Pet Health Tips: Holidays

The Hazards of the 4th of July

by Cheryl Goeldner

This holiday period, you may be planning a family outing and a fireworks showing. There are some potential dangers to your pets that you should be aware of. In addition to the physical risks of injuries and burns, many animals will be fearful of the noises from fireworks. Dogs and cats have excellent hearing and may be sensitive to noises that are up to a mile away. During their panic, animals will seek out any means to escape, such as digging under fences, chewing through their leashes or jumping through screened or glass windows and doors. In fact, July 5th is one of the busiest days of the year for humane societies and shelters due to so many frightened animals that have run away due to firework noises.

Another hazard during the holiday may be the summertime heat. Dogs and cats are prone to heatstroke, which can be fatal. Signs of heatstroke include excessive panting or rapid breathing, uncontrollable urination or defecation, elevated temperature, excessive drooling and color change of the gums (bright red to blue or white). If your pet exhibits signs of heatstroke, first call your veterinarian or your local emergency clinic. Cool your pet down by applying rubbing alcohol to the paw pads, apply ice packs to the groin area, hose down with water, offer Pedialyte and allow your pet to eat ice chips. Monitor your pet’s rectal temperature closely; once it reaches 100-102 degrees, stop the cooling down process.

Here are some tips to keeping your pets safe during the 4th:

  1. Make sure your pet has identification in case they run away.
  2. Keep them away from fireworks! This includes not setting off fireworks near your pet or taking them to firework displays.
  3. Make sure they are kept in a well-confined area. This could be your garage, basement, bathroom or a pet crate. You may want to consider leaving the radio or television on to drown out firework booms.
  4. If you already know that your pet has noise phobias (such as being scared of thunderstorms), you should consult with your veterinarian to discuss the possibility of receiving medication to help keep your pet calm.
  5. Be sure to have cool, fresh water at all times for your pet. Make sure shade is available if your pet is with you outdoors. Doghouses may not be good shelter because they can actually trap heat.
  6. Never leave your pet in a parked car in the summer heat! If the day is very hot, avoid strenuous exercise and take your dog on walks during the early morning or the evening.
  7. Call your veterinarian with any questions or concerns!

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The Holiday Top Ten; A Survival Guide for Your Pet

The holidays are wonderful times for families and friends. But they aren’t without risks for our animal companions. Here’s a short list of some things to consider as you prepare for your holiday gatherings…


Pets can sometimes be overexcited, confused, or frightened by the onslaught of holiday guests. You can help by keeping your pet in a quiet part of the house, and making sure he/she has a safe retreat from children and well-intentioned visitors. Keep your pet’s bed or kennel in a safe place and be sure guests know that it’s off limits.


Many of the items we keep in our homes can be toxic to pets. Chocolate consumption is a serious pet poisoning risk, especially for dogs. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which can be fatally toxic to dogs if they eat enough of it. And dogs aren’t famous for their ability to control their appetites! Furthermore, the types of chocolate we find in our kitchens at holiday times, like bittersweet or baking chocolate, contain far more theobromine than the average Hershey bar. If your dog gets into some chocolate, be sure to call your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately to see if your pet needs medical attention.


Long, skinny pieces of plastic or string can be very dangerous to our furry friends. Cats and kittens seem to find shiny tinsel especially appealing. If eaten, thin pieces of string or tinsel can cause the intestines to bunch up, and can even cut through the intestinal wall! Either could be fatal, and would certainly mean a trip to the veterinarian’s office.

Electric cords

Light strands, loose wires, and electric cords can be a serious hazard to your pet. Some animals, especially puppies, may chew cords and put themselves at risk of serious burns or electric shock. So, how can you tell if your dog or cat has been electrocuted? The animal may appear normal immediately after the injury. However, approximately 1-36 hours following the chewing incident, pulmonary edema starts to develop. This means that the lungs begin to fill with fluid and the animal displays very labored breathing, with an increased breathing rate and coughing. It looks like the animal can’t catch his or her breath. Another clue that your pet has been chewing on an electrical cord, is that the tongue or lips may have a white or seared area across it.


Kids and adults alike enjoy celebrating with fireworks, horns, bells, and whistles. But to the sensitive ears of our pets, these can be extremely frightening. If you anticipate that some fireworks or noisemakers will be within earshot of your pets, make sure your pet is in a safe place away from the noise. Also, be certain that your pet isn’t able to escape the house or yard. If fireworks are a particular problem for your pet around holidays like New Year’s, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of getting some medications to help your pet through these stressful times.


As you deck the halls, trim the tree, or light the menorah, keep in mind that pets don’t understand the words “breakable,” “family heirloom,” or “sentimental value.” Rambunctious dogs, cats, and ferrets have been known to topple many an ornament and knick-knack, and sometimes even whole Christmas trees. You can help prevent breaks and mishaps by keeping weighty ornaments close to the floor, and valuable ornaments out of reach from curious mouths, noses, and wagging tails. Keep knick-knacks on shelves inaccessible to your animal companions. Also, make sure Christmas trees are tethered to a nearby wall or window frame if you have ferrets or cats fond of climbing!


The dancing flames and shadows thrown by candles are tantalizing to pets. But disaster can strike in an instant if a candle is toppled by a curious animal, or worse still, if a pet sets him/herself alight. Of course, candles should never be left burning unattended. But also make sure pets are kept a safe distance from lit candles for their own safety and ours.

Decorative Plants

Some plants and greenery like Holly, Ivy, and Mistletoe can be very toxic if a pet ingests them. Visit the ASPCA for a full list of poisonous plants. If you have an emergency, you can call the animal poison control hotline at 1-(888)-426-4435.


We aren’t the only ones who sometimes take too much of a good thing. Table scraps, garbage raiding, and counter surfing can add up to lots of rich food in your pet’s stomach, which may lead to stomach upset. Even worse, too much rich food can lead to serious inflammation of the pancreas, which can be life-threatening. Stick to your pet’s normal dieteven though he/she may encourage you not to!

New Pets

Many of us love the thought of surprising somebody with a new puppy or kitten on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a time that’s worse for bringing a new pet into the home! The holiday household is full of hustling and bustling, decorations, toys, treats, and sometimes even a little bit of stress! All of the excitement can cause a new pet to be confused or overstimulated. If you’ve decided it’s time for a new family member, wait until the week AFTER the holiday, puppy- or kitten-proof the house, and introduce your new pet into a quiet, safe environment. Don’t forget to ask your veterinarian for advice on selecting your new pet!

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Keep the holiday season safe for your pets

There is more to making sure feline and canine friends are happy this season than just wrapping a bone or catnip to leave under the Christmas tree.

"Whether you are leaving your pet at home or traveling with them during the holidays, planning is necessary to ensure they are safe," says Steve Thompson, veterinarian and director of the Wellness Clinic at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

Animals that travel by airplane are required to receive a health certificate from their veterinarian within 10 days of the flight. The health certificate confirms that the pet has current vaccinations and is free of infectious diseases. A health certificate also is required if the animal is entering Mexico or Canada by car.

Pet owners who will be driving with their pets to a holiday destination also should consider visiting their veterinarian in advance. Pets riding in long car trips can be given a mild sedative; however, Thompson says the drug and its dosage should be tested on the animal in advance.

Pet owners also should pack a summary of their pet's veterinary records and a copy of its immunization schedule for any trip. If a pet is turned away from a hotel or needs to be placed in a kennel during an emergency, then the information is accessible.

Animals should receive standard vaccinations at least two weeks before they are boarded to ensure they have developed antibodies. A nose drop vaccine for kennel cough, provides quicker protection, but still should be administered at least three days prior to boarding, not just on the evening they arrive at the kennel, Thompson says.

Pet owners who travel and leave their pets at home have the option of housing the animal in a kennel or finding someone to watch over it. Veterinary records also should be accessible for pet sitters in case of an emergency.

"Cats are often fine when left home," Thompson says. "Pet owners can invest in electronic automatic feeders that even dispense the appropriate food portions for the pet. The devices should be tested before the owner leaves.

"If a dog is left at home, someone needs to ensure the dog makes it outdoors at least three times a day. Dogs that are allowed to relieve themselves any less are prone to bladder infections."

Before boarding a pet, owners should do their homework and get references from their veterinarian or other pet owners on good kennels. Thompson said it's a good idea to leave a favorite chew toy or blanket with an animal staying in a strange place, but be prepared if the item is not returned. The item may simply be misplaced, or the kennel may have infectious disease rules requiring them to discard soiled items. Pet mishaps also can happen when owners are home with their pets during the holidays.

Owners also should watch the weather and provide adequate shelter for pets kept outdoors. Thompson says a doghouse should face the south or east, because the coldest winds come from the northwest.

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