Keep Pets Safe During the Holidays

Working as an emergency vet for over a decade makes you realize that the holidays are a target rich environment for your pet to end up in the emergency room.  The following are a few simple steps you can take to prevent such expensive accidents because no one wants to end up in the emergency room over the holidays!

  • Keep all food and trash away from pets at all times – I can’t tell you how many times a large breed dog (Labs!) end up sneaking the entire turkey off the counter or pulling the carcass out of the trash and it makes them really sick.  The drawback to animals eating people food is that their GI track is not used to it and it will likely cause vomiting and diarrhea.  The large amount of food and/or fat can also start up a bout of pancreatitis which can be deadly.  Bones usually dissolve but occasionally cooked bones can splinter and perforate the digestive track or if they eat a very large amount, become stuck and cause an obstruction.
  • Human food can be toxic to pets – Just because we enjoy holiday food does not mean you should share it with your pet, lots of human foods are toxic to pets. Onions, garlic, chocolate, desserts containing Xylitol, macadamia nuts, grapes, and raisins.
  • Decorations – They look great on the tree but not so much when I’m surgically extracting them from the intestines. Ribbons and tinsel are especially dangerous for cats, the ribbon can get stuck under the tongue and then they swallow the ribbon. As it sits there the intestines try and move the ribbon down the digestive track but it can’t move so it ends up sawing through the intestines instead.  Real mistletoe and holly are very poisonous to cats.  Poinsettias are not as toxic as perceived, they usually just cause mild intestinal upset.
  • Taking pets to relatives houses – Every holiday without exception I’m usually trying to piece back together a little dog that visited a relative’s house and tried to act like he was boss. The smaller dogs have big attitudes but usually end up getting really hurt because they (or the dog they are visiting) have not been properly socialized.  Sadly many dogs have been killed this way and it’s really not the way you plan to spend the holidays.
  • Boarding and Traveling – don’t wait until the last minute to make arrangements for boarding, any good facility should require current vaccines. If you are traveling to a different state, country, or if you are flying you may need a health certificate which also requires current vaccines and a visit to your veterinarian within 10 days of travel.  If traveling in the car make sure to always have updated identification on the pet’s collar and a microchip in case they escape from the car, hotel, or rest area.

Hopefully these tips will save you from a stressful event for you and your pet over the holidays!  However, make sure to have a local vet ER number handy just in case.  If leaving your pet with a sitter, it is also a good idea for you to make payment arrangements in case they have to take your pet into the vet.

Whether you’re entertaining at home, traveling with pets, boarding them, or leaving them home with a sitter, take note of these important safety precautions.

Dec 20, 2013

By Greg McClure


Whether you are leaving your pets at home or traveling with them over the holidays, planning is the key to ensuring their safety, a Purdue University veterinarian says.

“The last thing any pet owner wants on Christmas or New Year’s is to rush their pet to the animal emergency room,” says Lorraine Corriveau, a pet wellness veterinarian at Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “The truth is that many pets can be injured or poisoned during the holidays unless their owners take proper preventive measures.”

Animals that travel by air are required to have a health certificate from a federally accredited veterinarian within 10 days of the flight. Corriveau says pet owners should bring medical and vaccination records as well as their own pet food. They also should research pet-friendly hotels and parks and try to keep their pets on the same schedule to minimize stress.

Those who will be driving with their pets to a holiday destination should use a carrier or a harness to ensure the pet’s safety as well others’ safety while driving. Some pets may benefit from a mild sedative to help with travel. This should be discussed with your veterinarian to decide what drug is best for your pet. Corriveau recommends that the drug should be tested on the pet in advance to make sure it has the desired effect.

If pet owners decide to board their pets, Corriveau offers the following tips:

> Ask to visit/tour the facility.

> Does your pet have special needs? Can the kennel care for those needs?

> Check to see if there is a veterinarian associated with the kennel.

> Take note of how they handle the animals and the facility’s cleanliness.

> Ask the staff about the services they offer and if there are structured daily activities.

“If your dog hasn’t been at a kennel for a while, and you’re leaving on a long-term vacation, it’s probably best to board your dog for a night or two before you go to get them used to it,” Corriveau says.

Another option is having someone come and pet sit at your residence.

If you decide to do this, Corriveau presents some advice:

> Ask the sitter to come multiple times a day or stay at your home with the pet.

> Get references.

> Search for certified professional pet sitters, or ask your veterinarian if he or she can recommend someone who offers this service.

> Find out if the caretaker is insured.

> Have a contact number for emergencies.

Even when owners don’t travel, holidays can be dangerous for pets. Homes should be pet-proofed when holiday decorations are out.

“Ribbons, shiny tinsel and noise-making ornaments are especially attractive and hazardous to cats,” Corriveau says. “Keep an eye on electrical cords to ensure puppies and kittens don’t chew on them.

“Decorative plants also are a source of danger. Mistletoe and holly can cause vomiting and lilies are often deadly to cats. Poinsettias, despite their reputation, are not deadly and often cause little more than mild stomach upset.”

Food also can be a problem for pets.

“Poultry bones, especially cooked, have potential to both break off and cause a perforation of the digestive tract, or if large amounts are consumed, could cause an obstruction,” Corriveau says.

She says other foods to avoid include grapes and raisins, excessively salty foods, foods flavored with onion or garlic powder, desserts and sweets containing Xylitol, and chocolates.

When pet owners host family and friends for large holiday gatherings, they should take their pets’ anxiety level into account.

“It might be best to keep pets confined if they are overly anxious,” Corriveau says. “Also, monitor people going in and out of the front door. Pets might take advantage and try to escape.”

Corriveau says keeping emergency contact information close is a good idea.

“Keep phone numbers for your veterinarian and the local animal emergency hospital handy,” she says. “A quick call to either of them can give you life-saving advice or even help you avoid a trip to the ER.

M. H. Archer, DVM
Loveland Veterinary House Call


Cold Weather Pet Safety

Here are some tips to keep your pets safe during cold weather:
Winter wellness: Has your pet had his/her preventive care exam (wellness exam) yet?  Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions such as arthritis. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, and it’s as good a time as any to get him/her checked out to make sure (s)he is ready and as healthy as possible for cold weather.
Know the limits:  Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly. You will probably need to shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.

Provide choices: Just like you, pets prefer comfortable sleeping places and may change their location based on their need for more or less warmth. Give them some safe options to allow them to vary their sleeping place to adjust to their needs.

Stay inside. Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather.
Make some noise: A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.
Check the paws: Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of iceball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes.
Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog’s feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
Wipe down: During walks, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
Collar and chip: Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find his/her way back home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification and contact information. A microchip is a more permanent means of identification, but it’s critical that you keep the registration up to date.
Stay home: Hot cars are a known threat to pets, but cold cars also pose significant risk to your pet’s health. You’re already familiar with how a car can rapidly cool down in cold weather; it becomes like a refrigerator, and can rapidly chill your pet. Pets that are young, old, ill, or thin are particularly susceptible to cold environments and should never be left in cold cars. Limit car travel to only that which is necessary, and don’t leave your pet unattended in the vehicle.
Prevent poisoning: Clean up any antifreeze spills quickly, as even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly. Make sure your pets don’t have access to medication bottles, household chemicals, potentially toxic foods such as onions, xylitol (a sugar substitute) and chocolate.
Protect family: Odds are your pet will be spending more time inside during the winter, so it’s a good time to make sure your house is properly pet-proofed. Use space heaters with caution around pets, because they can burn or they can be knocked over, potentially starting a fire. Check your furnace before the cold weather sets in to make sure it’s working efficiently, and install carbon monoxide detectors to keep your entire family safe from harm. If you have a pet bird, make sure its cage is away from drafts.
Avoid ice: When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other water. You don’t know if the ice will support your dog’s weight, and if your dog breaks through the ice it could be deadly. And if this happens and you instinctively try to save your dog, both of your lives could be in jeopardy.
Provide shelter: We don’t recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.
Recognize problems: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Be prepared: Cold weather also brings the risks of severe winter weather, blizzards and power outages. Prepare a disaster/emergency kit, and include your pet in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine (including any prescription medications as well as heartworm and flea/tick preventives) on hand to get through at least 5 days.
Feed well: Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter. Some pet owners feel that a little extra weight gives their pet some extra protection from cold, but the health risks associated with that extra weight don’t make it worth doing. Watch your pet’s body condition and keep them in the healthy range. Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm – talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s nutritional needs during cold weather.