Keeping pets safe during the holidays

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

To some, the thought of waking up on Christmas morning with a Fluffy or a Fido tucked among the holiday gifts may be irresistible, but by mid-afternoon the cute factor may have worn extremely thin when Fido and Fluffy start leaving their own "gifts" on the carpet.

While a new pet can be a great holiday gift, people need to do their homework in order to determine the right breed of animal for the family and consider the commitment of time, money and training it will take to integrate the four-legged friend into the family.

"People need to use common sense," said Cassville veterinarian Chip Kammerlohr.

Pets, dogs especially, need to be house trained, socialized and exercised.

Another important thing to consider is the animal's medical care. Puppies and kittens will need regular worming and vaccinations, examinations, and, perhaps most importantly, spaying or neutering.

It is also important that people choose their pets from a reliable source and have the pet examined first thing to make sure it is healthy and protected from parasites or contagious diseases.

With the holiday comes special dinners, treats and other unexpected hazards for the furry family members.

Diet change can make a pet sick, especially rich and fatty foods that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and a possible life-threatening disease called pancreatitis.

"There are some foods that we know are toxic to pets," Kammerlohr said. "Especially chocolate."

Other foods animals should not be allowed to ingest are raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic and mushrooms. Anything containing xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in gum and candy, can cause fatal kidney failure in pets.

"The best rule of thumb is to stick to the animal's normal food," Kammerlohr said. "For a special treat, try a proven pet-safe toy or treat."

Holiday decorations are also a temptation to four-legged family members.

Poinsettias can cause gastroenteritis or an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and a loss of appetite. Ornaments, especially tinsel, can pose problems if ingested.

"Cats are especially bad about playing with ornaments and chewing on light cords," Kammerlohr said. "I see a lot of pets that have been shocked by chewing tree lights and electrical cords over the holidays."

Pets also like decorated trees, so Kammerlohr recommends that the tree be secured from falling or the pet kept away from it for the holidays season. Chemicals added to the water for live trees can also be toxic to animals.

"Cats love to climb trees during the holidays," Kammerlohr said. "That can be a problem, resulting in broken lights and ornaments."

Outdoor pets can face equally dangerous hazards, including exposure to the elements, lack of fresh water and the accidental ingestion of ethylene glycol, a common component in antifreeze.

Antifreeze is sweet and attractive to pets, and if ingested, can cause life-threatening kidney damage.

Older and debilitated pets that live outdoors should have a warm place to shelter from frigid winter temperatures.

"Outdoor pets need access to warm bedding, food and fresh water that hasn't frozen," Kammerlohr said.

Kammerlohr reminds those who are considering adopting pets over the holidays to remember that, along with a new and loyal family member, comes a lifetime of commitment.

"The most important thing a pet owner can do is make sure the animal gets routine examinations," Kammerlohr said.

Other tips to help our furry friends enjoy the holidays include some quiet time.

Just as people get stressed out when there is a large, noisy gathering, animals are likely to get stressed and misbehave as well.

"Keep pets shut away from the doors when guests are coming in and out with gifts or food," Kammerlohr said. "They can cause someone to trip and fall."

For those considering adopting a pet, there are several local organizations, such as Haven of the Ozarks, where staffers can advise prospective pet parents of the nature of the cat or dog they are considering, as well as its ability to adjust to other household pets.

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