November 29, 2021

How to keep your pet safe during the holidays

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Jen Foster of Cortland walks her dog, Polly, Tuesday. Her best tip around the holidays? A baby gate to the kitchen. Polly likes to steal food off the counters. Next tip? A collar with ID. Foster’s other dog, Lindy, is an escape artist.

It’s no surprise when Cortland resident Jen Foster’s almost 4-year-old dog Polly gets up on the counter looking for any food she can get her paws on.

“I definitely have a dog that counter surfs,” she said. “We definitely have to keep the counter clear.”

Workers at the Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said people can take steps to keep their pets safe and healthy during the holidays.

Keep them away from the garbage “especially those that hold fatty foods, bones, or chocolate. Avoid the temptation of feeding leftovers or sweets that could potentially contain toxic ingredients (like xylitol, chocolate, onion, garlic, raisins, grapes, etc.) and lead to costly medical bills,” said Ashley Workman, a veterinary technician.

As you decorate for Christmas, Workman said, avoid having real mistletoe, holly or lilies, which can cause heart problems, upset stomach or kidney failure if ingested.

While COVID-19 is changing some people’s holiday plans, Workman said large groups of people can overwhelm pets.

“Never force your animal into interactions with friends/family and ensure they have a safe room or space to retreat to if they’re feeling nervous,” she said. “This can prevent bad behaviors due to stress. What is fun for humans isn’t always fun for pets. It’s important to make sure that pets can always opt out and have a place away from holiday noise, unusual sights and smells, and any visitors.”


Don’t feed your pets …

  • Alcoholic beverages or food with alcohol.
  • Avocado.
  • Chocolate; darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate.
  • Coffee or caffeine substances.
  • Citrus.
  • Coconut and coconut oil.
  • Grapes and raisins.
  • Nuts.
  • Dairy products.
  • Onion, garlic or chive.
  • Raw and undercooked meat, eggs and bones.
  • Salt and salty snack foods.
  • Xylitol.
  • Yeast dough.

Source: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


Joe Hoffer, the animal control officer with the Tompkins SPCA, said he picks up a lot of stray animals during the holidays.

“As always, pet owners can help avoid their animals being picked up and taken to a shelter by keeping their dogs on leash when outside and giving proper identification (including collar, ID tags, and microchipping their animal) in case they sneak out when guests come and go,” he said. “Those with outdoor cats should also ensure they have ample food available close by, so there is less reason for them to wander and get taken in by those who are trying to do good around the holidays.”

Anyone who finds a stray animal should check for identification and check with nearby houses to see if someone’s animal had gotten loose, he added.

To keep pets preoccupied around the holidays, take them on a long walk before the day gets busy or before leaving them to head somewhere, Workman said.

Consider investing in baby gates, crates or putting the animal in another room, controlling access to where the animal can be in the house, said behaviorist Emme Hones, with the Tompkins SPCA. Hones said to also feed animals at their normally scheduled time and keep them preoccupied with a toy like a stuffed kong or new chewbone.


Keep people safe, too

Thanksgiving means lots of cooking and the Fireman’s Association of New York has tips to keep people safe in the kitchen.

“Fire departments across the state have responded to an increased number of home fires since the beginning of the COVID pandemic,“ said association President John P. Farrell in a news release.

Here are some safety tips:

  • Stay in the kitchen while cooking.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire away from the stovetop, turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for “just a second.”
  • Check cooking food regularly.
  • Keep kids and pets out of the kitchen while food is being prepared.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors are functioning. If needed, replace the batteries or install a new alarm.

If you’re deep-frying a turkey:

  • Use a fryer only outdoors on a sturdy, level surface well away from things that can burn.
  • Keep a “3-foot kid- and pet-free zone” around the fryer.
  • Don’t overfill the pot, which can cause a spill. Find the correct amount of oil needed by first placing the turkey in the pot with water.
  • Make sure your turkey is completely thawed before you fry it, so oil won’t splatter.
  • Check the temperature often with a cooking thermometer so the oil won’t overheat.
  • The pot, lid, and handles of a turkey fryer can get dangerously hot. Use long cooking gloves.

While Foster’s Polly will get her paws on anything she can, her 3-year-old Lindy doesn’t want any human food, but has her own quirks. “She’s an escape artist,” Foster said..

One year, Foster’s boyfriend, Nate Francisco, took Polly to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“It was a bad idea,” she said. Polly ended up eating a whole pie.

Polly felt fine, Foster said, but now Foster keeps a baby gate at the kitchen door.

“She is such a sweet dog, but hard-headed when it comes to food,” Foster said.