The holiday season is a wonderful ad exciting time for all of us. Our animals are also affected by all of the excitement, but because of their special situations and vulnerabilities, we need to take extra care to prevent unnecessary injuries and illnesses.
Let’s start with winter weather issues. Though our animal charges come equipped with fur coats, they are still susceptible to the wet and cold of winter weather. While they may seem well protected, like us, they have become softened by modern comforts. It is vital to remember that if you are uncomfortable they are likely to be uncomfortable also. If conditions dictate that you should stay inside, please remember to bring your pet inside as well. When they must venture out, consider raincoats or warm jackets for them. No one wants to walk barefoot through ice and slush. So if your pet seems reluctant to forge through that snow bank, consider insulated or rubber booties to protect paws softened by a life of leisure.
In cold climates, another very real danger to animals is exposure to car anti-freeze. The chemical (ethylene glycol) tastes sweet and may be attractive to dogs and cats. Drinking as kittle as a teaspoon-full may produce fatal kidney damage. So, when you are changing or adding coolant to your car, be very careful to clean up any spills and do not let your pet drink from puddles.
Holiday decorations are also a concern. Newness and unfamiliarity stimulates curiosity in animals. Electrical cords can be tempting to chew on but may lead to disastrous results. Small decorations, garland, and tinsel look very pretty but may be swallowed and can result in intestinal obstructions. Be careful where you place these items and try to keep them out of reach. Even ribbons and bows serve as a very satisfying chew toys for some animals. If your pet is like our cat, Hoobs, and has a particular fascination with ribbons, be cautious and avoid long, playful strands such as curling ribbon.
Holiday plants are a part of tradition, but, the colorful center berries of poinsettias, the white berries on mistletoe, and the red berries of holly are all toxic at best, and at worst, they are deadly if ingested. Be sure to keep them out of reach or consider artificial plants. Artificial plants last longer, are less appealing to pets and are not toxic if chewed. Even the Christmas tree presents potential problems. Some animal will chew on the needles or branches, and other like to drink out the water basin in the stand. ‘It must be a festive switch from the toilet bowl!) The preservative sometimes added to the water can cause gastrointestinal problems.
Finally, parties and socializing are part of our holiday cheer, but your pet may not be comfortable in large noisy groups. If so, you should provide a private and quiet place for Fluffy to hang out during the festivities. On the other hand, some pets do like parties… where better to get a free handout of some new delicacy? The problem is that some well-meaning guests may be very tempted to give begging canines “a little bite.” Multiply that by a dozen or so kindhearted elves and your pet might well wind up with a nasty upset stomach. Some foods are too rich and undiscerning pets may even swallow bones and other cast-aways. So, be extremely cautious with your pets and firm with guests who insist that, “it won’t hurt her!”
Holidays should be experienced to their fullest but we should do all we can to make them safe. Use these reminders and simple common sense and avoid an emergency trip to the vet. Instead, spend your time cuddling with your pet by the fire and giving special thanks for all that our little friends give us year round.
Mike Paul is Immediate President of the American Animal Hospital Association. He was in small animal practice in California for 26 years. He is currently involved in consulting. Georgia Paul is a companion animal veterinarian in Livermore, California. She has 15 years of clinical experience and has a special interest in pet owner education. They live in Concord, CA with their three cats, Hobbs, Emma and Whoopie.
By Michael Paul, DVM and Georgia Paul, VMD