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HOW TO PET PROOF YOUR HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

The bright colors and intoxicating scents of the holiday season are enough to transform any moping mutt or cranky cat from melancholy to downright jolly. Unfortunately, many of the delights and decorations of the holidays pose significant risks to companion animals.

PETCO offers the following safety tips on keeping pets safe and healthy for many holidays to come.

Christmas Trees. Pine needles can lodge in an animal's esophagus, making it difficult or impossible for your pet to swallow. Even drinking water from the Christmas tree base is enough to cause diarrhea, mouth sores, vomiting and loss of appetite. Cover your tree stand tightly with skirting and distract your companion animal from temptations with holiday toys and treats.

Deck the Halls. A bunch of fresh mistletoe may be a symbol of love, but to your curious cat or canine, tempting red berries look more like a sweet treat. Eating the leaves and berries could cause a drop in blood pressure. Ivy can cause diarrhea, convulsions and in some cases even death when eaten in large quantities. Holly, poinsettias and other plants are best kept away from inquisitive companion animals.

Tinsel and Lights. A flickering flame and shiny decorations intrigue companion animals. When lighting and once lit, the Menorah, Advent wreath or decorative candles, keep pets in another room where paws and claws can't reach them. With electrical lights, remember to tape exposed electrical cords to walls or the floor to ensure no chewing or tripping. Also use bitter training aids that impart a bitter taste to an object to discourage your pet from chewing on dangerous cords. Tinsel and gift-wrap may look like fun toys but they can cause choking, upset stomach or even more serious problems.

Visions of Sugar Plums. Dogs may love to sniff your holiday goodies but theobromine, an ingredient found in chocolate, is toxic. Don't ever offer dogs chocolate as a treat. If your dog develops a sweet tooth and discovers an improperly stored stash, it could lead to tragedy. Keep dogs' jaws busy with holiday rawhide candy canes and oversized bones. If he or she shows signs of illness such as vomiting, loss of appetite, or excessive water intake, contact your veterinarian immediately. Proper nutrition and plenty of fresh water are essential to your companion animal's winter health.

Let it Snow. Pets, especially very young and older animals, can suffer stress, frostbite and hypothermia when their body temperature drops just a few degrees below normal. The tips of the ears, feet and tail are commonly affected areas. Watch for the formation of ice balls between your companion animal's toes and regularly trim the long hair between the footpads to avoid frostbitten feet. If you suspect frostbite, do not rub the area but simply apply warm moist cloth packs and contact your veterinarian.

Antifreeze Alert. Automotive antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which causes rapid and permanent kidney damage to your companion animal if it ingests even a very small amount. It takes only 6 milliliters or less than 1/4 ounce of antifreeze to kill an average-sized cat. A cat can walk through an antifreeze puddle and ingest it while cleaning its paws. For a dog, it takes only 60 milliliters or about 2 ounces of antifreeze to kill a 30-pound pup. A dog could ingest this much with a few laps out of an open container or from a puddle on the garage floor.

Home for the Holidays. If your pet cannot be in the house with you, a proper shelter can be a lifesaver for a chilly dog or feline. When selecting a doghouse or shelter for your cat, the space should be only as large as necessary for the animal to maneuver comfortably, since the animal's own body heat will serve as a heater. You will have one chilled Chihuahua if he or she is hanging out of a Doberman-sized doghouse. Nitrogen plastic insulated pet house work well to keep the heat inside the house with the animal. Some houses even have an offset door that provides additional protection of your companion animals from winter drafts.

Remember, the best present you can give your pets this holiday season is good health and some extra love and attention.