Holiday Tips for Well Behaved Pets

Hard to believe but it’s holiday time again! It’s so important to make the best of every moment in life. This year, don’t let your pet put a damper on your celebrations. With so much planning to do, so many distractions, it’s easy to forget the family pet. To avoid pet problems, here are some simple holiday tips to keep your pets safe and happy.

Holiday Decorations & Pet Safety

In case you didn’t already know, Christmas tree decorations can be hazardous. Tinsel or small ornaments can be swallowed and obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. Cats, ferrets, puppies and young dogs are particularly attracted to these items. Glass ornaments may fall and shatter; glass shards will cut your pet’s paws. To avoid these problems you might discontinue placing shiny tinsel and tiny or fragile ornaments on the lower branches of your tree. You could put up a barrier to block entry to the room where the tree is kept. Electrified mats can be placed around the base of your tree to deliver a mild but aversive foot shock (it feels like static electricity) that should keep inquisitive critters away. At least, rethink the ornaments you use to decorate your tree and your home so that they are pet friendly.

Keep children’s toys, as well as wrapping ribbons and bows, safely put away. Small parts of games, stuffed animals (think of plastic eyes, for instance), batteries and more can result in an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital. Give your puppies and dogs rawhide strips, sticks or batons (avoid knotted bones unless your dog unravels them) to keep their mouths busy with safer items.

Seasonal plants such as mistletoe and poinsettias are toxic to pets if ingested in sufficient quantity. Young pets in particular like to chew on novel items; pets at any age can occasionally nibble on house plants. To be safe, elevate those decorative, seasonal plants so that they remain safely out of your pet’s reach.

Holiday Parties & Your Pet

If you plan to entertain at home, consider boarding your pets the day of your party so they are not under foot. If you prefer to keep them at home, confine them to a quiet room of your home; use a large, roomy crate or pen if they are used to one already. This is not the time to socialize your pet. Place a “Do Not Enter” sign on the door to discourage curious adults and consider locking the door to keep out visiting children. This way, you can entertain your guests without concern for anyone’s safety. Don’t set your pet up for problems. Even the best natured pets can be frightened by strangers and feel compelled to defend themselves.

If your pet is unsupervised, keep food and appetizers away from pets by serving them from elevated surfaces. Be watchful of food that is dropped onto the floor. Keep that garbage can secure, too! Gastrointestinal upsets are common at veterinary clinics this time of year.

If you are traveling from home for a day or several days, ask friends, family, or neighbors to care for your pet cats or pocket pets (such as ferrets, hamsters, rabbits) in your home. Pets should be confined to a pet proofed room or to their familiar cages in your absence. Dogs can be boarded at a pet sitter’s home or at a kennel of your choice. Your veterinarian might even accommodate your pet in a luxury suite!

Holiday Tips for Well Behaved Pets

Follow your pet’s daily routine as closely as possible. We are all creatures of habit; routine is comforting. Schedule changes are stressful and inevitable, especially around the holidays. Try to compensate for this disruption by spending more quality time with your pet. For example, if you are going to a holiday party in the evening, take your dog for an extra long walk before you get ready to go so they are content to rest while you’re gone.

If your pets tend to be aggressive or fearful of people, suffer from separation anxiety syndrome, or have any other behavior problems, this is not the time to retrain them. There is just too much going on to focus on it now. But, by all means do address these issues of misbehavior when the festivities are over. Make it your New Year’s Resolution to get help for your misbehaving pet. Pet behavior problems can be dealt with after the holidays are over. For now, avoid the situations that could become disasters.

New Pets as Holiday Gifts

Around this time of year, it is tempting to give someone you care about a meaningful gift. However, pets are living, sensitive beings and not just inanimate objects to set on a shelf. Please think about whether a pet will be truly valued and loved for its lifetime, or be resented and seen as an imposition. Statistics show that pets who are gifted have a higher rate of turnover to shelters and their owners are less tolerant of any problems that arise.

Pets are loving creatures who deserve to be cherished for their lifetimes. All too often, acquiring a pet when the timing is not quite right can result in their abandonment or destruction. Pets are not disposable objects. That cute and cuddly Christmas puppy or kitten needs lots of time and energy to make certain it matures into a healthy, well-behaved pet. The holidays are not really the best time for more commitments when there are so many other things that require our time and consideration.

Warm wishes for a happy and healthy New Year to all,

Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, MSc, Diplomate ACVB


© Stefanie Schwartz 2012