Pets & Holidays

​Just for a minute, think about the holidays from a pet's point of view.

You're curious about all these shiny things, but you're not allowed to sniff them or chew them. There's a tree in the house, but you can't climb it. People you don't know are putting plates of turkey and candy and glasses with sweet stuff right there on the coffee table. If you're a dog, all those people are kind of fun, but if you're a cat, you're in hiding. If you're a ferret, you're hoping everyone watches where they step with those clunky platform shoes. If you're a bird, you're trying to find a way to get that silvery nesting material on the tree back to your cage.

For two weeks, your humans are home during the day, gone in the evening, just the opposite of what you're used to. You never get your walks or your meals at the right time. And worst of all, someone has tied a bow around your neck and given you away to a stranger.

​Yup, the holidays are hard on pets. Here's some advice to make things a little ea​sier for your favorite non-humans this holiday season:​

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Of course Chairman Meow and Bridget Bardog are truly members of your family, but that doesn't mean they should share in all your holiday festivities.

You know that the season strains your nerves and digestive system. Just imagine how all that excitement, all that glittery stuff, all those rich smells and richer tastes can drive your poor pets to ecstasy, followed soon by agony.

​So for a minute, put aside Santa Claus and think like Santa Paws. What's really good for the dogs and cats you love? And let's not forget the ferrets and the birds that may share your home. State humane officer Dr. Yvonne Bellay offers some do's and don'ts of creature comforts for the season:

Do:

  • Keep your pets on their regular feeding, walking and play schedule. Animals do best with routine.

  • Pet-proof your decorations. Glass ornaments that could cut tongues and paws, tinsel and angel hair that can block digestive systems, and lights on chewy electrical cords all need to hang beyond doggy and kitty reach. If your cat's a climber, tie the Christmas tree with fish line to a hook in the ceiling or to a wall stud. Keep candles out of reach and in your sight so their paws don't get burned or your home set on fire.

  • Keep your pets in a closed, quiet room during parties to protect guests from over-excited animals and animals from guests who slip them scraps, leave drinks unattended, forget to close outside doors or step on unwary ferrets.

  • Treat pets with dog biscuits or catnip toys instead of people treats.

  • Keep seasonal greenery out of reach. Poinsettias irritate cats' and dogs' mouths and digestive systems. Holly and mistletoe are actually poisonous, and might drop berries (the most toxic part of the plant) on the floor even if the plants themselves are out of reach. Try plastic or silk instead of real plants. Your dog and cat will love you, even if Martha Stewart thinks you're tacky.

Don't:

  • Let your pets drink water from the Christmas tree stand. Preservers may be poisonous (even aspirin), and stagnant water gives rise to potentially harmful bacteria.

  • Share holiday treats with your pets, no matter how sad their faces. Chocolate is a triple threat, with two stimulants (caffeine and theobromine) and a not-so-healthy dose of fat. All that adds up to vomiting, hyperactivity, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and pancreatitis in dogs. Likewise, all those other fatty treats like gravy and stuffing and caramels and eggnog can wreak havoc with a dog's digestive system. Turkey and chicken bones tossed in the trash may end up splintered in your pet's intestines.

  • Even think of giving alcohol to pets. It is a toxin.

A passel of kittens wrestling with red ribbon or a puppy peeking from a Christmas stocking. All the makings of a Kodak moment - and of misery down the road.

"The animal shelters are filled by February with pets that someone knew would be the perfect gift," says state humane officer Dr. Yvonne Bellay. "For every story with a happy ending about someone getting a surprise puppy for Christmas, I could tell you a dozen stories with unhappy endings. Pet owners must choose to be pet owners, and choose pets to match their lives and temperaments."

Before you choose a dog, cat, ferret, bird, or any other animal to give as a gift, remember:

  • Pets should never be impulse purchases. Getting a pet must be a choice - and a commitment - made by the person who will care for the pet. 
  • The holidays are the worst possible time to introduce a pet into the household - too much confusion, too little routine, too many strangers, too many temptations that are bad for animals. If you've discussed and planned the gift with the recipient, settle for a photo, collar, supplies, or some other stand-in for the pet itself. Wait until life settles down in January to introduce the pet into its new home. 
  • Assuming you and the pet recipient have discussed and planned the gift, do the research. What kind of pet will fit into the recipient's life? A dog, a cat, a ferret? What breed of dog or cat? Be realistic about exercise, grooming, need for attention, and the potential for veterinary bills. 
  • When you've decided on a type of pet, consider adopting an animal from your local shelter. If you want a purebred, go to a reputable breeder. Look at the breeder's facilities. Get guarantees in writing and read them carefully - before you take the animal home. If the breeder says the animal is registered, don't go home without papers in hand.​​

When Santa Claws slips through the pet door at your house, what's in his sack? Chances are your ideas for a great pet gift and what's dancing in Fluffy or Fido's heads do not match exactly.

For some cats, a wad of paper might be the perfect gift, the toy that will keep them occupied for hours. Others might need a Cat Dancer - basically a wad of paper on a wire that demands human participation in the cat's game.

There are two rules of thumb when you're searching for gifts for the fuzzy and feathered members of your family. First, remember that animals chew and swallow almost anything. Second, don't assume that if an item is on the pet store shelf it must be safe. Here are some more specific pointers:

  • Keep gift size appropriate. For example, small chew bones for a big dog might go down in one gulp, or be bitten into tiny splinters that the dog swallows. 

  • Toys with small parts are as dangerous for your pets as they are for your toddlers. Those little wind-up mice that you find so entertaining may break apart in one good pounce and end up in your pet's digestive system. 

  • String and cats do not mix, contrary to popular belief. Cats can swallow string, which eventually may catch in their intestines and tug them into accordion folds. 

  • Be aware of the materials in any pet toy. Be sure there are no toxins. 

  • ​Know your pet. A stuffed animal might be a wonderful toy for a gentle dog, but a hazard to a dog or a ferret with a chewing habit. The sock that one dog uses for tug-of-war might become a digestive obstruction in another dog.

Save your pet pain and yourself veterinarian bills. Think when you're giving toys to your pets. If you wouldn't give it to a toddler, don't give it to an animal.​

No, we’re not talking about Cat-rina resolving to find sunnier nap spots in 2002, or Dogzilla resolving to teach his human to fetch this year.  We do have some suggestions for pet owners’ resolutions for the New Year.

This year, I resolve to:

  • ​Have my pets spayed or neutered if they have not already had this surgery.  They will have less chance of developing cancers in reproductive organs, have nicer personalities and behavior, be less likely to mark territory or to wander, and won’t contribute to pet overpopulation.

  • Take my animals in to a veterinarian for a yearly examination, and keep vaccinations up to date.  This includes a rabies vaccination for my cats even if they do not go outdoors.

  • Feed my animals good quality food in appropriate amounts.  I will not feed them people food.

  • Take my dogs to behavior training classes and use what we learn there consistently.  Trained dogs are in their natural subordinate position to you, the alpha male or female. And I resolve to use good training techniques with my birds or cats, too.  Better-behaved animals make your life easier, make your home more welcoming to guests, and your pets more welcome in your family’s and friends’ homes.  They are far less likely to end up in a shelter.

  • Keep my animals properly groomed – including brushing and clipping when appropriate.  Brushing cats daily reduces the incidence of hairballs.  Brushing both dogs and cats cuts down on hair that shows up on furniture and clothing.  Clipping keeps long-haired dogs more comfortable in summer.

  • Give my pets daily attention and exercise.  We will both benefit.

  • Remember that my pet is not a human being.  Its digestive system is not meant to handle human food.  Pets crave routine – variety is not the spice of life for animals.  They respond to simple commands, not long logical explanations.​