Spending the holiday season with pets

Follow these helpful tips to ensure a happy, healthy holiday season…for you and your animal companions!

The holiday season has arrived! It’s exciting, it’s busy and for most of us, including our animal companions, it can be a little stressful. The last thing anyone needs is an emergency visit to the vet. This handy list will help ensure your holidays stay healthy as well as happy.

Tree tactics

Covered with sparkling lights and sheltering a heap of gifts, the Christmas tree is a focal point for many people’s festivities. Keep in mind that it’s also going to attract the attention of your dog or cat, so you want to make sure it’s as safe as it is beautiful.

  • Are your ornaments animal-friendly? Things like glass, string, elastic bands, artificial snow, tinsel, and the metal hooks used to hang ornaments can spell trouble for your buddy if he swallows them, so consider unbreakable non-toxic alternatives hung with short pieces of ribbon rather than hooks or string.
  • •If you just can’t part with your favorite glass ornaments, hang them out of your animal’s reach, and/or keep him away from the tree by surrounding it with a barrier, such as a baby gate, or keeping the room off bounds when you’re not there to supervise.
  • •Evergreen needles are sharp and can be injurious and toxic to animals, so consider investing in an artificial tree. No, you don’t get the same ambience and aroma as you do with a live tree, but because the needles on the newer models are soft and non-toxic you won’t need to worry if he happens to ingest a few.
  • •Your dog or cat is used to drinking water from a bowl on the floor, so it’s only natural for him to try to take a sip from the Christmas tree container. It might seem endearing, but the water may contain saps and chemicals that can make your friend sick. One way to get around this, if you don’t want an artificial tree, is to cover the tree stand tightly with skirting so he can’t get access to the water.
  • Edible ornaments such as popcorn strings and cookies are just too much of a temptation to your animal, especially dogs. Either hang them out of reach, or avoid them.
  • •Make sure tree lights are in good condition and that the cords are tucked out of reach of your companion’s teeth and claws.
  • Cats love to climb, so don’t be surprised if your feline takes a flying leap at your tree at least once during the holidays! Ensure that it’s stable enough not to fall over. If your kitty is especially rambunctious, it might be a good idea to keep the room closed off while you’re out.

The holly and the ivy

  • The holidays are a time for other forms of greenery as well, from holly and mistletoe to hemlock and ivy, not to mention houseplants like Christmas cactus and poinsettia. Many of these are poisonous, so keep them out of reach of your animal, and pick up dropped leaves, flowers or berries.
  • •You can also try spraying plants and decorative greenery (and your tree) with a repellent such as NaturVet “Yuck” or Bitter Apple.

From our house to yours

As family and friends gather to celebrate the season, you’ll probably find yourself hosting more than one holiday party or dinner. While it’s fun to share time and meals with loved ones, the extra noise and bustle can prove a little much for your animal companion, unless she’s a “social butterfly”.

  • •Too much stress can trigger your friend’s fight-or-flight instincts, causing him to bite or scratch a guest or try to escape through an open door. Set aside a quiet room where your companion can retreat when he feels the need for a safe haven. Let your guests, especially children, know that this room is out of bounds to everyone except the animal.
  • Provide your companion with proper identification, just in case he gets out accidentally. In all the busyness of entertaining guests or preparing a meal, it’s easy to lose track of where your dog or cat is, and it might be some time before you suddenly realize he’s no longer in the house.
  • •Don’t encourage your guests to bring their own animals unless they already know each other and get along well. The extra stress could lead to fighting and injuries. Similarly, if you’re the one doing the visiting, leave your companion at home with a trusted guardian unless you’re confident that he’ll be happy and well-behaved in your host’s house.

Treat him to health

We’ve all had the experience of eating too much at Christmas dinner, or enjoying one too many slices of fruitcake. Your animal can suffer the same symptoms of over-indulgence so it makes sense to watch his diet extra carefully this time of year.

  • You might think you’re giving your companion a special treat by sharing your favorite holiday foods with him, but things like rich gravy, fat scraps, candy and cake can upset his digestion, especially if eaten in excess. Cooked bones, meanwhile, can splinter and injure an animal’s throat or intestines. Stick to healthy treats designed especially for cats and dogs.
  • Chocolate is the ultimate no-no and is highly toxic to dogs – even a small amount can kill.
  • If you put out bowls of nuts, candy, chips or other goodies for your guests, remember to remove them from your animal’s reach when you leave the room.
  • Ask guests not to feed your animal any table scraps or other goodies.

A gift of love

Why not buy a special present for your animal companion this holiday season? Just remember to consider safety when purchasing toys.

  • Look at the toy carefully to make sure it won’t come apart easily or that it doesn’t have small parts or pieces that might get broken off and swallowed. If the toy contains a squeaker or a small bell, ensure your animal won’t be able to get it out.
  • Many cat toys come with wires or string cords to make the product bounce or swing around. While this provides loads of fun for your feline, make sure there’s no possible way for him to get the string or wire wrapped around his neck, and/or supervise him when he’s at play.
  • Choose products amde from non-toxic materials, not products that will leach toxins into your friend’s mouth.
  • Be careful of rawhide, pig’s ears and cow hooves. Rawhide and pig’s ears are digested slowly and undigested pieces can cause vomiting or diarrhea. If your animal bites off a large chunk, he may be in danger of choking. Additionally, some countries use an arsenic-based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys and there have been reports of U.S. and Canadian dog chew products made from pork or beef-derived materials carrying salmonella. Cow’s hooves are hard and break up into shards so they can damage a canine’s tooth or perforate part of your animal’s G.I. tract, causing serious damage.
  • Animals are like kids – if you don’t hide the presents, they’ll get into them! If you stuff a stocking for your companion (or for anyone else in the household), keep it out of reach of your animal until the big day, especially if it contains edibles.

More timely tips

  • •It’s a good idea to leave your animal home when you go holiday shopping, even if it’s only for a short jaunt. Because it’s such a busy time of year, you could be away from your car longer than you think, or have to park further away from the store than usual.
  • If you’re in the habit of letting your dog out to play in the yard, set a timer to remind you he’s out there. With things so busy during the holiday season, time passes more quickly than you might realize. Caught up in your holiday preparations, you might even inadvertently forget that he’s standing at the door waiting for you to let him in!