Glittering ornaments, shiny tinsel and sparkling lights are just a few of the holiday visual delights—for dogs and cats too.

They’re also potentially dangerous.

“It’s important for owners to safeguard their pets” during the holidays, says Shelley Becker, owner of Hungry Hound with locations in Hobart and St. John. “It takes extra work but it’s well worth it.”

Becker starts with Christmas trees—the oils produced by firs can irritate a pet's mouth and stomach, causing drooling and vomiting, and tree needles may cause gastrointestinal irritation, obstruction and puncture. So Becker suggests keeping animals away from Christmas trees as much as possible.

Placing trees in a corner helps limit access. She also suggests putting noise-making ornaments such as bells on lower branches. The noise may keep the animals away and will also alert you to mischief in the making.

Breakable ornaments that can cut should be placed high up on the tree.

Just say no to tinsel. Cats and dogs who consume the shiny strands can get bowel obstructions, and it can saw through internal organs. Placing a pen around the tree can keep dogs out and moving furniture that can act as a springboard for cats can hinder jumpers.

The pen can even become part of the holiday decor by hanging heavy-duty plastic ornaments from it.

Becker suggests training, too.

“Use a ‘leave it’ command,” she says to shoo a dog from the tree. (This likely won't work with cats.) “And then give him or her a treat.”

Heather Kohnhorst at Pets Supplies Plus in Dyer recommends Grannicks Bitter Apple Spray as well as other pet deterrents, which naturally and safely repel animals and keeps them from chewing and biting items.

“It’s not harmful,” she says. “People also use it to keep cats from chewing their pads. The repel sprays deter animals from certain areas and because it keeps them from biting or chewing you don’t have to worry about them biting into an electrical cord like the ones you use to light up trees. You can spray it on ornaments as well—really on anything you want them to leave alone. It works outdoors and inside.”

Decorations are not the only potential hazards for pets. Dogs, in particular, like to eat pretty much anything — “He likes broccoli,” I remember my kids saying about our rescue dog — but there are quite a few foods they should stay away from, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Poison Control Center. These include caffeinated products including coffee and chocolate (the darker the chocolate the stronger the reaction), dairy, nuts such as almonds, pecans and walnuts, salty snack foods (no Fritos for Fido), onions, garlic, chives, citrus, grapes and raisins and coconut oils. These foods can cause everything from diarrhea to vomiting to death.

So what happens if your pet ingests something it shouldn’t?

Call your veterinarian and explain what they ate.

Kohnhorst also recommends charcoal biscuits. These contain activated charcoal and, eaten soon after the ingestion of toxins or poisons, help prevent their absorption by the stomach and intestine. As a plus, charcoal biscuits also aid in preventing doggy breath, gas and bloating.

If the toxin is on your pet’s skin, rinse multiple times to remove whatever is causing the irritation. If that doesn’t help, call your vet.

Keep the numbers of your veterinarian and the ASPCA Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) handy in case of emergencies. There is a fee for the ASPCA service.

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