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Pets and the Holidays

A List of Dos and Don'ts.

Shuttershock photo credited to Ermolaev Alexander

The holidays are meant to be a happy and joyous time of year. No matter what you are celebrating, it is meant to be a time to be with family and friends, eat good food - usually too much food - and enjoy everyone's company. 

However, the holidays are also a difficult time for our pets. We often don't think about the strain that the holiday season may be putting on them, but there are a few things that need to be considered. After all, we want everyone, including our four-legged friends, to be happy and healthy over the holidays. 

1. The Christmas Tree

Anyone who has ever owned a pet understands the struggle of the Christmas tree. Although, in my experience, cats have always been worse than dogs when it comes to this particular holiday feature.

There is just something about a Christmas tree that is appealing to pets. Dogs like to drink water out of your tree stand, if you have a live tree. Cats like to climb the tree, and usually knock it over. It is all chaos waiting to happen, but we go through the effort each year to put up a tree regardless of what our pets will do.

Remember that the needles of live and artificial trees can be harmful to your pets, so keep them away from the tree as much as possible. Or at least deter them from eating the tree as much as possible.

If you have a live tree, do not put chemicals in the tree stand water. Your pets will drink out of it no matter how much you try to avoid this from happening. So, in order to avoid a trip to the vets, it is best to just put regular tap water in there.

When you are decorating your tree keep your pets in mind. If you have cats, put soft cotton or wooden ornaments at the bottom of the tree. This way they can play with them and not break them. It will keep them entertained and hopefully deter them from seeking ornaments higher up. If you have a dog, keep the glass ornaments out of reach so that your dog does not try to eat them and cut the inside of its mouth.

Additionally, keep the lights away from the last few rows of the tree. The lights can get warm and you do not want your pets to try and eat them or lick them. Pets will do very odd things. And make sure that the wires and cords are tucked away if you have a pet that chews. Chewing on plugged in wires can cause burns to your pet's mouth or more severe medical issues such as pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs).

Last, avoid tinsel. If you have pets it is just best to avoid the stringy tinsel that comes in a box. The kind that was fun to toss on the tree when you were a kid and made it look gaudy and sparkly? Yeah, avoid that completely. Dogs and cats love to eat that stuff and it is terrible for them. If you're lucky it will pass through them fine and the worst you have is some sparkly poop. If you're unlucky, it will lead to intestine blockages that can only be fixed with surgery.

So, put some thought into your tree this year and keep your pets in mind. 

2. The Holiday Food

It wouldn't be the holidays without delicious food to eat. And sometimes that delicious food just happens to end up in the stomachs of our pets as well. This is sometimes by our hand, or a relative's, and sometimes completely by accident. Whatever the case, it is important to be aware of a few holiday don'ts when it comes to food for your pets.

Alcohol is a definite don't when it comes to pets. Alcohol is toxic for your cats and dogs. It is not only a shock to their stomachs, nervous system, and immune system, but their bodies cannot process the yeast content in most alcohol. So skip sharing your wine, liquor, eggnog, or beer with your four-legged friends this holiday no matter how tempting.

Chocolate is also a definite don't. Even small amounts of chocolate can be bad for your cats and dogs. Dark and unsweetened chocolate is the most dangerous. If your pet consumes too much chocolate it can lead to diarrhoea, vomiting, tremors, and even seizures.

Turkey bones are a definite don't also for the holiday. As tempting as it might be to give your dog or cat the turkey bones, avoid it. Bird bones are hollow and become extremely fragile when cooked. These bones can get lodged in your pet's throat and become a choking hazard easily so it is best to just throw them out or boil them for soup, if you're someone who enjoys a good turkey soup.

Onions are the last definitely don't on this list. Dogs and cats cannot process onions, raw or cooked, due to a substance called thiosulfate. This substance is toxic to your pets so think before you feed your animals any of that delicious holiday stuffing that is likely loaded with onions.

Remember, holiday food is delicious, but it was meant for you to enjoy. If you want something for your pet stop by your local pet store and get them their own holiday treat. 

3. The Guests

One thing that many people don't consider when they are planning their holidays is how their guests are going to impact their pets. Now, these guests can include people and additional four-legged friends. These changes can put a lot of stress on your pet and they will react accordingly.

If you are usually a quiet household and suddenly there are 30 people milling about and five extra pets it can be a rapid change for any cat or dog. It's a loud and boisterous environment. There are new people, new smells, new pets - and everyone is moving about so much. There may also be small children around that could be particularly interesting to pets.

It is important to consider how your pets will react and behave to this change in environment. Does your dog get along with people? Does your dog get along with other dogs? Is your cat going to welcome a dog in the house or another cat over the holidays? How is your pet going to feel about a big group of people in the house? How is your pet around small children?

When you are planning your holiday party or dinner it is important to think about your pet. Cats may run away and hide to avoid all the commotion, but dogs are likely to stay in the middle of it all. To avoid having to punish your pet for something that could have avoided, plan for these events with your pets in mind.

The holidays are supposed to be a happy time, for everyone, including our four-legged friends. 

4. The Presents

Now it wouldn't be the holidays without some gift giving, but be careful because while you are enjoying unwrapping your presents your pets might be getting into trouble.

Mind the wrapping paper and ribbon on gifts while you are unwrapping them as these can easily become choking hazards to cats and dogs. Despite our best efforts, pets eat things they are not supposed to so try not to create opportunities for them to eat things that are dangerous for them.

If you or your kids are receiving small gifts, make sure they also don't get consumed by your pets. Dogs and cats have the same curiosity level as toddlers and have a habit of putting things in their mouths that they shouldn't. So keep your presents together and out of eating range.

And last, watch your boxes when you clean up. Cats love to curl up in boxes and take naps. Every cat owner will tell you this. So check your boxes before you throw them out to ensure there are no napping pets, cats or puppies, inside of them. After all, the recycle bin is no place for a pet.

5. The Routine

Finally, the holidays are often a time of disruption and chaos. Many people throw any semblance of a routine out the window and hope to regain it in the New Year. However, if you are a pet owner this is really not a luxury you can afford.

Pets need routine in their lives. Cats need their litter changed regularly, played with, and they need to be fed. Dogs need to be walked, played with, and fed. So as much as you may want to toss the routine out the window your pets really can't handle that.

This is especially difficult if you go away for the holidays. Sometimes you can take your pets with you, but more often than not you need to arrange for them to stay at a kennel, have a house sitter, or stay with a friend/relative. This can further disrupt your pet's life.

So whether you are staying home or going away, make sure you put some thought into your pets lives over the holiday. Make sure that, amidst all the chaos, you are still giving them the love and attention that they deserve. And make sure you form some kind of routine for them. It may not be the same thing you do every other time of the year, but they need stability so be sure to provide it.

And, most of all, have a good holiday season. Stay safe, have fun, and always keep your pets in mind. 

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