For people, tinsel, mistletoe and chocolate are holiday traditions -- but for pets, they can prove fatal.
Pet owners can protect their furry friends by making their homes pet-safe this holiday season.
Sgt. Margaret Young, noncommissioned officer-in-charge at the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center, said Christmas decorations can be especially harmful if pets get a hold of them.
"Some pets will play with ornaments, lights, or tinsel," she said. "Ingestion of tinsel or string can cause blockage or damage to the stomach and intestinal lining. If you do notice that your pet has ingested string or tinsel and it is hanging out of their mouth or rear end, do not attempt to pull it out and seek veterinary medical attention."
Christmas lights can also pose a threat if the animals chew on the cords, Young said.
"Never leave them plugged in or hanging low when the tree is not attended," she said.
Many houseplants, including mistletoe and holly are poisonous to both cats and dogs, and poinsettias can cause mouth irritation, according to Chelsea Lindsey, senior community outreach and adoptions associate at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.
Holiday food is another danger zone for pets.
"Some dogs can get an upset stomach if you change their diet, so be careful if you have a dog with a sensitive stomach. As for cats, we say no leftovers -- there are too many things that they cannot digest," Lindsay said. "We also recommend talking to guests about what the 'rules' are for your animals. Let them know not to offer them bones, or better yet, not to offer them anything."
Never feed a dog turkey bones, she said. "They are very brittle, and can break and puncture organs."
People should also never feed a dog nuts, avocado, cranberries, onions, dark chocolate or sugar-free baked goods that contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, she said.
If an owner suspects a pet of eating something toxic, they can call the ASPCA Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.
The best way to keep an animal occupied and safe during the holidays is to give them safe toys and chews, she said. "We recommend Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or grain-free treats, bully sticks, or even a puzzle toy."
Holidays can also be stressful for some pets because of extra company or travel, Lindsey said.
"For shy cats, we recommend giving them their own 'safe space' such as a bedroom, that has all of their stuff in it -- litterbox, bed, toys, food -- and letting them hang out in there during the festivities," she said. "Most dogs will be fine with lots of company, but some will be very nervous. You may want to give your dog a 'safe space' where they can go get some peace and quiet. Keep an eye on the comings and goings of guests to make sure your dog doesn't sneak outside."
While traveling for the holidays, never leave a dog kenneled at home for more than six hours a day, Young said: owners should either board dogs while they're away or hire a pet sitter to check on them two to three times a day.
No animal should ever be left outside unattended, she added.
For more information, call the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center at (703) 805-4336.