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Pet Safety – When Holiday Houseguests Come to Visit

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: November 24, 2014

Updated: July 5, 2024

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cat in suitcase- keep safe when guests arriveGifts, holiday foods, and food preparation materials aren’t the only dangers your pets are likely to face during the holiday season.

Along with the presents, wrapping, and large meals common this time of year, this is also often a time for a revolving door of house visitors and overnight guests.

And whether those guests are neighbors and friends popping in briefly from down the street, or friends and family coming to stay from across the country, many will inadvertently bring with them toxins and other pet hazards that could ruin your holiday.

With some important awareness and some simple precautions, you’ll be able to welcome your friends and family warmly and with open arms, without compromising your pet’s safety and well-being.

Pet hazards associated with houseguests

Presents and gifts

Though many people are aware of the dangers associated with chocolate ingestion in pets, this is still one of the most commonly occurring pet poisonings, and this is particularly true around the holidays. When giving or receiving chocolate as a gift, be careful not to leave it out where pets can get to it. Be aware that pets can get to more areas than you might think, and appreciate that wrapping paper is no match for the dedicated teeth of a dog hot on the scent of such a forbidden treat.

Speaking about wrapping, curly ribbon and harvest-themed twine pose a risk of linear foreign body gastrointestinal obstruction to pets, especially cats. Either don’t use them in your wrapping, or make certain to dispose of them safely and promptly once the gift is unwrapped.

Flowers and plants are commonly given to the hosts of the holiday meals. Whether you’re the one giving the flowers or the one receiving them, it’s important to know that many commonly given plants and flowers can cause problems for cats and dogs, and such poisonings can range in severity from mild digestive upset to organ failure. Ironically, poinsettias, one of the more-well-known-about plant hazards for pets, aren’t actually that hazardous to pets.

There are plenty of others though that are, so keep flowers and plants truly out of reach of your pets. And do your hosts a favor by giving them only pet safe foliage. The ASPCA has an excellent searchable online database (complete with pictures) that anyone can access and view when making such choices.

And please be extra vigilant with lilies in a home with cats. Lilies are extremely toxic and dangerous to cat kidneys!

Lilies kill cats


Coats and purses

Coats and purses are dangerous to pets because of what's often inside of them. Many people keep their cigarettes, gum (including sugar-free xylitol gums and nicotine replacement gums), medications, and other items (some legal, some not) in their coat pockets or bags.

A pet ingesting something from a guest’s bag or coat is a very common scenario on the line at the animal poison control and in veterinary emergency rooms.

Don’t let this happen to your pets, hang all coats and bags safely in a closet or on a wall hook or coat rack to avoid such a pet emergency. Doing so will not just prevent your pets from getting poisoned, but it will also prevent your pets from soiling or otherwise destroying your guests' possessions. Win-win!

hang guest purses away from where pets can reach

Luggage and toiletries

From clothing and other items that can cause digestive tract obstruction to grooming products and medications that can cause poisoning, the suitcases and toiletry bags of overnight guests are often a pet hazard minefield.

An easy way to keep your pets safe from the things your guests bring into your home is to request that all overnight visitors keep the doors to their room and bathroom closed, and that they keep all bags up off the floor.

Stress and upset to the ‘routine’ of the home

You’re not the only one to get stressed out around the holidays; the annual influx of family and friends can also upset your pet’s routine. Cats and dogs are creatures of habit, and though some are more susceptible to the stress associated with change than others, all are likely affected to some degree.

Stress in pets can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, inappropriate eliminations outside of litter boxes, decreased appetite, intense itchiness, urinary obstruction (particularly in male cats), hiding, running away, and a variety of other problems that can cause your cat (and you) a lot of grief.

Now I’m not suggesting that you ban visitors from your house or cancel the holidays all together, I’m just suggesting that you take into account the disruption that such gatherings can have on your pet’s daily routine and take some simple precautions to minimize the stress it can cause.

During a holiday party, or any other large family gathering for that matter, it’s a good idea to provide your pets with a ‘safe area’ for them to spend the evening or escape to when the festivities begin. Doing so will not only prevent many of the gastrointestinal, poisoning, and other problems discussed earlier, but it will also keep them safe from any visiting young children and can help prevent their escape through an open door, too.

Safe space for dog example

Be sure that you provide fresh water and some environmental enrichment, such as a stuffed Kong or other interactive toy, to keep your pets happy in this ‘safe area.’ Use care though with dogs that are toy/food protective, as you don’t want your environmental enrichment to lead to in-fighting amongst your pets! For cats, don’t forget to provide them with a clean and easily accessible litter box, too. Ideally you should get your pets used to spending time in this safe area well in advance of the holidays.

May this awareness and pet safety advice help you and your pets have a happy, healthy, and safe holiday together. For more tips for the holidays check out this article about mealtime hazards and pet-safe treats.

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About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.