The holiday season is here. And for some, this time of the year also brings stress associated with travel, guests, and hectic schedules. As stressful as the holidays can be for us humans, don’t forget that your pets can feel anxiety too. Plus there are new safety concerns to consider for your furry friends during this time of year. Holiday decorations, different foods, guests in the home and changes in schedules often lead to calls and visits to the veterinarian. But with a little preparation, you can avoid holiday trouble for your pet.

First, remember to protect your pets from holiday food. Even though Halloween has come and gone, you may still have candy around your home. Many people do not know that chocolate is toxic for dogs and cats, so make sure chocolate treats haven’t made their way upstairs to Timmy’s room where Lassie is sure to find it! Unfortunately, chocolate isn’t the only food you need to worry about. Each year, more foods and candies contain xylitol. This compound found in low sugar gum and baked goods can cause deadly low blood sugar in our pets.

Also remember that unusual food in unusual quantities can cause severe gastrointestinal upset for your pet. Fight the urge to “treat” your dog with samples of your holiday meals and don’t leave that turkey and those yeast rolls unattended. Your pup might help himself to a belly full of misery.

Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah can be especially stressful for pets as families and friends get together. When company gathers at your home, people who your pets are not used to are in their territory. Making sure all of your animals are microchipped can prove to be very useful in finding a pet that has “escaped” through an open door as guests come and go.

If you travel to Grandma’s house, then you are doing one of three things: boarding your pet, leaving them alone with a pet sitter, or travelling with them. Each choice is a disruption from your pet’s usual routine. Travel involves special precautions. Your pet will need a health certificate if traveling by air and state law requires a health certificate for any animal travelling by any means across state lines (although most people do not adhere to this requirement). If your pet is too large to fly with you in an airplane cabin, you should consult your veterinarian about the stress and recommendations concerning animals travelling in the cargo hold. For any trip, it’s important to pack a bag for your pet in advance, which includes a copy of your pet’s shot records, favorite toys and any special health information such as prescriptions or special diets.

And definitely do not forget the potential dangers with holiday decorations and presents. Christmas plants and floral decor can be irritating or toxic for pets and Christmas tree water contains chemicals and irritants that should be avoided. Always cover your tree stand with plastic wrap before placing the tree skirt around the stand. Menorah candles are fascinating to pets and can cause fires if unattended. Wrapping paper, bows and ribbons are a constant source of danger for all pets if they are ingested. A broken snow globe can be hazardous since they often contain ethylene glycol like antifreeze. With a little planning in advance, you can avoid pet headaches and heartaches this holiday season.

Originally published November 2017 in the Lake Norman Citizen.

Dr. Donna Warren is a veterinarian with LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville. The vets in the big yellow house have been treating pets like family for 20 years. For more information, call 704-948-6300.