Visiting Vet: Have a pet-friendly holiday

Prepare yourself, your pet, and your vet ahead of the celebration.

Dr. Jasny suggests that people enjoy their holidays, and also keep their pets safe by taking the necessary precautions. — Michelle Gerhard Jasny V.M.D.

On Monday, Nov. 21, I took the turkey out of the freezer. OK, I asked my husband Max to do it, but I was the one who remembered. OK, it was actually a Facebook post that reminded me to ask Max to take the turkey out. On Tuesday, Nov. 22, I double-checked my holiday menu and made sure I had all the ingredients. OK, Max actually went grocery shopping, but I was the one who made the list and reminded him to go. On Wednesday, Nov. 23, I made cranberry-orange relish, Hermine Hull’s corn pudding, and prepped stuffing and vegetables, then woke my young adult children in time to bake three beautiful pies together. So on Thanksgiving day, all I had to do was cook the turkey and the already prepped side dishes, and make gravy, leaving plenty of time to watch the parade, the dog show, and the Pats with my family. 

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to plan ahead for the holidays. It will make your life and that of your pets (and vets) so much easier. Let’s start with travel plans. If you’re going away and leaving Dasher the dachshund in a kennel, please check that his vaccinations are up-to-date, and meet the requirements of your boarding facility, right now. Contact your veterinarian immediately if Dasher needs any boosters. If not, make sure you have the necessary proof of vaccination. I am happy to email or fax records, but always advise owners to bring hard copies with them when dropping off their pets at the kennel — just in case. 

Is Dasher going with you on your journey? Whether by plane or by car, don’t expect your veterinarian to know the requirements for every destination. Research it yourself, right now. Health certificates take time, and your veterinarian may not have an open appointment for weeks. International health certificates can take forever. Please don’t call us the day before you are leaving in a panic. Traveling by car? Get proper pet carriers for small dogs and cats, and doggie safety restraints for larger dogs. Pets should not travel in the front seat, as airbags can cause them serious injury in the event of a crash. Make sure every pet is wearing clear identification in case they escape or get lost en route. Does Dasher need medication for travel anxiety or car sickness? When should you call your veterinarian to get such medication? That’s right — right now. What else do you need? A copy of his medical records, including vaccines, in case he gets sick while visiting grandma. Food and water bowls. A snug collar or harness. A leash. A bag of his usual food. We don’t want him getting gastroenteritis because you forgot to pack his food and a sudden change gives him diarrhea during Christmas dinner. 

Staying home for the holidays? Is company coming? Having a party? Prancer the pussycat may not be quite as thrilled as you are. Pets can be stressed by all the excitement. Give Dasher and Prancer safe spaces to hide away from the guests. Let guests know ahead of time you are a pet-friendly household, in case they have allergies. Does Dasher have, um, behavior issues? Don’t take chances. Keep anxious or aggressive dogs safely secured away from visitors at all times, with a long-lasting treat and maybe the TV on to keep them occupied and happy. Put a sign on the door so no one enters uninvited, or inadvertently lets Dasher dash. 

Is your sister coming to stay and bringing Vixen, her vizsla? Will Dasher and Prancer let Vixen join in all their reindeer games? A cautionary tale. More than once I have had emergency calls when a visiting dog mauled or even killed the host’s cat. Pets may seem OK together at first, but something may trigger them, and bad things happen. Please, spend time introducing pets to each other, and even if they seem to get along, supervise closely. Feed them separately. Do not overstimulate them, or expect them to share toys or treats. 

Speaking of treats, let’s review holiday food hazards. Please clear away food from the table, counters, kitchen. Make sure nothing tempting is even remotely in reach, including trash. Bones should go right outside, into well-secured garbage cans. If you want to give Prancer and Dasher a few festive table scraps, I don’t mind, but use common sense. Too much rich food can trigger all kinds of problems, from vomiting and diarrhea to life-threatening pancreatitis. Foods that can be toxic even in small amounts include chocolate, alcohol, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, raw bread dough, onions, and anything artificially sweetened with xylitol, including sugar-free gum. 

Then there are the nonfood holiday dangers, like tinsel and ribbons. Cats like to play with these, but if ingested, they can cause fatal intestinal obstructions. Also Christmas ornaments — they break. I once saw a puppy who actually ate the broken ornament pieces (he was OK, but it was scary). Electrical cords. Puppies (and free-roaming house rabbits) in particular seem to like to chew or bite these cords. Besides the risk of electrocution, they can get terrible burns in their mouths, and even if they seem fine initially, may develop deadly fluid in the lungs up to a day later. Mistletoe and holly, especially the berries, are toxic if ingested. Poinsettia, however, are needlessly maligned, and usually will only cause vomiting and diarrhea, not serious toxicity, when eaten. Still, best to keep them out of reach.

And if all you Hanukkah celebrators think you’re safe, my final holiday warning is about candles. Open flames are always hazardous around pets, especially curious cats, who like to explore and knock things over. Make sure all candles are extinguished before you leave the house or go to bed. So plan ahead for the holidays, so pets and vets and all people can celebrate safely. That reminds me. I have to get out our menorahs and find the boxes of Hanukkah candles. Hey, Max?