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Here’s a question that I get asked often this time of the year: How do you keep all those pets of yours out of trouble?
It's a great question when you’ve got tinsel, glittery ornaments and all manner of holiday trappings decking your halls, walls and — most menacingly of all — your holiday tree (if you happen to have one).
The answer to this perfectly reasonable query: I’m really into decorating my home with all kinds of oddball stuff — even more so during the holidays — so I’m well aware that the secret to keeping pets out of trouble is to understand that there is no 100 percent risk-free environment. You also need to assess and prioritize the risks your household presents, identify your pets’ risk-taking tendencies and work to strategically minimize the most dangerous risks to individual pets.
You can make yourself crazy trying to pet-proof your home for every possible risk — and you’re unlikely to get rid of every possible danger. That’s just life. I’ve seen dogs drown in their water bowls and choke on perfectly “safe” collars and restraints. But I understand why it may be useful to hear what a veterinarian might do to pet-proof her own abode. So here’s my list of must-dos.
Put the tree in a tall pot or up on a high pedestal to make it harder for pets to tip the tree over, drink the water (sometimes cited as a toxic issue) or take an interest in low-hanging decorations. (It goes without saying that all decorations should be out of an animal's reach.)
I’ve used a tall pot for the past couple of years, which brings me to my next tip.
Whatever decorations you put up, go the extra mile and make them inaccessible to pets. Whether it’s lodging the tree in a sturdy position (a standard tree stand will not work if you’ve got a sufficiently motivated cat) or tacking wreaths and garlands securely, the idea is to keep stuff in a spot that won’t be accessible to your playful pets.
Why take the risk with real mistletoe (reportedly toxic), yarn, ribbon or tinsel?
I use silver duct tape in place of ribbons, 100 percent nontoxic native trees in place of pines (pine oil has been reported to cause liver damage in some pets) and recyclable paper ornaments (origami is fun to learn). Sure, paper isn't as shiny, but it’s classy — and one less thing to tempt pets.
Pet proofing for the holidays isn’t just about pets. Sometimes the goal is to keep humans from suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous urine. I have a dog who (this has been confirmed by multiple trainers) cannot be housebroken. Anything low — like a holiday tree — must be raised, so he doesn’t decide it’s worth marking.
This time of year, I’m even more of a sucker for crates — and I’m always a stickler when it comes to crating my dogs for safety reasons. To keep my cuties from running amok and headlong into danger, I keep them close. Since I spend 80 percent of my waking life in the kitchen, I drag the crates into that space and let them watch me do my thing.
I’ve had two pets chew through them, and I’ve seen plenty of burned mouths as a result of electric shock, so I’m vigilant about keeping pets away from cords. Covering them with heavy-duty plastic liners helps, but during the holidays I’ve taken to using twinkly indoor lights powered by batteries. There’s only so much damage a pet can do chewing through these.
Safety is all well and good, but here’s where I draw the line: Chocolate is a holiday must-have for me. So I'm very careful with the dark chocolate that's included in probably 20 percent of my homemade holiday treats. Sure, chocolate is toxic, but here’s where knowing when to be careful is more than half the battle: In all my years of pet keeping and dark chocolate wielding, I’ve never had an incident.
And I don’t plan to.
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