Protecting Your Pets During the Hectic Holiday Season

By Dr. Bruce Little

The Holiday Season is upon us! There are some cautions that must be put in place to protect the family pets from illness and accidents during these hectic times. People are busy shopping, making travel plans, planning menus and entertainment for guests, and other activities related to the season. Children are home from school for an extended period, out of town guests arrive and the normal home surroundings are changed to a festive mood with decorations, music, plants, fragrances and people.

Household guests can be stressful for pets during the Holiday season. This is especially true if the house guests bring their own dog or cat to your house for the duration of their stay. Anxiety created in pets when house guests arrive can cause digestive upset in both dogs and cats, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. It’s good to have a quiet room that can be closed off for your pets during these party atmosphere times. Place a television or stereo in the room with soft music to tamper the noise. A chew toy that distributes a slow trail of “treats” will keep them occupied until they become accustomed to the noise and activity. This unusual activity interrupts the daily routine in which the pets in the household are comfortable, and many times they are relegated to a role with less personal contact and attention to which they are normally accustomed. The pets who live there feel their territory is being infringed upon, and in many cases, this is true. Check them periodically to ensure they cannot escape through a door left open or by chewing through the wall. Make sure all pets have a permanent microchip in place and are registered on one of the microchip data bases that are available, in case they do escape and become lost. Your local veterinarian can advise you on microchips and the data base registration process.  It is wise to place a collar containing your contact information on the pet, so neighbors and passersby can return the pet if it does escape the chaos of the house at this time of year.

While preparing meals during the Holiday season, be sure to take the pets into consideration. It’s impossible to eliminate the smells that emanate from the kitchen during these festive times. Precautions must be taken to protect the pets. Sometimes pets, especially dogs, become overzealous in eating the family’s food and drink, and that can be detrimental to their health. Fat trimmings, skin and bones from the meat should be kept far out of reach of the family pets. Fat, whether cooked or raw, can cause pancreatitis while bone splinters can get lodged in your pet’s mouth, throat or intestines causing a digestive tract blockage. Poultry bones are brittle and can be especially dangerous or even fatal to animals. Kitchen twine used to hold meat together during the cooking process contains odors of the meat and if swallowed, can cause blockage in the digestive tract and many times can only be corrected with surgical intervention.

Caffeine in large quantities can make dogs disorientated and may cause seizure-like symptoms. Artificial sweeteners such as xylitol used in baked goods, chewing gum and other products is highly toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in higher doses can cause heart beat abnormalities, tremors, and possibly seizures. The darker the chocolate the more toxic the contents may be. With the recent legalization of marijuana in some states the incidence of marijuana toxicity has increased significantly. Baked products that contain raisins, currants and grapes even in small doses, can result in kidney failure in dogs. Small quantities of alcohol consumed by pets can cause vomiting, incoordination, confusion and seizures. Open purses and suitcases of guests can be dangerous if they contain human medications, wrapped gifts or foods that could be toxic to dogs and cats. You must protect against your pet gaining access to garbage in the kitchen or outside where they can raid the garbage cans that may contain the scraps and leftovers of the family meal. Any garbage can contain toxic bacteria such as Salmonella or coliform bacteria that can cause digestive distress, vomiting and diarrhea.

A decorated Christmas tree provides many opportunities for a dog or cat to get into trouble during this season. Be sure the tree is supported properly so the pets, should they decide to investigate by pulling on a decoration or limb, do not pull the tree over.  Attach the tree using a string at the top tied to a ceiling hook or curtain rod. If using a live-cut Christmas tree that has been placed in a stand that contains water and fertilizer or preservatives, be sure to place a cover over the base so the pets cannot drink the water. Decorations and party favors can be especially dangerous for dogs and cats. Shards of glass from tree decorations can be swallowed and cause intestinal hemorrhaging and blockage. Cats are especially attracted to tinsel used to decorate the tree and can cause stomach or intestinal blockage if eaten in large amounts. Some people will set the tree up and let the cats become accustomed to it before placing the ornaments and tinsel on the tree. Packaging materials such as Styrofoam, kitchen string, ribbon and foil wrapping paper can be eaten, especially if it has a taste or smell of the food contained inside causing intestinal blockage that many times ends up with surgery as the last resort to remove it. Always keep lighted candles out of reach so the pets cannot knock them over or get burned, and electric cords taped to the floor, so the pets cannot chew on them. Those small batteries that sometimes come with mechanical toys can cause burns if chewed on by pets. Protect the pets from the fireplace by placing a screen in front of the flames. Imported snow globes may contain antifreeze and can be extremely dangerous to pets should they ingest even a small amount of it. Antifreeze products have a sweet odor and taste good to dogs, so they will drink it causing severe damage to their kidneys creating an immediate emergency. Antifreeze is usually stored in garages or basements and that might be the location some people place their dogs during the festivities of the Holiday season to keep them from being underfoot. Make sure they do not have access to antifreeze in those locations where they normally do not frequent.

If your family must travel to a Holiday event either by automobile or by air, it is best to spend some time preconditioning your pet for the trip. Spend time encouraging your pet to accept riding in the car by taking it on short trips around the block or to the dog park. Give them treats when successful trips without anxiety or distress occur.  It is required to have your pet in a carrying case if traveling by air. It is also highly recommended that small dogs and cats always travel by automobile in a carrying case or crate. Place the crate on the back seat and fasten it in with a seat belt.  Play soft music on the radio to distract them from their fear. If your dog cannot survive the car trip without showing signs of distress, such as salivating, drooling and anxiously moving about in the car or in its cage, you need to ask your veterinarian for tranquillizing medications.  If the cause is motion sickness, then car sickness medication must be given prior to travel.

It is best to keep these reminders in an accessible location and review them during these hectic times of the Holiday season.  A little bit of caution on the part of the human family members might just be the savior of the four-legged family members. If you think your pet has been exposed to any of these unwanted materials, you should contact your local veterinarian immediately.  Keep those telephone numbers in a convenient location to find them easily. Or you can contact the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA Poison Control Center. Both services are open 24 hours per day and charge a service fee for their information.

Pet Poison Helpline:     http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com      Telephone:  1-855-289-0358

ASPCA Poison Control Center:   http://www.aspca.org/apce                     Telephone: 1-888-426-4435

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