Pets and the Holiday Season:

As you prepare for the holidays, it’s easy to forget about the small things that can cause a real danger to dogs and cats. By taking a little time to ensure your home is ready for a pet-friendly holiday, you can avoid possible tragedy or large vet bills. Here are 8 tips for pet owners during the holidays:

1. Secure the Tree
Decorating your home can be one of the best holiday traditions. If you have a Christmas tree, keep this in mind: Dogs and cats can be drawn to the exhilarating outdoor smells that the tree brings inside, so make sure it’s secure in the stand so pets don’t accidentally push it over.

2. Choose Ornaments Wisely
Ornaments, tinsel and lights can cause serious hazards. Keep both breakable ornaments and small stuffed ones out of reach; they can easily be mistaken for a dog or cat toy. Wires for lights need to be hidden so your pets don’t chew through them and cause an electrical shock.
Ornamental string, ribbons and tinsel may attract your cat. Although he will love playing with these decorations, they can cause damage to his GI tract. It may be easier to keep your tree separate, perhaps in a room where the animals cannot enter or put up a baby gate.

3. Avoid Giving Your Pet Fragile Presents
If you choose to give your pet gifts for the holiday, make sure the presents are big enough to minimize the choking hazard.
Be aware of your dog’s chewing habits; if you have a puppy or an active chewer, avoid toys that can be broken into smaller pieces.
Even a dog, who rarely chews anything can be tempted. New stuffed squeaker toys can be a hit. Make sure that if your dog rips out the squeaker, you quickly throw it away.

4. Keep Harmful Foods Away From Your Pets
Sweet, fatty and spicy foods that we commonly eat during the holidays are certainly not intended for pets and can cause an upset stomach or even life-threatening illness.
If you have these foods around your home, make sure they are securely put away and out of reach to avoid an emergency.

5. Stay Away From Dangerous Holiday Plants
Christmas Tree:
Christmas trees are considered to be mildly toxic. The fir tree oils can irritate the mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling or vomiting. The tree needles are not easily digested either; possibly causing GI irritation, vomiting, gastrointestinal obstruction or puncture. The amount of trouble depends on how much is consumed.

Poinsettia Plant:
Many people associate the Poinsettia plant with extreme toxicity, but this is not true. In fact, it is largely an urban legend, dating back to 1919, according to David Emery, About.com Guide to Urban Legends. The sap of Poinsettias is considered to be mildly toxic/irritating, and may cause nausea or vomiting if ingested, but not death.

Mistletoe and Holly:

A couple of holiday plants, specifically Mistletoe and Holly, are considered to be moderately to severely toxic, and you should call your veterinarian or poison control center immediately for specific advice.

Common Clinical Signs Seen
Signs most commonly seen with toxic plant ingestion relate to the gastrointestinal tract: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes excessive salivation (drooling). In some cases, such as holly berry ingestion, tremors or seizures may be seen, followed by coma and death.

6. Helpful Holiday Party Hints
If you plan to throw a holiday party, consider leaving a cute, festive note on the food table to remind guests not to share holiday treats with the pets. Drinking cups (especially those filled with alcohol) and plates should be kept out of reach of your pets.
Another tip: Give your pets an early dinner before the party so they are less tempted to beg for food.

7. Create a Safe Haven for Pets During Parties
During parties, some pets can become overstimulated and stressed out, so have a safety spot available. This location should be away from the festivities and should have fresh water, a couple of toys and a comfortable place to sleep.

8. Prevent Your Pet From Slipping Out
With all the people coming in and out of your door, it can be easy for a pet to sneak outside. Have your pet’s microchip and tag information up-to-date. Notify your neighbors that you will be having a party and to call you right away if they see one of your pets outside unattended.

(This information can be found at http://www.petful.com/behaviors/keep-your-pets-safe-during-holidays/).

Losing your pet during the holidays:

Losing a pet is always difficult. Add to it the stress of the holidays and feelings of guilt and the grief can be overwhelming.
Our pets feel stress too: Things are busy, people are in and out of the house , family members arrive for the holidays or you are going out of town and your pet is going to a kennel.

The pet owners’ reaction always depends on how they lost their pet. If the pet has been ill for some time it can be a feeling of relief that the suffering is finally over (this is true any time of the year). If the pet died due to an accident (eating something they shouldn’t have, slipping out of the house unnoticed and getting hit by a car) feelings of guilt are common and normal.

It is okay to feel sad, impatient or even angry that everyone around you is celebrating while you grieve the loss of your pet.
Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Grieving doesn’t have a time limit and just because it is Christmas doesn’t mean you should be happy. Surround yourself with people who understand and can help you cope. Think of the happy times you enjoyed with your pet. Talk about your pet to people who have lost pets in the past or are pet owners.

If you are comfortable doing so, keep your pets’ picture, toys or other memorials on display. This can help make you feel that your pet is still part of the festivities.

Here is the contact information for a grief counselor we work with:
Bereavement Support & Education-Ottawa
Ian Henderson

Have a safe and happy Holiday Season.

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