Safe pet toys and treats to put under the Christmas tree

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Getting your furry best friend the safest gifts this Christmas can protect him or her from hazardous situations.

Veterinarian Dr. Geri Carlson from Charlottesville Veterinary Hospital said during the holiday season, it is important to make sure dogs and cats don't get into items that could put their lives at risk.

"Especially at Christmas time, avoid things with strings, ribbons," said Carlson. "Those are all things, especially cats, that they will eat and they can get what's called a linear foreign body. So they can just swallow something long and stringy and it can get stuck in their intestine."

When getting dog food, Carlson said to watch out for some of the grain free diets that are popular right now.

"Veterinarians at Tufts University have been seeing an increase in heart disease," said Carlson. "And it seems to be related to some of these boutique diets so the grain free, the exotic ingredients."

Carlson said unless your dog is allergic to grain, most grain dog foods have the necessary nutrients. Whether an owner goes with grain-free or grain dog food, it is important to check the ingredients and ask a vet what is right for your dog.

As for giving dogs bones and chew toys, Carlson said size matters in order to avoid choking.

"The main thing with toys is to make sure they're the proper size," said Carlson. "Don't give a tiny ball to a big dog."

Carlson also warned against raw hid bones because of the risk that your dog will try to eat it.

"If they slurp up the rawhide or get it soft enough it can actually block the throat, and your dog could choke," said Carlson.

Carlson said rawhide also does not digest well in the stomach and can block intestines when swallowed.

At Natural Pet Essentials off of Route 29, they sell bones made out of alternative ingredients that are safer for dogs. Kim Matsko, the owner of the pet store, said she checks for the safety of all the products she sells.

"There's a lot of chemicals out there, there's a lot of toxins out there and all of that stuff can lead to long-term health issues," said Matsko.

Matsko said she is aware of the news that grain-free diets are being linked to heart disease, so she makes sure that the foods have the ingredients dogs need.

"I make sure that they are higher in meat content than they are in plant content," said Matsko. "The theory is that plant proteins and legumes, products that are high in those ingredients, are leading to some potential issues in heart disease, so I make sure that I carry products that are really meat-based as opposed to plant-based."

Matsko recommends toys for dogs that do not tear up easily.

"One of my favorite things to do with the Kong is, stuff it with some peanut butter or stuff it with some applesauce," said Matsko. "Put it in the freezer and you can keep your dog busy for hours while your hosting family and doing family events."

She also has plenty of safe cat toys at her store.

"A lot of people don't realize that cats need exercise too," said Matsko. "Those exercises with the laser pointers and the treat balls are also really fun for the kitties."

Natural Pet Essentials is hosting a holiday pet food drive to help the pets that do not have a home this Christmas. The goal is to collect 4,000 pounds of food this year for the shelters Caring for Creatures and Ring Dog Rescue.

So far the store has gotten halfway to its goal. People can help by dropping off pet food at the store.

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