Keep your dog safe through the holidays

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Christmas is a busy time for humans, but it can be hazardous for your dog.  In addition to the boredom he may be feeling as he gets less of your time and attention, there are many new things added to his environment that can disrupt his routine, and some of them can cause real problems for him.
As you decorate your tree and home, think about keeping your dog safe and stress free. Many years ago, we bought a new, artificial tree with a rotating stand. The tree looked beautiful as it moved in a slow circle, but our Lab, Otter, did not agree. He had seen many Christmas trees in his life, but never one that moved!  Hackles up and teeth bared, he planted himself between us and the tree and growled viciously.  For his peace of mind, we chose the side of the tree we liked best and turned off the stand.
Place your tree in a 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.  Consider placing “safe” ornaments on the lower limbs of the tree rather than glass items, so if your dog nabs something to chew it won’t cause damage to him.
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, or do what many “dog people” resort to and put a portable x-pen around the tree when you aren’t there.
Other Christmas decorations can cause problems as well. Candles can be a fire hazard, so keep them out of reach of heads and tails, or use battery operated ones. Holiday plants can also be dangerous.
Christmas cactuses and poinsettias can cause mouth irritation and digestive upset, while Holly, Amaryllis and Mistletoe can do much worse.  Should he ingest anything potentially dangerous, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 888-426-4435.  Staffed by veterinarians and toxicologists 24/7, the experts will assess the danger and provide recommendations for you or your veterinarian for a fee.
All kinds of edibles can create issues for your dog.  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 Christmas food 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 3 pounds of milk chocolate to consume a lethal dose, just 7 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate or 4 ounces of cocoa powder could be fatal.
Sugar-free candy and gum sweetened with xylitol, an artificial sweetener, can be deadly as well. Place candy dishes and edible decorations out of your dog’s reach. Keep an eye on the trash, too.
A usually trustworthy dog might be tempted if the garbage is full of tantalizing odors, so empty it often and doggy-proof the can.
Christmas visitors are wonderful, but make sure they understand and follow the canine rules at your house. Be careful with the door opening and closing, as an unwary guest could allow a wily pooch to slip out and never even realize it. Warn house guests to remove medications from their suitcases and put them in cabinets or drawers.
While your dog may not enjoy wearing antlers and posing under the Christmas tree, much of the holiday fun will bring him joy, too. As you enjoy this “most wonderful time of the year,” make sure your dog is safe.
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: info@TrainMyK-9.com. 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.

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