December 5, 2019

How to keep your pet safe this holiday season

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Between colder weather, noisy visitors, rich eats and unusual treats, the holidays can bring unique risks to your pets. Whether you leave them at home or travel with them during the holidays, planning is necessary to ensure they stay safe.

Dr. Suma Rao, Purdue Veterinary Medicine clinical assistant professor of small animal community practice in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, provides some tips on how to keep pets safe during the holidays.

Managing the hustle and bustle

Holidays can be stressful to pets due to the high volume of visitors, loud noises and parties, Rao said. “Try to keep your pets’ daily routine as close to normal as possible. Let them do their normal activities that they are used to, in order to help reduce stress.”

 Rao said you can help by keeping your pet in a quiet part of the house and making sure they have a safe retreat from children and well-intentioned visitors if needed.

Watching out for overindulgence

People aren't the only ones who sometimes indulge in too much of a good thing. Table scraps, garbage raiding, and counter surfing can add up to lots of rich food in a pet's stomach, which may lead to stomach upset. Even worse, too much rich food can lead to serious inflammation of the pancreas, which can be life-threatening. Keep pets on a normal diet even though they may try to persuade you not to.

Being mindful when decking the halls

Novel decorations like candles and greenery, and cat teasers like tinsel and cords, should be set up with your furry friends in mind. Rambunctious dogs, cats, and ferrets have been known to topple many an ornament and knickknack, and sometimes even whole Christmas trees.

Help prevent tree mishaps by keeping larger and weightier ornaments close to the floor, and valuable ornaments out of reach from curious mouths, noses, and wagging tails. Keep knickknacks on shelves inaccessible to your animal companions. Also, make sure Christmas trees are tethered to a nearby wall or window frame if you have ferrets or cats fond of climbing.

Dancing flames and shadows thrown by candles are tantalizing to pets. But disaster can strike in an instant if a candle is toppled by a curious animal, or worse, if a pet sets themselves alight. In addition to making sure candles are never left burning unattended, make sure wagging tails and curious paws are kept a safe distance away from lit candles.

Long, skinny pieces of plastic or string can be very dangerous. Cats and kittens seem to find shiny tinsel especially appealing. If eaten, thin pieces of string or tinsel can cause the intestines to bunch up and can cut through the intestinal wall. Either situation could be fatal and would certainly necessitate a trip to the veterinarian.

Some animals, especially puppies, may chew cords and put themselves at risk of serious burns or electric shock. An animal that has been electrocuted may appear normal immediately after the injury. However, approximately one to 36 hours following the incident, pulmonary edema can start to develop, meaning that the lungs begin to fill with fluid and the animal displays labored breathing and coughing (it looks like the animal can't catch its breath.) Another clue that a pet has been chewing on an electrical cord is that the tongue or lips may have a white or seared area across it.

Plants and greenery like holly, ivy, poinsettia, pine, cedar, balsam, amaryllis and mistletoe can be very toxic. For pet owners who choose to decorate with a live Christmas tree, Rao says that Christmas tree water is toxic when fertilizer is used. Visit the ASPCA website for a full list of poisonous plants. If you have an emergency, you can call the animal poison control hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

Vacationing is snow laughing matter

When you vacation over the holiday season, you need to decide whether to board your pets or take them with you. Depending on your pet’s personality and the details of the trip, it may be better to board your pets or hire a pet sitter than to take them along. Your veterinarian and pet-owning friends can provide recommendations for reputable boarders and sitters, but keep in mind that you should make reservations in advance, as facilities fill up early for the holidays. To be boarded, your pet will need to be up to date on all required vaccinations at least two weeks before boarding. You should also ensure they are collared with identification tags in case they manage to get loose from the boarding facilities.

Additionally, keeping current on vaccinations is important if you chose to travel with your pet.  You also may want to have a note from your veterinarian that your pet is in good health in the case of an emergency. Take along their current medications, water, and bedding, and make sure they wear a collar with an ID tag. If traveling by vehicle, it is safest to confine your pet to a carrier. Animals that travel with you might need a mild sedative to help prevent anxiety and carsickness.

With the help of these tips, Rao says both people and pets can enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.  If a pet does get sick or injured during the holidays, the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital‘s animal emergency service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  For emergencies, call or text 765-494-1107. 

Writer: Lauren Bruce, laurenbruce@purdue.edu, 765-496-2766

Media Contact: Abbey Nickel, 765-496-1325, nickela@purdue.edu 

Source: Dr. Suma Rao, clinical assistant professor of small animal community practice, rao103@purdue.edu 

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