As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, and my bag of doggy antlers makes its annual appearance, my dogs roll their eyes and sigh, knowing the yearly, “Reindog” picture is at hand. If this was the worst thing to face dogs, the holidays wouldn’t be a problem. However, this time of year can present many dangers to our dogs, and good owners need to be wary.

Rich food can be harmful. Too many tidbits or leftovers can upset your dog’s digestion. Turkey carcasses can tempt even the most trustworthy dog, and eating bones can result in intestinal blockage, punctures and digestive upsets. Onions, garlic, raisins and grapes, all common ingredients, are problematic in large amounts, as are alcoholic beverages.

Chocolate is another potential poison that often makes an appearance in holiday treats. Theobromine, found in cocoa beans, is metabolized very slowly by dogs, and can stay in their bloodstream for up to 20 hours, stimulating the central nervous system and affecting the heart and kidneys. Dry cocoa powder and unsweetened baking chocolate, both used in dessert making, have the most theobromine per ounce. While a 70-pound Labrador would need to eat around three pounds of milk chocolate to consume a lethal dose, just seven ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate or four ounces of cocoa powder could prove deadly to him.

Another food danger exists in sugar free candy and gums sweetened with xylitol. Remember, this artificial sweetener can prove fatal to your pets.

In addition to watching the amount of snacks given to your dog and keeping food items out of his reach, keep an eye on the trash. A usually trustworthy dog might be tempted if the garbage is full of tantalizing odors, so take the trash out often and doggy-proof the can.

Holiday plants can also be dangerous. Christmas cactuses and Poinsettias can cause mouth irritation and digestive upset, while Holly, Amaryllis and Mistletoe can be much more problematic and should be placed far out of your dog’s reach. Should he ingest anything dangerous, a good number to know is 888-426-4435, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, staffed by Veterinarians and Toxicologists 24/7. These experts will assess the danger and provide recommendations for you or your veterinarian for a $65 fee.

Houseguests can also cause problems for your dog. Make sure they understand and follow the canine rules at your house, especially in regards to things like jumping, getting on the furniture, and receiving food treats. A lot of training progress can be negated by someone who doesn’t understand your expectations. Be careful with the door opening and closing too. An unwary guest could allow a wily pooch to slip out and never even realize it. Also warn your guests to remove medications from their suitcases and place them out of reach of the dog.

Christmas decorations are another worry. Candles can be a fire hazard, so keep them out of reach or use battery operated ones. Place the tree in the corner or against the wall so it can’t be easily knocked over, and consider securing it to the walls or ceiling with clear line. Don’t place food ornaments, or popcorn or cranberry strands on the tree, and consider placing “safe” ornaments made of wood or metal on the lower limbs of the tree. If you have a live tree, make sure your dog can’t drink the water, and keep fallen needles cleaned up. Also ensure electrical cords for all decorations are covered or hung on the wall out of reach. Tinsel can obstruct circulation or block a dog’s intestines if ingested, so it’s best not to use it. Packages under a tree can be very tempting as well. The safest course of action is to not allow your dog to be unsupervised around the tree, especially when you’re not home.

Another holiday downer for your dog is busyness. Your dog wants to spend time with you, and frantic schedules often keep you running. Block off some time every day to spend with him. If you have trouble doing this, consider taking a training class with him. This is a gift for you and your dog, as not only will you need to specifically block off time to spend with him, but you’ll have a better behaved dog in 2013.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year for you. Make sure you consider your pet’s needs as well, so the season will be delightful for your dog too.


Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.