The holidays are here, and so are the parties and gatherings. Whether your beloved pet is the very sociable type or the shy type, holidays can be a source of both fun and stress. If they like parties, it makes them susceptible to hazards like being fed toxic food and choking on decorations. If they don’t like mingling with humans or other pets very much, then the stress probably sets in early on--as soon as they start seeing others. And when our dear pets are stressed, so are their humans. This can be the case especially when we don’t plan ahead and take into consideration the potential pet hazards during these festivities.
Keeping your pets safe
For you and your pet to truly enjoy the holidays, you would want to make sure that your pet is safe. You wouldn’t want to have to spend the holidays trying to find a vet or to have to stay home because your dear ‘baby’ is too sick to travel or stay home alone, right? If you’ve been a pet-lover for years, you’d know by now that there’s a lot that can go wrong during the holidays. But if you’re new to all this, here is a list of a few things you should keep in mind to keep your pet safe during the holiday season.
- Plan ahead. As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) suggests, it is important to plan in advance, especially when you’re taking your pet to places you’re not very familiar with.
- Find out if your pet’s veterinarian offers 24/7 emergency services. They may have a network of veterinary doctors who respond to emergency calls. If you’re leaving for the holidays or visiting family who don’t live in your area, then find out if their service would still be available where you’re going to visit.
- If your pet’s doctor will not be on-call or is too far from where you’re going, then find out where the nearest 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic is and how to contact them. You may have your own vet, but during emergencies, every second counts and your first option should be who can get to your location first.
- Plan your travel route. The last thing you’d want is to have to find your way (or worse, really get lost) when you already have an emergency in your hands.
- Keep the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s hotline (1-888-426-4435) on your phone, as well as your pet’s veterinarian and a 24/7 emergency number (if different). Have these numbers written on a paper/card and place it somewhere it can be easily found--i.e., in your wallet if you’re traveling or on the fridge or near the main door if you’ll be having guests over (for the safety of your guests’ pets as well).
- Avoid giving human food to pets. Especially when you’re traveling, stick to your pet’s standard meals and treats. But if it can’t be helped, take note of the following list of people’s food and make sure your pet does not ingest any.
- Anything sweet - Chocolates can be toxic to both cats and dogs; and xylitol, an artificial sweetener which can be found in gums, candies, cakes, and other baked goods, can potentially cause liver failure and death in dogs. You might be thinking that you’ve seen one of your friends feed their dog chocolate and nothing happened; this is because the toxicity depends on the kind of chocolate, the amount of chocolate they ate, and the size of the dog. Don’t take the risk.
- Yeast dough - When dogs or cats ingest unbaked dough, they may suffer from bloating or alcohol poisoning. The raw bread dough expands in their warm and moist stomach and it can cause bloating. Signs of bloating include an elevated heart rate, weakness, non-productive retching, vomiting, collapse. In severe cases, this can even lead to death. In addition, when the yeast in the unbaked dough reacts with sugars, a process called fermentation starts where alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. The carbon dioxide makes the bread rise and the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream causing alcohol poisoning. When a pet ingests alcohol, dangerous drops in blood pressure, blood sugar, and body temperature can happen. In severe cases, seizures and failure in the respiratory system can happen.
- Table scraps - Sometimes people mean well when they give pets food. However, what many fail to realize is that food that is healthy for people may not necessarily be healthy for our pets. On the contrary, they might even be poisonous. And even if they aren’t, holiday table scraps, including turkey and turkey skin, can be fattening and difficult to digest. Avoiding this type of food means keeping our dear pets away from pancreatitis. Chocolates, macadamia nuts, raisins, and grapes are toxic. Olives and similar types of food are known to be choking hazards.
- Check for signs of stress. Our pets communicate how they feel in different ways. When they are excited, you see them wagging their tail. When they are afraid, you might see them trembling or with their tails tucked between their legs. It’s important to know your pet’s stress signals. And if you adopted your pet or bought him/her from a store, it’s best to know if they have a history of anxiety and what their triggers are. Signs of stress include trembling, pacing, lip licking, decreased appetite, pacing, frequent yawning, salivation or drooling, increased heart rate, panting, hyper-vigilance, and dilated pupils. Some pets, when very anxious, will bite. Also, keep in mind that your pet can pick up on your mood and mental state. So, to avoid or minimize causing your pet stress, keep yourself calm as well.
- Make sure to keep decorations well-secured or placed where pets cannot reach them. Decorations certainly add life to a party and bring that extra cheer during the holidays.
But at the same time, when the setup isn’t ‘pet-friendly’, these can be safety hazards too.
So, here are a few reminders:
- Use fishing lines/nylon strings to secure the Christmas tree (or a similar decor) to the ceiling to lessen the risk of the tree tipping over. Some of us just love the sight of Christmas trees, and taking a close look at ornaments and touching them can be irresistible. Well, guess what? It’s exactly the same for many of our dear cats and dogs.
- Keep pets away from ornaments and other decorations; and if you’re the one throwing the party or hosting a gathering, try to set up decorations in such a way that they are not easily accessible to pets. Once a pet gets a hold of an ornament or any piece of decoration, there’s no telling what will happen. The best-case scenario is that your pet plays with it for a short while without tearing it to pieces orbiting the ornament and then leaves it where no other pet might see the ornament. However, the worst-case scenario could be that it (or someone else’s pet) tries to swallow an ornament or a piece of it, and ends up choking or needing costly surgery because of intestinal blockage.
- Make sure electric lights are placed where they can’t be reached by curious pets. These lights can truly bring a festive atmosphere to any place, but when a pet chews the cords, it might cause burns to the curious one. Even worse, it might start a fire.
- A lit candle is a fire hazard, so never leave your pet anywhere there is one. Again, if it’s up to you to decide on decorations, it’s best to leave out candles. But if you must, use candles without having to light them. Never underestimate the curiosity nor the persistence of a curious pet--especially cats. They climb trees, remember?
- Water additives for indoor plants or Christmas trees, such as sugar and aspirin, should be avoided. And speaking of plants, Holly can cause animals to feel nauseated, vomit, and suffer from diarrhea. Mistletoe can also cause major issues like cardiovascular problems and gastrointestinal upset. Cats, in particular, might suffer from kidney failure if they ingest lilies (depending on which variety). To be safe, do some research before you finalize your list of decorations and food.
Causes and signs of anxiety and stress
Experiencing stress, no doubt, is never pleasant. But the real trouble comes when the stress isn’t managed well or on time. Remember that aside from physical pain and discomfort, there are other things that can stress our dear pets such as our own emotional and psychological state, very loud noise, and sudden noises. You’ve probably seen your pet tremble after a very loud thunder or when there are fireworks. Don’t forget that their hearing is 4x more sensitive as compared to ours.
To be able to manage your pet’s stress or anxiety in a timely manner, you’d have to be able to see the symptoms. Trembling, licking, frequent yawning, uneasiness, and frequent barking are all signs of stress.
Also, do you know if your pets like playing with other dogs or cats? Do they like visitors? Have they experienced any sort of trauma? Aside from knowing their history, It helps to be attentive and notice any changes in behavior right away. Just like humans, our pets are not all the same. Always remember that they have varying personalities and communication styles as well.
Keeping your pets calm if you’re attending a party or will be traveling for vacation
Just like how it is for humans, one of the most effective ways to keep them calm and help prevent them from having anxiety attacks is to be aware of their triggers or causes of stress. During the holidays, when we expect to be attending more gatherings than most of the year, it helps to be prepared and extra mindful of your schedule and your pet’s needs.
Write things down
Have you ever experienced having an idea or thought of something important and then forgot about it in just a couple of seconds? Well, it happens. And whether you’re planning on having people over or bringing your dear pet to a party or gathering (no matter how small), it will help to write down everything because it’s easier to forget things you’re not following your daily routine.
Set alarms for medication
Especially for pets with prescribed medication for anxiety, it is important that they take their medicines on time. Set alarms on your phone so you don’t forget about it. It’s very easy to get caught up in conversations with people you’ve missed.
Bring extra medicine, food, and treats with you when you travel
Always have extra medicine, especially when you’re traveling to another place--whether it’s just a few or a thousand miles away. You’ll never know--you might have to stay longer than expected. Better prepared than sorry.
Keep your pet with you if you can
This works best for small pets. If you have a pet sling where you can carry your pet with you, having them stay as close to you as possible will help keep them relaxed and feeling secure--especially if your pet has separation anxiety.
Keep them busy
If you will be on vacation, then going out for walks or playing with them more often will help keep them happy and relaxed. It will also make them tired and want to rest. This also works if you’re the one hosting the party.
Keeping your pet calm if you’re hosting a party or gathering
See if you have any alternatives
If you are holding a party at your own place, check if you can leave your pet for a few hours with someone they like. If this is not an option, you may want to consider boarding so that he/she will at least be with professionals.
Set up a pet-friendly room
If your pet doesn’t have separation anxiety and can manage to be alone in a room for a few hours, then this is a good option so your baby is kept away from all the noise and activities. This also works well if you haven’t had the chance to train your pet and expect him/her to be extra friendly with guests or begging for food. Remember, not everyone is a dog/cat lover. Having a room set-up for pets, with cozy beds and treats, will ensure the pets are safe and calm; while also allowing any non-petlover guests to have a good time.
Let your family and friends know of ‘house rules’ ahead of time
Whether or not your guests will be allowed to bring pets or not, it will be good to let them know of certain house rules--i.e., no feeding pets party food, pets will have to stay leashed or in kennels. Of course, if you have expected guests who are allergic to pets, then it might be best to let people know that pets are not allowed. In the same way, it would be good to let your guests know that you have a pet… just in case they might be allergic.
Appoint a couple of pet monitors (or ask for volunteers)
There’s always a big chance that you have guests who love pets. Ask for their help with keeping an eye on your pet (and others’), putting emphasis on making sure the pets are not given party food and that they stay away from guests’ purses or decorations.
Have calming supplements or appeasing pheromones for cats and dogs available
If you just adopted your pet, or are not sure of how your baby will react to guests and possibly their pets as well, then it may be a good idea to keep products that have pet appeasing pheromones, or supplements that have calming effects, available. Appeasing pheromones provide a sense of calm and safety because they mimic the odor that mothers have a few days after giving birth. It works the same way as when our infants sleep better when we place beside them a shirt just worn by their mother. Having an appeasing pheromone spray might come in handy not just for your pet but for your pet guests as well.
Maintain your usual routine
Whether you are traveling with your pet or hosting a party for the holidays, aim to keep your routine regardless of how busy things get. Feed them and give medicines at the same time. Have your walks and playtime too. If you know that you won’t be able available for these, then you might want to look into getting a professional pet sitter or dog walker ahead of time.
Things can be quite busy during the holidays. Of course, we all want to have a great time--including our pets. The best way to achieve this is to keep our beloved pets safe and calm during the holidays and to anticipate any issues that may arise so we can be prepared for them or try to prevent them from happening in the first place.
If you have a pet who gets anxious around new people/pets or have a very sensitive stomach, then review the coverage of your pet insurance so you know exactly what help you can expect from them in case of an emergency. If you don’t already have one, you may want to look into getting pet insurance as it will cover unexpected and sometimes huge costs for or all or some of the following--emergency care, treatment costs for illness, immunizations, neutering or spaying, accidental injury, and even death. It’s always good to be prepared and know what needs to be done during emergencies to avoid adding stress to an already chaotic situation.
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