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12/04/2018 8:53 am  #1

How to Keep Your Pets Safe During the Holidays

How to Keep Your Pets Safe During the Holidays

By Jen A. Miller
Nov. 19, 2018

While the holidays can leave you with a warm, fuzzy glow, they add a lot of things to the daily mix of your life that might not be good for your pets. Whether it’s your treats that upset their stomachs, a tree whose needles wind up in their mouths or well-meaning relatives who feed them off the table, the happiest time of the year can quickly become the most dangerous time for our four-legged friends.

Here’s what to know about common holiday pet hazards, and how to keep your dog or cat out of the vet’s office and part of that warm and fuzzy picture.

Yes, most of us know that chocolate is bad for pets, but ingredients in a lot of holiday favorites can cause gastrointestinal distress or poisoning too: garlic and onions at dinner, grapes from the cheese board and raisins often found in holiday cookies are just a few common foods to keep away from the pets.

Candy that’s not chocolate can be a problem, too, said Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, associate professor of clinical sciences at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, because of all that sugar.

To keep your pets totally safe from food, keep them away from where food is being prepared and served — that includes the trash can, which cats and dogs can get into to dig out fatty scraps and bones.

Also make sure any breads you’re making, especially while they’re in the fermenting stage, are out of a pet’s reach, because it can cause gastric distention and gastroenteritis — even alcohol poisoning — if yeast expands and ferments in a pet’s gut.

Even if a food is safe for pets, Dr. Ruch-Gallie said too much of a good thing can be dangerous, too. Cats and dogs who eat too many fatty foods at once can develop pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to the release of enzymes that shouldn’t be there. Most pets need to be hospitalized for it.

Make sure your guests are tucking away potential pet hazards, especially if coats and purses are put into a room where the pet usually stays. Xylitol, which is an artificial sweetener often used in sugar-free gum, breath mints, mouthwash and toothpaste, is toxic to dogs.

And, if you happen to live in a jurisdiction where such activities are legal, don’t forget that an adventurous pet could get into the “special brownies” you keep stashed away. (Please check your local laws for clarification.)

Of course your eyes can’t be on your pet at all times, but the following behaviors could point to a problem, according to Dennis Slade, staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center: drooling, lip-licking, pacing, difficulty getting into a comfortable position, vomiting or “even just a retching posture and making the noise as if going to vomit” without anything coming out, he said. “Those are signs they may need to see a vet.”

Not sure if something is poisonous to your pet? Check the ASPCA website of foods poisonous to pets, or call their Animal Poison Control hotline at 888-426-4435, which is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (but note that a consultation fee may be charged).

Holiday plants can be danger zones for pets, especially if you bring poinsettias, lilies and amaryllises into your home. Dr. Slade said pets can also get upset stomachs by eating evergreen needles or drinking Christmas tree water if the water is stagnant, as bacteria can grow in it.

Tinsel is an especially dangerous to cats, who might think those long silver strings are playthings or ingest them by accident while self-grooming. It can even be more hazardous in their gut than “something like glass or a needle or a thumbtack,” he said. A long and thin item in the gut can lead to swelling of the abdominal wall or, worse, even saw through the lower intestine (the same is true for dental floss, so throw that out securely every time you use it).

Dr. Slade doesn’t like to leave lights on when he’s not around in case pets gnaw on their cords (because we’ve all seen what happened to the cat in “National Lampoon Christmas Vacation”). He said to make sure to cover up cords as much as you can at all times, especially if you have a puppy in the home, and not to leave candles unattended. He’s treated more than one cat whose tail has caught the Hanukkah spirit — literally.

The best way to set expectations of how your family members should address your pets is to talk to them beforehand, said Lisa Brateman, a New York City-based psychotherapist and relationship specialist.

“It’s really letting them know what the boundaries are,” she said. That could be as simple as saying before you sit down to please not feed your pet scraps from the table or, if this has been a persistent problem at family meals before, to have a phone conversation before the big day.

Dr. Ruch-Gallie suggested that if you have time, put treats in a jar marked especially for that pet. If someone wants to give the pet a treat, it has to come from that jar, not from whatever food is being prepared and fed to people.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said. The treats in total should not come to more than 10 percent of the pet’s daily calorie intake, she added.

This all may be easier said than done, Ms. Brateman said, because old family dynamics can come roaring back at the holidays.

“You walk over that threshold and suddenly you’re 5 again,” she said. “The bully is still in the room, and the shy person is still in the room, and you act accordingly.” It can also be difficult for an older relative to respect the boundaries a younger relative has set. “They view you as the person they told what to do, and you turn around and tell them please don’t do this. They’re not respecting your boundaries and they’re not seeing you as the adult person you are now.”

Sometimes turning the concern away from you and your pet and onto the other person can make the difference. If, for example, younger children are roughhousing with a pet and not listening to you about their behavior, or the parent is not parenting their children, talk to the parent about concerns for the children, saying something like, “My cat can really hurt your kids and my concern is the safety of your kids,” Ms. Brateman said.

If the hubbub is too much for a pet, Dr. Ruch-Gallie suggests separating them from the food and people with a baby gate or designating a spot for them in another part of the house. Whether that’s a room they like or a crate, get your pet used to that spot before the big day so it’s not sudden.

“Keep the status quo as much as possible, and if you can’t keep the status quo, how can you enrich their environment so they’re less stressed about what’s going on?” she said.

And if you think it’s all going to be too much for your pet, boarding them might not be a bad idea either. As much as you want your pet to be part of the big day, their safety and happiness might be worth one night away from a situation that will stress them, harm them or lead to a big vet bill.

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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