PET DANGERS DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON
The holiday season is a stressful, hectic time, but it can also be a downright dangerous season for pets. Being aware of the hidden dangers that lurk in everything from holiday food and decorations to family visits is essential for all pet owners to safeguard their furred, feathered and scaled family members.
Top 10 Holiday Dangers to Pets – And How to Keep Safe
Many holiday things we enjoy – special foods and feasts, enchanting decorations, twinkling lights, gifts, visits from family and friends – can actually be dangerous to pets. Fortunately, avoiding these dangers is easy once we understand the potential risks.
- Poisonous Foods
Delicious treats are part of any holiday. Not only do we often have special treats out for snacking, but we might even prepare a holiday meal plate to share with our pets. Many holiday ingredients, however, are toxic to animals. The onions in stuffing, spices on a turkey, fat from ham, salt in gravy, chocolate in baked goods, raisins from fruitcake, many types of nuts and any alcohol – all are harmful to pets and even small amounts can be dangerous.
Protect Your Pets: Keep holiday foods out of reach of pets, including accomplished counter-surfers, and never feed your pet from the table. Provide only pet-friendly treats, and be sure pets cannot get into trash or leftovers.
- Toxic Plants
From Christmas trees to poinsettias, Christmas cactuses, holly, lilies, amaryllis and mistletoe, plants are part of holiday decorations and can be lovely additions to home décor to celebrate the season. These same plants, however, are toxic to pets and can be dangerous if pets ingest leaves, berries or needles. Not only can oils in the plants cause dangerous reactions, but sharp leaves or needles might cause internal irritations, cuts or punctures that can be life-threatening.
Protect Your Pets: Keep plants out of reach of pets or opt for artificial plants that won't have the toxic affects if pets do come into contact with them.
- Tinsel, Garland and Ribbons
Glittery decorations on trees, packages and mantles is beautiful during the holidays, but tinsel, garland and ribbons aren't beautiful to pets. These items can be choking hazards, and can cause intestinal blockages if ingested. Wire-edged decorations can also be sharp hazards if pets nibble on them, causing cuts to the mouth and gums or internal injuries if bits of wire are swallowed.
Protect Your Pets: Do not play with garland or tinsel decorations, and keep dangling ends or swags well out of pet's reach. Do not use ribbons or tinsel as festive collars, and instead buy a pet-safe holiday collar if you want your pet wearing seasonal gear.
- Electrical Cords
From twinkling light strands to inflatable lawn décor to air mattresses for visitors, our homes can be strewn with plugs and cords during the holidays. Pets that chew or tug on these tempting items may suffer from tangle injuries, choking or even shocks or burns if cords short circuit.
Stay Safe: Keep cords neatly wrapped so pets can't reach them, or put cords under rugs or other barriers out of reach. Unplug cords when not in use or when you won't be home, and check regularly for cord damage or frayed wires to ensure wiring stays safe.
Ornaments are stunning holiday decorations whether they are hung on trees, displayed in bowls, draped in garlands or wound into wreaths. Unfortunately, pets may see them as irresistible treats, and broken glass or sharp plastic from shattered ornaments can cause severe cuts and internal injuries to pets.
Stay Safe: Train animals to keep away from trees and other decorations, and opt for shatterproof ornaments whenever possible. Position delicate ornaments well out of a pet's reach, or keep pets out of the room with the decorated tree entirely.
Candles on menorahs, mantles or centerpieces are delightful decorations. A a flame's flicker, however, can be tempting for playful pets, and fire is a real hazard to fur and skin. Furthermore, scented candles are infused with oils that, while delicious to smell, can be toxic if pets accidentally ingest them.
Stay Safe: Opt for flameless battery-powered candles instead of real flames, and never leave candles burning unattended. Be sure there are no flammable materials near any lit candle to avoid the risk of fire.
Many people celebrate with exuberant fireworks, but loud noises and explosions can frighten pets. If pets are nearby when fireworks are used, they may also be at risk for burns from smoldering rockets or out-of-control launches. Leftover bits of burned wrappers and gunpowder are also toxic to pets.
Stay Safe: Keep pets indoors when fireworks are used, and follow all safely precautions when lighting fireworks. Clean up all debris when it is cooled and dispose of it out of reach of pets.
- Too Many Visitors
Visits from friends and family are a wonderful part of the holidays, but extra guests can disorient pets, especially when new visitors use unfamiliar commands or treat pets differently. Children may not know how to safely interact with pets, or overnight visitors may accidentally leave medication or other unsafe items accessible to pets, leading to numerous problems.
Stay Safe: Introduce guests to pets properly, and let them know what commands or house rules are necessary for pets' safety. Be sure pets have a safe, calm space to retreat if needed, such as a comfortable crate or room where guests don't visit.
It's unfortunate that the holidays can be so filled with extra chores, tasks and events that we may not spend as much time with our pets as we normally do. This can lead to accidentally missed meals, fewer walks or playtime sessions or other inadvertent neglect that can cause stress or other problems for pets.
Stay Safe: Make time each day for your pets. If necessary, assign different pet care chores to different family members so everyone pitches in to help be sure a pet gets the proper care throughout the holiday season.
With so much coming and going during the holidays, it's easy for a clever pet to slip out of a door or gate unnoticed. This can lead to many dangers, including being lost, hit by a vehicle, encountering predators, cold exposure, coming across toxic chemicals and more.
Stay Safe: Take extra care to watch pets near any escape points, and be sure they are always wearing collars and identification tags. Get your pet microchipped so you can be reunited if they do become lost.
The holidays are a great time, but also a dangerous time for pets. By being aware of the top pet dangers during the holiday season, however, owners can take all the necessary steps to keep their pets safe, comfortable and happy during every holiday celebration.
COLD WEATHER SAFETY FOR PETS
When temperatures drop, we layer up in warm clothes, turn up the furnace, enjoy hot drinks, and take other steps to stay warm and safe. But what about our pets? Practicing good cold weather safety for pets is essential to keep all our furry, scaled, and feathered family members safe and comfortable in winter.
HOW ANIMALS ADAPT TO COLD
Animals have many natural adaptations to cold weather. Our furry friends may grow a thicker winter coat, while many animals will gain weight in autumn to store an insulating layer of fat just under their skin. Some animals slow their metabolism by sleeping more in winter or could completely hibernate, while others will burrow into cozy nooks when the temperatures drop. Some animals even completely migrate to avoid cold weather. All of these adaptations help wild animals survive even through the chilliest months.
Our pets, however, do not live their natural, wild lives. Many of the animals we keep as pets, for example, would never naturally be found in our home climates or habitats, and their natural adaptations may not be adequate to protect them from severe winters. Fortunately, we can easily help our pets stay safe through the winter, no matter how cold it may be or how much snow and ice may accumulate.
KEEPING PETS SAFE IN COLD WEATHER
There are many steps pet owners can take to keep their animal friends healthy, safe, and comfortable in cold weather. Different steps will apply to different types of animals and some animals are more cold-hardy than others, but understanding how to help animals stay safe in cold weather is the first step to protecting pets.
- Never shave your pet’s coat in winter. While a shorter cut may be helpful in summer heat, it is important to keep your pet’s natural coat intact in the winter. A slight trim around the paws, rear end, or on heavily feathered limbs can minimize the accumulation of snow and ice balls, but any more extensive shaving can rob your pet of natural insulation.
- Brush your pet often, but minimize baths. Regular brushing can keep your pet’s coat from becoming tangled and matted, which would disrupt its insulating properties. Try not to bathe your pet frequently during cold weather, however, because the dampness as they dry can make them more susceptible to chills, including frostbite and hypothermia.
- Consider cold weather attire. Short-coated pets can easily wear sweaters, coats, and booties to augment their natural fur coat in winter. While cats don’t tend to tolerate wearing cold weather gear too well, many dogs readily adapt to these accessories. Be sure the clothing fits well and does not present a choke or tangle hazard to your pet, and always keep the clothing clean.
- Rinse and dry your pet’s paws after walks. Even a short walk can expose your pet to salts and other de-icing chemicals that could be toxic if ingested. As soon as you return home, rinse your pet’s paws in warm water and dry them thoroughly. Use this opportunity to examine each paw for any chapping, cuts, or cracks that could be painful as well. If your pet has short legs, also rinse and dry their belly where they may have rubbed on the snow.
- Keep chemicals out of reach. Keep all your own cold weather chemicals – salts, de-icers, antifreeze, etc. – well out of reach of pets, and clean up any spills quickly. Many of these chemicals are highly toxic and even ingesting a small amount could be dangerous, even fatal, to your pet. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling these chemicals so you don’t accidently bring them into contact with your pet.
- Adjust your pet’s diet as needed. While indoor pets may exercise less and not need extra calories for warmth in winter, outdoor pets can benefit from some extra feed because they will use much more energy to maintain their body heat in winter. Be mindful of your pet’s appropriate weight, however, and do not offer so much food that they gain weight to a dangerous level in winter.
- Provide a warm sleeping place. All pets should have a warm, comfortable sleeping place during cold weather. Ideally, the bed should be off the floor (providing a pet bed is a great option), and adding an extra blanket or deeper bedding can be helpful for better insulation. Be sure the bed – whether it is a pile of blankets, a snug cage, a tank, or other fixture – is out of drafty areas.
- Protect your pets from overheating. It can be tempting to put pet cages, tanks, and carriers close to heaters in the winter, but this could lead to dangerous overheating. Take care that your pet is not suffering from too much heat, and that they are not at risk from fireplaces, candles, space heaters, or other heat sources. Check tank heaters and heat lamps regularly to be sure they are set correctly and functioning properly.
- Provide warm water for drinking. Icy water can quickly chill your pet from the inside out. Using heated pet bowls for outdoor pets during cold weather will keep the water from being too cold or completely frozen and undrinkable. Having an adequate supply of fresh, liquid water is critical to keep your pet hydrated and healthy even in cold weather.
- Take shorter walks and play indoors instead. It’s important that your pet gets good exercise year-round, but outdoor play and long walks may not be safe in very cold weather. Instead, take shorter walks and plan indoor games to keep your pet exercised and in good shape. New games will also provide mental stimulation to ward off anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Stay off icy surfaces. When walking or playing outdoors in winter, keep your pet off icy surfaces that could lead to dangerous slip and fall accidents, and avoid iced-over water altogether to avoid the possibility of falling through broken ice. Ice shards can also be sharp and could cut delicate paws, so it is best to avoid these dangerous surfaces.
- Keep your pet’s identification updated. Be sure your pet’s collar has updated identification tags, and if your pet is microchipped, check that the chips’s registration data is also updated. In cold weather, snow and ice can change the landscape and bury scent markers, and if a pet gets lost they may not be able to find their way home. Updated identification can help you reunite with a lost pet quickly and safely.
- Use reflective collars, leashes, and clothing. Because winter days are shorter and it can get dark quickly, be sure your pet’s collar, harness, and leash have some reflective material to make them more visible. Similarly, have reflective material on your own coat and wear brighter colors that will be easier to see.
- Be aware of special needs. Cold weather can be especially dangerous for pets with special needs, such as youngsters or senior pets, or pets with health conditions that could be exacerbated by severe cold. A pet with arthritis, for example, may have more difficulty getting around in cold weather, or a pet with metabolism issues may need more dietary adjustments in winter.
- Recognize the signs of cold stress. No matter what type of pet you have, be alert to the signs of cold stress, from shivering and lethargy to symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. Different pets may show symptoms in different ways, and being aware of your pet’s needs will help you notice problems quickly so you can help your pet recover.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Stock up on pet supplies, including medication, food, and other needs, in case you are snowed in or there may be an extended power loss during cold weather. This will help you provide proper care for your pet in cold weather no matter what the situation.
Cold weather can be dangerous for all types of pets, but there are many steps you can take to keep your animal companions safe and comfortable no matter how low the temperature drops.
DENTAL CARE TIPS FOR YOUR PET
Healthy teeth and gums are essential for all pets, from chewing and eating to grooming, defense and clean breath. With just a few steps, pet owners can keep their pet's mouth healthy and avoid a range of unpleasant and dangerous health issues that result from poor dental care.
Know the Signs
The first step to proper pet dental care is recognizing problems so any issues can be addressed immediately. Watch your pet for these signs that indicate their teeth or gums are in trouble…
- Strong, offensive smells on the breath
- Swollen or discolored gums (pink is normal)
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at the mouth
- Trouble chewing or signs of pain while eating
- Loose or missing teeth
If any of these signs are noticed, it is best to take your pet to the veterinarian for a dental checkup.
Good Dental Care
The best way to avoid dental problems is to establish a healthy mouth regimen for your cat or dog.
- Clean your pet's teeth regularly with an appropriate pet toothbrush and toothpaste; human-sized tools and human toothpaste are not suitable and can be dangerous. Ideally, aim for cleaning a pet's teeth 2-3 times per week.
- Schedule annual dental checkups with your veterinarian to remove tartar buildup and look for more serious issues. Ask for professional tips for home cleanings and care if your pet resists having its teeth cleaned.
- Include dry, crunchy food in your pet's diet. Hard foods help scrape away soft tartar before it can harden, and leave less debris in your pet's mouth that can cause further tooth decay.
- Offer suitable chew toys to satisfy your pet's gnawing instincts and help scrape away tartar and food debris before it can cause more severe dental problems. Chewing also helps massage your pet's gums and strengthen teeth to prevent further decay.
With proper care, cats and dogs can enjoy healthy teeth for life, and pet owners can easily minimize the risk of tooth and gum problems that can lead to greater health issues and discomfort for their pet.