The hustle and bustle of the holiday season has arrived, and during this time many people can become caught up in overloaded schedules, party planning, hosting relatives, and travel plans. It can be easy to overlook your furry friends that lie, head on paws, observing the chaos in relative silence. As your attention is focused on family activities, your pets can inadvertently be put at risk, says Dr. Kerri Marshall, Chief Veterinary Officer at Trupanion, a leading provider of pet insurance in North America.
Dr. Marshall says that it is important during the holidays to pause and think of the unique needs of your pets. While other family members understand the chaos around them and can plan accordingly, our pets experience stress and anxiety with the unexpected break in their routine and can react in ways that are potentially harmful.
Below are some useful tips for additional preparation and awareness during holiday events and activities.
For many people, the holidays bring a chance to gather with family and friends to celebrate the season and toast a new year. Big holiday meals, festive décor, and a houseful of visitors that don’t understand the behaviors and needs of pets can create many potentially unsafe situations for pets. Dr. Marshall offers the following simple tips to help pet owners keep their pets safe.
• Prepare holiday visitors – instruct friends and family on how to appropriately interact with your pets, including what they can and cannot eat, when they can play and when they need to be left alone, and if they are allowed outside (only into a fenced enclosure).
• Don’t share your meal – fatty table scraps, bones, sweets, and any form of alcohol can not only make your pet sick, but are potentially life threatening. “Also make sure garbage cans are secured and out of reach,” says Dr. Marshall. “We have one dog in our Trupanion family who needed $3,000 in emergency veterinary care after eating three pounds of garbage after a big family meal.”
• Think safety when decorating – candles can lead to burnt tails if placed on coffee tables, and some holiday flowers and plants can be toxic to pets.
Christmas Tree and Gifts
A large tree suddenly showing up in the living room will seem odd to your pets. They may want to climb it, chew on it, knock it over (potentially on top of them or breaking ornaments leaving glass shards to step on), or urinate on it (trees are commonly used for scent marking). Come up with creative ways to ensure your pets’ safety by putting your tree behind pet gates or up on a tabletop if your tree is small enough.
If you set wrapped presents underneath the tree, these should be monitored as well. Pets are curious and often play with the gift wrapping ribbons. The accidental ingestion of ribbon can cause bunching in a pet’s intestines. Dr. Marshall gives the example of Gordon, a 5-month-old cat who ingested some ribbon and needed $2,800 worth of veterinary care. Gift wrapping supplies should be stored once gifts are wrapped and cleaned up immediate after they are opened.
Traveling by Car
Today, many families choose to take their pets with them on holiday trips. Often, that means a long road trip that breaks up a pet’s routine and adds many unfamiliar activities and potentially dangerous situations at road stops. Preparation and alertness when traveling with pets are key to ensure an enjoyable trip for all, says Dr. Marshall, who offers the following tips:
• Take practice trips – this is especially important for pets that have never traveled before, and for pets who become car sick and need time to get used to the motion of the car.
• Buckle up your pet – there are many options available to keep pets safe inside vehicles, including harnesses that attach to the seat belt and allow your pet to move around and lie down, but will keep them restrained in the event of an accident. Cats should always be kept inside carriers as they can easily panic and cause distraction to the driver.
• Think “kids” – Air bags can injure or even kill your pet, so follow the same guidelines as children and keep them in the back seat safely buckled in.
• Make a list – Write down everything you need when traveling with your pet so you never leave home without something important. Food, water, towels, documentation, and cleaning supplies should be on the list.
• Schedule extra time – Be prepared to stop every two hours or so to allow your pet to take a break, stretch his legs and drink some water.
Traveling by Plane
Occasionally, families will need to ship their pets by plane to their holiday destination or to family members who will care for them while the family is away. Ideally, your pet would travel in a carrier with you in the cabin, however, some pets are too large for the size carrier required, so must travel in the cargo area. There are some important considerations when shipping or traveling by air with your pet, says Dr. Marshall.
• Be sure to visit your veterinarian within 10 days of the trip to obtain a health certificate required by airlines to travel with or ship a pet.
• Mark the kennel or travel crate with your pet’s name, your name, and your phone number so those caring for your pet know how to contact you in case of an emergency.
• While most airlines have similar rules regarding traveling with pets, each airline has a few specific regulations, so always check with your airline directly.
• Arrive at the airport early, exercise your pet, and personally place him in the crate or bag he will be traveling in. Make sure your pet has plenty of water prior to the trip and a chance to relieve himself before being placed in the crate.
• Pick up your pet promptly upon arrival at your destination so your pet is not in the carrier longer than necessary. Make sure to leash your pet inside the crate so that they are never out of your control.
• Invest in pet insurance prior to the trip to help ensure you are able to afford veterinary care for any illnesses or injuries your pet develops during the flight. “The holidays already come with big bills,” says Dr. Marshall. “Invest in pet insurance so you don’t have to find thousands of dollars in an already strained holiday budget.”
While holiday travels often involve pets, there are still many pets that are left home with pet sitters while their families are away. Even with the most trusted pet sitter, it can be hard for many pet owners to leave their pets with another caretaker. What if the pet becomes sick or injured? Advanced preparation will ensure your pet is well-cared for while you are away.
“Pet insurance is really the best way to make sure there is never any barrier to your pet receiving the best care and is especially important during the holidays when the chance of accidents happening is higher,” says Dr. Marshall.
Those who take care of your pets often don’t know what you want them to do in case your pet becomes ill or injured. If you have your pet insured, there will be no hesitation or time wasted trying to get ahold of you in case you are away from the phone.
“The plan becomes ‘treat now, call later’ as opposed to ‘get permission, then treat’”, says Dr. Marshall. “And many times unnecessary delays in treatments can change the outcome for the pet.”