As reported by local veterinarians, of the holiday ailments that pets sustain, the most frequent are stomach problems brought on by overeating or consuming things not on the regular menu. Sure, it may seem harmless to slip the dog a few scraps from the Thanksgiving table or treat the cat to a bit of gravy sprinkled on her food, but in truth these seemingly innocuous treats can cause digestive upset. While not especially hazardous, this condition can be uncomfortable and upsetting for both the pet and owner. And watch those open alcoholic drinks, as some breeds of parrot have been known to sneak a drink from an untended glass. Variations in diet can also give your pet pancreatis. Fortunately, these pitfalls are easy to avoid. Keep food out of reach, and stick to your pet’s usual diet. If you have guests over, politely remind them to avoid give your pet that “harmless” extra snack. And be sure to maintain a regular exercise regimen. People aren’t the only ones susceptible to packing on a few additional pounds over the holidays.
Holiday decorations, on the other hand, can be a more serious threat. While decorations constructed from edible materials (such as candy canes and gingerbread houses) have their obvious attractions, an inquisitive pet may make an impromptu snack from low-hanging Christmas tree ornaments or take the bones from a plastic Halloween skeleton. The broken edges of glass and plastic can cause serious internal injury, and the chemicals used in creating decorative products, such as flocking, spider webbing, angel hair and tinsel, may be toxic if consumed. Even if the item isn’t overtly dangerous, it can cause gastrointestinal blockage, another injury commonly reported by local veterinarians.
The electrical cords associated with Christmas lights and other decorations that require power can be a deadly hazard. Exotic pets such as rabbits, ferrets and chinchillas can be aggressive chewers, as well as some breeds of dogs, and the cord may be too inviting a temptation to resist. Even if this is not the case, loose or unsecured cords still pose a threat; animals may incur broken or dislocated limbs, burns or even strangulation should they become entangled. Keep your Christmas lights secured properly, and make sure electrical cords are kept out of the way, taped to the walls or covered with plastic tubing. If your pet is a chewer, your veterinarian or pet supply store can provide you with a chew deterrent that can be used to coat the cords. And for extra safety, turn off or unplug any items requiring electricity when not in use.
The Christmas tree itself can be troublesome for your pet. Imagine how a cat would feel: stuck indoors all day long, and suddenly there’s this fresh, fun tree in the house to climb. Except there’s no root structure holding the tree into the ground, and the sudden addition of weight sends it toppling over, posing a danger not only to the cat but anything else that might be in the way. Keep your tree firmly secured. Use a wide-legged stand and, if possible, anchor the tree to the wall or ceiling. As rule of thumb, don’t water your tree with anything you wouldn’t use to water your pet. Your pet may steal a drink from the tree stand when you’re not looking, so when keeping your tree green, remember to only use the same clean, safe water you’d give your pet... or yourself, for that matter. You may choose to forgo the live Christmas tree in favor of an artificial one. It has its upsides: no need to water, no dead pine needles littering the floor, and at the end of the season you can just pack it up and put it away for next year. But please remember that artificial trees pose their own hazards. The plastics and aluminum used their construction may be harmless to the touch, but if swallowed can lead to intestinal blockage, internal bleeding and irritation of the mouth. When assembling your tree, check it carefully for any loose bits and keep a sharp eye out for anything that may have subsequently broken off.
As a pet owner, you should be aware that the various plants used in holiday decorations could be toxic to your pet if eaten. While the exact level of danger posed by the stems and leaves of poinsettias is still a matter of debate, the plant does possess a level of toxicity, and can in the very least cause your pet serious gastrointestinal discomfort. Mistletoe, on the other hand, is highly toxic. If you chose to hang it, be sure to do so securely. Even a minimal amount can prove fatal to your pet.
Other decorations can be dangerous to your animals as well. It only takes one tipped-over candle to burn a house down. Factor in a curious cat or mischievous ferret, and your odds of having a candle tip increase astronomically. Remember that a domesticated pet will not necessarily recognize fire as a threat, and may find the soft glowing warmth of a candle interesting. Keep that lit wreath or menorah out of reach of pets, and be sure to extinguish the flames when no one is around to supervise. Bear in mind that while the candle flames may not pose a threat, certain species of pets are vulnerable to smoke inhalation; most breeds of domesticated birds are especially susceptible. Keep cages away from any source of flame, including the kitchen, as the fumes given off by non-stick cookware and self-cleaning ovens have proven deadly to birds.
Like people, animals are vulnerable to ailments caused by stress. If you have pets in the house and are planning a large get-together this holiday season, keep your pet firmly in mind. Sudden changes in the environment that a gathering can bring, such as unfamiliar people, smells or loud noises, can provoke negative or antisocial behavior in an otherwise docile animal. Depending on your pet’s individual temperament, it may be wise to designate a separate part of the house as a “pet-friendly” zone, setting it up with the toys, bedding and other items that signal “home.” If your pet is socially agreeable with crowds, you should still be conscious of his well-being. An animal running around underfoot at a gathering is an animal at risk of being stepped on. And sadly, a high percentage of pets go missing during this time of the year. As people come and go, the door is constantly opening, providing ample opportunity for your pet to go exploring outdoors. Make sure your pet is wearing its tags at all times. After all, won’t your other guests be dressing up? And speaking of “dressing up,” it can be tempting to dress your pet in one of the novelty costumes routinely sold by stores during the holiday period. Please think twice before doing so. As the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) advises, “Don’t dress up your dog or cat unless you know it likes to be dressed up. If you decide to do so, make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe, and doesn’t restrict movement. Avoid costumes with small or dangling accessories.”
Though it may seem generous and loving to give a pet as a gift, please don’t. The chaos of the holiday season makes it a terrible time to attempt to bond with a new companion, especially if the intended recipient is an inexperienced pet owner. Statistics have shown that a higher percentage of animals given as gifts during the holidays wind up at rescue shelters than during other parts of the year.
If you decide to travel, you should still be conscious of the stress your pet incurs. Crate your animal properly and comfortably, and if at all possible avoid flying your pet in the plane’s cargo area. Most airlines provide specific accommodations for traveling pets. Given the difficulties in bringing a pet on a long trip, it is understandable if you choose to leave yours at home during your holiday travels. If you do so, a boarding service or pet sitter can prove to be an invaluable asset. A pet left alone in the house for lengthy periods can be endangered by its own sense of boredom. Seeking to entertain itself, a pet may act out or engage in destructive behavior. A bored, lonely dog, for instance, may howl and cry or tear up the furniture. And though cats may be more self-sufficient than dogs, when isolated for long periods of time they will also turn the furniture into an impromptu scratching post, not to mention find new and interesting locations to designate as the litter box. Deprived of the contact to which they’re accustomed, birds will often excessively pluck their feathers, leaving ugly bald patches. And as well-intentioned as they may be, your neighbor or family volunteer just might not have the time to give your pet the love and attention it needs. “Don’t rely on a neighbor,” the Bonita Pet Hospital recommends. “Use a pet sitter or home sitter.” Their opinion is seconded by the Spring Valley Veterinary Clinic, which warns that whatever your plans, you “use a pet sitter or trusted friend at least once a day, [keeping] TV or music on as it helps with anxiety.” A sitter or service will dedicate full-time attention to your pet’s well-being, leaving you free to enjoy your trip without worry.
When selecting a pet sitter or boarding service, apply the same criteria you would when selecting a sitter for your child. Be sure to check their credentials and references. If your first choice doesn’t fit your needs, simply select another. It’s important that both you and your pet feel comfortable with your chosen service provider. Remember, though, that as a pet owner it is your responsibility to keep your sitter or boarding service informed as to your pet’s needs and proclivities. Like their owners, each pet is a unique individual with a unique personality, and the more information you give your sitter, the better off all around the relationship between the three of you will be.
For more information about the pet sitting industry, please visit Pet Sitters International at www.petsit.com. For more information on using a professional pet sitter and the benefits for your pets in San Diego County, as well as how to find other Pet Safety resources and information, please visit www.petsitdogwalkbykat.com.