Celebrating with pets: Holidays can be stressful for furry friends

Monday, November 1, 2010

The holiday season is just around the corner, and you're probably already decorating, hosting dinner parties and reserving a spot for Fido or Fluffy at the pet kennel. Holidays may be fun for you, but it's likely a stressful time for your furry friends.

"Holidays mean changes in everyday routine, traveling for many people, special decorations being hung and family and friends visiting," says Dr. Kelly Smith, a veterinarian at Dogwood Veterinary Hospital in Cape Girardeau. "This can be exciting to some pets, such as mine, and overwhelming to others. Advance preparation is definitely the key to making a smooth transition."

If you plan to board your pet, make sure you check out the facility beforehand and talk to other pet owners who have used it, says Dr. Ann Seabaugh, a veterinarian at LaCroix Pet Hospital in Cape Girardeau. When visiting, make sure the facility is clean, that each pet has an individual place, and that cages are not stacked on top of each other. Don't be afraid to ask questions, like how often pets are taken outside to do their business.

"If you know your pet has issues with other animals, make sure guests who are coming board their animals instead of bringing them along," says Seabaugh. "Make sure to keep your pet's routine as constant as possible, especially with bathroom breaks, so they don't feel the need to go in the house."

Some pets are stressed by new visitors, she adds, so you might want to put your own pet in a boarding facility if you're expecting houseguests.

"If traveling with your pet, make sure that you have basic travel training commands mastered, such as coming when called, riding calmly in a vehicle and waiting at doors for permission to exit," says Smith.

It's also important to pet-proof your home during the holidays, whether you plan to leave your pet alone or not. Too much table food can lead to gastrointestinal upsets, while tinsel, potpourri, electrical cords and certain plants can be dangerous or toxic to pets, says Seabaugh.

"If you know your cat is a chronic chewer, it's better to have a tree without lights than a house without a cat," she says. Poinsettia berries (not leaves) are toxic to cats, while indoor and outdoor lilies are extremely kidney toxic to cats, she notes.

Seabaugh's only other advice? Make sure you get your pet a present! Just steer clear of small toys that can be ingested, and fatty treats that pets aren't used to digesting, like pig ears.

And speaking of presents -- is it OK to give pets as gifts? Sometimes, says Smith -- but not if it's a surprise.

"At the holidays it is tempting to give a child a pet that he or she has been begging for," she says. "From the voice of experience -- and the proud new owner of a hamster recently purchased for my 7-year-old daughter by her grandmother for show and tell day -- wait! Always ask the parents first, and give them time to consider it. All animals are a lifelong commitment."

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