Pets At Christmas: How To Keep Your Animals Happy And Well – Forbes

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but pet owners need to be particularly vigilant during these heady days of pine needles and eggnog.
Veterinary group Linnaeus is warning pet owners to be aware of Christmas hazards which could result in an emergency trip to the vet for their animals over the festive period.
Dr Simon Hayes, veterinary surgeon and Linnaeus’ primary care medical director, says Christmas can present several potential issues for pets, as homes are decorated for the season and a range of tempting food is often left lying around.
Drink, too, can be dangerous – and a traditional Christmas favourites, such as cream liqueurs – can prove particularly dispiriting for animals.
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Dr Hayes says: “Christmas can present a bit of a minefield for pet owners. For example, dogs will drink most forms of alcohol left in glasses, so people need to be wary of leaving drinks where their animals can easily access them.
“If it does happen, the signs of ethanol intoxication are similar to those in humans – vomiting, depression, a lack of co-ordination, disorientation and drowsiness. Dogs with these conditions need warmth, rehydration and immediate nursing care.”
Food items which should be on the radars of pet owners include grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas, which can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats, along with macadamia nuts, raw onions, and foods such as walnuts, bread and cheese, which can all be harmful.
Other items which present risks to pets include ribbons on presents, tinsel, sharp tree needles, low-lying fairy lights, chestnuts and chocolate, which is often one of the most common causes for a trip to the vets.
The experts at Pets4Homes note some other hidden dangers:
Blue cheese is rich and fatty and likely to pass right through your dog. Such cheese can contain blue mould, known as roquefortine C. This is a mycotoxin, or fungal poison, which is not present in large enough quantities to pose a hazard to people, but can affect dogs severely. Keep all dirty dishes out of your dog’s reach, and avoid any under-the-table snacks.
Homemade dough ornaments have a concentration of salt that makes them toxic to dogs and can result in salt toxicosis, which can be fatal. Keep your dog safe by placing these ornaments high on the tree, or entirely out of your dog’s reach.
Many gifts and ornaments require disposable batteries, and some dogs view them as edible or a chew toy. This is very dangerous and can result in a lot of different problems, from internal blockages to lead poisoning to acid burns. Keep batteries well out of your dog’s reach.
Other festive items which could cause harm include plants such as mistletoe, poinsettia, holly and ivy, which can all cause upset stomachs, while lilies can be very harmful to cats.
And just because over-eating is the norm for many of us at Christmas, this doesn’t translate for pets.  Dr Tammie King, animal behaviourist at Mars Petcare, says: “Avoid overfeeding your pet. We all like to overindulge during the festive season but certain foods, especially those high in fat such as sausages, hams, cheeses, butter and creams can be of serious concern to pets if fed in high quantities and may result in pancreatitis.
“Keep food stuffs out of reach to prevent them stealing your turkey prior to the big day and ending up at the vet with serious medical concerns. Always have contacts details for an emergency vet on standby over the holiday period.”
It’s not only what the pet might consume that needs to be considered when it comes to its overall welfare, as Dr King points out: “Festive time generally means changes to the household – think Christmas tree, lights, decorations, music, as well as hustle and bustle in the family home which can cause unrest in some pets.
“Mitigate any stress your pets may be feeling by respecting their space, allowing them to have their quiet area to retreat to, should they wish, such as a comfortable den/crate/bed for your dog in another room, or an elevated, enclosed resting station with cosy bed for your cat.”
“Allow your pet to make choices if they want to engage with people. Don’t force interactions. Be mindful of pet body language. Get familiar with what your pet may be trying to tell you through their body posture, vocalisations and/or facial expressions.
“Many people like to dress up their pets in novelty wear over the holiday season, however this can cause many pets discomfort and distress. Instead, leave your pet with a long-lasting chew, or toy when you are planning on going out, so they have something pleasurable to do in your absence.”
It’s also important to keep up familiar routines and give the pet the amount of attention and affection it is used to. Dr King adds: “Maintain regular walks, mealtimes and play sessions. Take time out to interact with your pet and make them feel special.
“If you are travelling with your pet, consider their needs and belongings. Bring enough food and any medication, as well as familiar items such as toys and bedding.”
Dr Hayes adds: “Christmas can often be a busy and quite chaotic time. You can help your pet cope with the chaos by keeping to their normal routine and, if you are spending Christmas Day with family away from home, by taking your pet along with something which smells familiar to help them feel secure.”
The social component can be particularly tricky for cats. Claire Bessant, chief executive of International Cat Care says: “Not all cats are relaxed around lots of people, and not all cats will enjoy more attention. If you know your cat is anxious or fearful, then think ahead and provide places to get away from everyone, which can be a refuge until normality returns.  
“Make this available before people arrive, so the cat is aware of where it can go. Provide extra litter trays if necessary so the cat does not have to venture into or through busy areas to get to the tray or to its food.
“If you don’t, the cat may find somewhere it feels safe to urinate or defecate – which may not prove popular.”
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When is comes to cats and Christmas, Ms Bessant says they need to be kept safe and happy: “For safety, we think about having poisonous plants or berries in the house, dangerous toys or baubles, or foods which may cause harm.
“Cats are probably much less likely to eat chocolate or raisins, which can be very dangerous for a greedy dog, but if you know you have a cat that likes unusual food, then you know you just need to be a bit careful.
“Kittens are more likely to climb the Christmas tree, pull it down or pull decorations off, so it may be wise to leave off the most breakable decorations or put them up high. Berries which seem firmly affixed to displays may dry out over the holiday and fall off and become something to play with, so just check and brush them up.
“Likewise, presents often come with packaging which contains silica packets or may be filled with pieces of foil which glitter and sparkle and which may be ingested by kittens.
“If you think about what is dangerous for babies and young children, then consider these carefully for your cat. Bear in mind that cats can climb up to areas which would be beyond children. Consider age and activity level and how much temptation it may be for an inquisitive cat.”
Whether or not a pet makes a good Christmas present is a vexed issue, but the experts are generally against the idea. Dr King says: “I’m against pets being bought as Christmas gifts, especially if the gift receiver has no idea what they are about to receive. A pet is a big commitment which requires careful consideration by potential pet parents.”
Bill Lambert, health and welfare expert at The Kennel Club says: “Buying a puppy is a huge decision and all prospective owners should do the proper research and have all the facts available so that they can make an informed decision.
“We know there has been a surge in demand for puppies during the pandemic. The current mismatch between supply and demand can lead to more people being duped by rogue breeders and scammers, and inadvertently fuelling low-welfare breeders.”
Data from the government bears this out:
In addition, a survey of British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) members found nearly two thirds (68%) of pet owners were unaware that the clinical and behavioural signs of their pet may be linked to low welfare breeding practices.  
Professor Christine Middlemiss, the government’s chief veterinary officer, says: “Christmas can be a difficult time to settle a pet into a new home, and it’s vitally important that people not only research the breed of animal they want, but also the person selling it to them.
“Puppies and kittens bred in low-welfare conditions can often be separated from their mother too soon, which can lead to severe health and behavioural problems, heartache and high vet bills for their new family. We urge people to remain vigilant and to always thoroughly research pet sellers before getting in touch.”
The government is running a “Don’t get petfished” campaign to urge the public not to buy pets at Christmas and, in any event, to scrutinise the seller to make sure they are legitimate and the animal is not the product of a puppy farm or illegal trading.
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After a stint at NBC News London, I was part of the launch team for MSNBC in New York. I have been reporting on news, lifestyle and entertainment for more than two decades. My passion is storytelling and I am a lifelong lover of an international departure desk.

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