attempts to take them off.

Holiday parties
Of course, the holidays are a perfect time for catching up with family and friends, but visitors can cause increased stress for pets, especially those with separation anxiety. If hosting a holiday get-together, assess what your pet will need to be comfortable.

If you have a Houdini, keep them in a safe location where they can't make a break for it during all the commotion. If your dog or cat is shy around visitors, ensure they have a place to hide, and let guests know they would prefer privacy. Even the most social animals can get overwhelmed with large groups. Make sure guests know and respect your pet's boundaries, and always monitor children when interacting with your animals.

When the holiday season rolls around, we often think about the ones we love the most. Keep your pets safe, happy, and healthy this year. Small changes to your traditions can mean the difference between life and death.