Tips to keep your pet safe over the holidays

Holiday safety tips from the SF SPCA

The holiday season is a time of celebration and togetherness for families. San Francisco SPCA Jan McHugh-Smith lists some simple, but important, precautions that will make it a wonderful, safe time for your pets, too.

Pets as Gifts

- It's never a good idea, at any time of year, to give a pet as an unexpected gift, even if the intended recipient loves animals.

- If parents want to give their children a pet the whole family, including the children, should be involved in the decision.

- If you think a friend or relative would like a pet, give them a gift certificate from a local shelter. That way they can make a thoughtful, responsible decision for themselves after the bustle of the holidays is over.

- The only person to whom you should give the gift of a pet is· yourself!

- If you need a dog or cat "fix" during the festive season, think about volunteering some time at a shelter (or Holiday Windows - to sign up for a two-hour shift go to

Keep pets safe and quiet

- The Holiday season can be a very busy time, with family members and friends visiting. However, the presence of a crowd of people, some of them strangers, and the disruption of everyday routine, can be very upsetting to pets. Try to keep your pet on a regular routine.

- With visitors coming in and out of the house, the holiday season is a prime time for pets to get lost, so make sure your pets are wearing a collar and tags at all times or are microchipped.

- It's a good idea to make a quiet place where your cat or dog can get away from the holiday hubbub.· A secluded room with your pet's bed and favorite toys will provide respite from the celebrations.

Food safety

- The number one problem veterinarians see during the holidays is pets ingesting food that they should never eat.· Many holiday treats can make pets seriously ill so keep them on a normal diet during the holiday season.

- Keep a supply of your pet's own favorite, healthy treats on hand.

- Never give your pet poultry bones.· They can splinter and lodge in the throat, stomach or intestines.

- Poultry skin and gravy are way too fatty and spicy for dogs and cats, and stuffing and other dishes that contain onions, can make them ill. Eggnog can cause diarrhea, and even small amounts of alcohol and chocolate can be fatal for pets.

- Keep your pets away from holiday food and ask guests not to slip them table scraps.

- Make sure kitchen counters are cleared and trash cans are secured so your pet can't get into· anything hazardous.

Holiday Tree Safety

- If you have a holiday tree, take precautions to protect your pet.· Consider placing the tree in a room with doors that can be closed, and always unplug holiday lights when you leave the room.

- The tree should stand in a flat, wide base.· Anchor it with wire or fishing line to a ceiling or wall hook. Cover the tree stand so your pet can't drink the water - stagnant water can cause tummy upsets.

- Keep electrical cords well hidden, or rub bitter apple, a powerful taste deterrent, on cords and plugs to prevent chewing.

- Cats often see holiday trees as a fabulous climbing opportunity.· Fresh lemon peel placed around the base of the tree may deter them - felines don't like the smell of citrus.

- Your cat or dog may try to nibble on the tree decorations, so don't use glass ornaments and tinsel,· which can cause serious intestinal damage. Use wooden, cloth or natural ornaments, such as pinecones, and fasten all decorations with ribbon instead of sharp hooks.

- Don't use tasty ornaments, such as gingerbread or popcorn garlands, that will tempt your pet to snack on the tree.

Decoration safety

- Several plants that are traditionally given as gifts during the holiday season can be hazardous to your pet.

- Poinsettias, mistletoe and holly berries are potentially toxic and can give your pet intestinal upsets. All varieties of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats, so keep floral arrangements out of your pet's reach.

- If you're decorating with other festive products check labels carefully to ensure that the material is non-toxic. Don't let your pets chew on ribbons and other holiday gift wrappings, such as cellophane and aluminum foil. These can cause vomiting and intestinal blockage.

- Blow out all candles when you're not in the room, and supervise pets closely around any open fire or flame.·

Emergency readiness

- There is no 911 for pets so prepare for possible emergencies.

- Find out how your vet will be handling emergencies over the holiday period - will he have someone on call at all times?· If not, where should you take a sick animal during the holidays? Research the answers to these questions and keep the information beside your telephone, or enter it into your cell phone.

- In addition, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a 24-hour, 7-days a week hotline. Call 1-888-426-4435.

The San Francisco SPCA Holiday Windows 2008

- The 2008 Holiday Windows will be open daily during store hours, November 21, 2008, until January 1, 2009. Potential adopters can also visit> to watch live Web cam footage of adoptable SF/SPCA animals at play in Macy's windows.

- Last year, 2007, we adopted out 277 animals, and raised $37,000 in donations.

- The majority of animals taken to Holiday Windows and adopted from there are kittens and cats (75% of all adoptions from The SF/SPCA are felines).

- On average, about 50% of the animals taken to Holiday Windows each day are adopted.

- The SF/SPCA is very careful about which animals it showcases at Holiday Windows; shy or fearful animals are kept back at the shelter. SF/SPCA staff and volunteers constantly monitor the animals and rotate them frequently. Any stressed cat or dog is removed from the windows immediately, and all of the animals that are not adopted go back to the shelter at night for a good night's sleep!

- SF/SPCA representatives are on-site to answer questions from potential adopters throughout the event. Every adoptable animal is medically and behaviorally screened, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. Each animal also comes with a 10 day gift of pet health insurance, a free dog- or cat-advice DVD, leash and collar (for dogs) and discounts on most SF/SPCA training classes. Adopters also receive a gift bag of samples, treats and coupons from sponsor partners of The SF/SPCA and Macy's.

- The adoption process at Holiday Windows is the same as at Maddie's Adoption Center at The SF/SPCA. Because it is very thorough, we've found that the return rate for animals is the same for both venues; in other words, no "impulse" purchases.

- The cost to adopt an animal from Holiday Windows is:

Cats: Senior - $20 (8+ years [special price]), Adult - $20 (6 months - 8 years [special price]), Kittens - $100 (under 6 months).

Dogs: Senior - $80 (7+ years), Adult - $180 (6 months to 7 years), Young - $225 (under 6 months). San Francisco residents pay an additional $15 License Fee.

For more information, visit

To view the Macy's windows live cam, click here.

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