Have a Safe and Stress-Free Holiday Season

Kitten in Christmas tree
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First, the bad news: Lots of pets end up at a vet’s office between Halloween and New Year’s Day with holiday-related injuries and illnesses, including a few caused by stress.

Now, the good news: You can prevent most, if not all, of these problems with a little planning and some old fashioned common sense. Here are some tips to keep your four-legged companions safe (and out of the ER) this holiday season.

Cut the Stress, Cut the Risk

Cats in particular are extremely susceptible to stress-related illnesses. Felines who are subjected to loud noises, unfamiliar house guests, boarding, diet changes and travel frequently develop serious urinary tract problems.

Take time before the holidays are in full swing to look at things through your cat’s eyes. He may be a highly social party animal, but if he's not, make sure he has somewhere to go when he needs to retreat from kids, guests and festivities. And stick to his routine as much as possible, avoiding changes like a new cat litter or diet during this time.

If you need to board your pet, have him checked out by your veterinarian first and ask for advice about medications that can reduce anxiety and stress. Your veterinarian can also recommend a pet sitter rather than a boarding facility. Cats, in particular, prefer their home turf and will be more relaxed if they’re cared for in their own homes.

Dogs, on the other hand, may do best with “home-style” pet sitting, in which a sitter brings your dogs home for the holidays and makes them part of her family. That’s what we do when we travel — and our dogs love it! Just be sure to plan ahead: The best pet sitters book far in advance for the holidays.

If your dogs are well-behaved and used to meeting lots of people — and it’s OK with your host — take them along and keep the family together for the holidays. Just make sure they’re up to date on parasite prevention and are well-groomed. No one needs a muddy, dreadlocked Golden Retriever in family photos! (And, yes, I have one, so I know what I’m talking about.)

Rich Holiday Fare Is Not Good for Pets

Who can resist the high-speed tail wag, the pleading eyes and that “feed me” dance of a dog or cat who’s desperate to taste the yummy holiday food you’re eating?

Foods that are too rich, fatty or spicy — or really anything your pet is not accustomed to — can trigger intestinal upset. For some animals, a treat can lead to a serious inflammation of the pancreas or intestine — and a life-threatening illness.

So what foods should you avoid? Anything you wouldn’t eat, for starters. And though a little bit of meat — beef or poultry — won’t hurt and would be appreciated, steer clear of the fatty parts and poultry skin.

Some foods shouldn’t be fed to pets, even in small amounts. These holiday staples include onions or dried onion powder — commonly used in stuffing — and often-overlooked ingredients, like the sweetener Xylitol, which is found in candies, gums and other dessert items. Xylitol is deadly in tiny amounts, even for large dogs, so read the labels on sweets!

Whether it’s Halloween candy or Hanukkah gelt, when it comes to dogs and chocolate, most veterinarians, including me, say no. It contains theobromine, which is highly toxic to canines (the darker the chocolate and smaller the dog, the higher the risk). It’s true that the danger of chocolate to pets is generally overblown, but since dogs have no need for it, why take the chance?

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