sealPurdue News

November 4, 2002

Keep the holiday season safe for your pets

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – There is more to making sure feline and canine friends are happy this season than just wrapping a bone or catnip to leave under the Christmas tree.

"Whether you are leaving your pet at home or traveling with them during the holidays, planning is necessary to ensure they are safe," says Steve Thompson, veterinarian and director of the Wellness Clinic at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

Animals that travel by airplane are required to receive a health certificate from their veterinarian within 10 days of the flight. The health certificate confirms that the pet has current vaccinations and is free of infectious diseases. A health certificate also is required if the animal is entering Mexico or Canada by car.

Pet owners who will be driving with their pets to a holiday destination also should consider visiting their veterinarian in advance. Pets riding in long car trips can be given a mild sedative; however, Thompson says the drug and its dosage should be tested on the animal in advance.

Pet owners also should pack a summary of their pet's veterinary records and a copy of its immunization schedule for any trip. If a pet is turned away from a hotel or needs to be placed in a kennel during an emergency, then the information is accessible.

Animals should receive standard vaccinations at least two weeks before they are boarded to ensure they have developed antibodies. A nose drop vaccine for canine cough, also known as kennel cough, provides quicker protection, but still should be administered at least three days prior to boarding, not just on the evening they arrive at the kennel, Thompson says.

Pet owners who travel and leave their pets at home have the option of housing the animal in a kennel or finding someone to watch over it. Veterinary records also should be accessible for pet sitters in case of an emergency.

"Cats are often fine when left home," Thompson says. "Pet owners can invest in electronic automatic feeders that even dispense the appropriate food portions for the pet. The devices should be tested before the owner leaves.

"If a dog is left at home, someone needs to ensure the dog makes it outdoors at least three times a day. Dogs that are allowed to relieve themselves any less are prone to bladder infections."

Before boarding a pet, owners should do their homework and get references from their veterinarian or other pet owners on good kennels. Thompson said it's a good idea to leave a favorite chew toy or blanket with an animal staying in a strange place, but be prepared if the item is not returned. The item may simply be misplaced, or the kennel may have infectious disease rules requiring them to discard soiled items.

Pet mishaps also can happen when owners are home with their pets during the holidays.

Precautions need to be taken to pet-proof the home when holiday decorations are out. Cat owners should be aware that their feline friends are attracted to shiny tinsel or noise-making ornaments. An inability to digest tinsel, string or yarn can block the intestinal tract and require surgery.

Dog owners need to beware of their pet's sweet tooth.

"Chocolate kept under the tree or at heights dogs can reach is problematic," Thompson says. "Chocolate contains a chemical, theobromine, that causes rapid irregular heartbeat in dogs."

When pet owners host a large holiday celebration, they should take pets' anxiety level into account. It may be best to keep them away from the commotion. If your pets are wandering party animals, be wary of the table scraps they receive from generous guests.

Owners also should watch the weather and provide adequate shelter for pets kept outdoors. Thompson says a doghouse should face the south or east, because the coldest winds come from the northwest.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Steve Thompson, (765) 494-1107,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:
Pet Wellness Clinic
Pet Wellness Clinic information on chocolate toxicity

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