A Pet-Friendly Holiday
Anyone who has seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation remembers all too well the hilarious scene in which Aunt Bethany’s cat gets fried after chewing on the tree lights.
“What’s that smell?” Clark Griswold asks his cousin-in-law Eddie, to which Eddie replies: “Fried pussycat.”
In real life, though, potential dangers to your pet’s safety during the holidays are no laughing matter. Here are eight sneaky threats to watch out for, plus tips on how to keep Fido and Fluffy out of your veterinarian’s emergency room this holiday season.
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Threat: Christmas Trees and Décor
Jaime Van Wye, founder of the dog training franchise Zoom Room, says that breakable decorations that look like toy balls and tinsel – which pets love to eat – can be a real danger. “Christmas tree needles should also be quickly swept up as they can be sharp and stick in your pet’s paws,” says Van Wye. She also suggests anchoring your tree securely to the ground: “Dogs with wagging tails [and cats] can knock over your tree.”
You should also make sure your dog stays away from the water underneath the tree. Although Griswold’s main concern about Eddie’s dog, Snots, licking the water from his live tree was the fear of the tree drying up, what’s worse is that chemicals from the water are not healthy for your pet. Poinsettias and other plants can also be poisonous to your furry friends, so keep those out of reach as well.
Photo Credit: Horia Varlan
Threat: Holiday Travel
AAA estimates that between 20% to 30% of car accidents are caused by dogs roaming loose in the car. To prevent yourself becoming part of that statistic, Van Wye suggests securing your pet in a crate he is familiar with and including in it a blanket or toy he knows. “Another option is a dog seatbelt or car safety harness,” says Van Wye.
You should also take precautions to make sure your dog doesn’t get separated from you on a holiday getaway. Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, which makes natural dog and cat food, says it’s also a good idea to make sure your pet has its tags on its collar (a good idea even if your pet is microchipped). “If the tags are printed with your home phone numbers, consider taping over that with your cellphone number, or one for the hotel or home where you’ll be based,” says Postins. “Being in a strange place can make pets anxious and more likely to bolt and less likely to find their way back to you.”
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Threat: Slipping Out an Open Door
Lindsay Stordahl, owner of Run That Mutt, a pet-sitting business in Fargo, N.D., says that you should be wary of small pets sneaking out an open door.
“It’s harder to see small dogs and they tend to slip right by people much easier than larger dogs,” says Stordahl. “During the holidays, visitors often come to the door carrying armfuls of presents and they are not able to stop a small dog from getting out the door.”
Stordahl says that if you don’t want to keep your cat or dog in a crate or in a room by themselves, a small bell attached to their collar might help you keep track of their exact whereabouts. Providing your pet with a safe haven such as a quiet room or his crate is advisable, says Jolanta Benal, a trainer in New York.
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Threat: Winter Weather
While the snow and ice might seem like the perfect opportunity to let your pet play off leash, pet experts say it is generally not a good idea to let them loose in these kinds of conditions. Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow, which provides day camp and overnight boarding for dogs, says the winter months have the highest rate for lost dogs than any other season. “Dogs tend to lose their sense of smell in extremely cold weather and become lost,” says Ganahl.
Iced-over creeks and ponds may also become dangerous playgrounds for your pets. “Thoroughly wipe down your dog when he comes back into the house after being in the snow. It is common for dogs to ingest salts from melting ice as well as anti-freeze, which can prove to be very toxic,” says Ganahl. Of course, she also reminds pet parents to make sure pets have access to plenty of fresh water.
Photo Credit: Patrick Hoesly
Threat: Giving a Pet As a Gift
Jonathan Klein, a positive reward dog trainer at the I Said Sit School for Dogs, says the holidays are not the ideal time to get a pet.
“Pets should never be given as an unexpected gift to someone – they should have already made the decision that they want a pet and that they have the means to care for it,” says Klein. People are generally far too busy to properly introduce a new pet into their home while trying to keep up with all of the demands of the season, and as a result a pet can get lost in the shuffle or worse, neglected.
Instead, Klein, as well as many leading animal welfare organizations, suggests that you give a coupon or gift certificate to a shelter or rescue that can be opened at gift time and redeemed after the holidays.
This allows the recipient to choose the pet that best suits their lifestyle and personality.
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Threat: Open Flames & Potpourri
You should always be wary of pets getting near candles and other open flame items such as menorahs, says Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services at Petplan Pet Insurance. “The range of potential problems starts at minor burns, but includes the possibility of a house fire,” says Dr. Benson. The doctor advises using fake flame candles in place of the real thing when possible.
You should also be wary of potpourri, says Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, veterinarian and founder/creator of the pet blog Paw Curious. “Many owners turn to scented potpourri, thinking it is a safe option [instead of candles], but it is extremely caustic when ingested and can cause esophageal ulcers,” says Dr. Vogelsang.
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Threat: Forbidden Foods
We love to sample all of the tasty foods of the season, but our pets may have a much more tragic reaction to holiday foods. Chocolate is especially a no-no for pets because it can be harmful if eaten, say the experts. Even our holiday feasts can be dangerous.
“Turkey and ham bones can become lodged in the intestines if swallowed in large pieces,” says veterinarian Dr. Lori Pasternak. “Be careful that your guests don’t give into the holiday spirit too much and choose this time to offer table scraps to your pets.”
Photo Credit: John Loo
Threat: Unsafe Toys
A recent Petside.com/AP poll revealed that more than half of pet parents intend on giving their pets gifts for the holidays.
“While we all want to spoil our pets, it’s important to be on the lookout for toys and pet products that are safe,” says Will Chen, founder of the pet product company P.L.A.Y (Pet Lifesyle and You). “Dogs and cats love to chew and tear up toys. When ingested, these can get lodged in the esophagus, stomach or intestines.” Chen says it’s best to look for durable rubber chew toys that are indestructible.
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