Dogs have an easier time if they maintain their routine
MANHATTAN, Kan. — All the things that so many of us look forward to during the holidays — parties, gatherings, traveling, shopping — can be a source of stress for some of our pets, especially dogs.
Yes, there are things we can do to reduce that stress, and we’ll get to those. First, it might help to understand what makes the canine philosophy of life so different from a lot of us.
“Dogs are creatures of habit and routine,” said Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and clinician at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. “One thing we can do is to try to keep their routine as normal as possible. If they’re used to eating at a particular time of day, keep that going. If they’re used to walking in the late afternoon, keep those walks going. These routines are reassuring.”
When hosting a party, take your dog’s personality into account. Do they like meeting new people, or would they rather stick to the people in their home, or “pack” (as in “wolf pack” because that’s how they see us)? “If they’re not good around people, keep them locked in a room at the back of a house, or a crate if your dog is crate trained,” said Nelson. “A frightened or uneasy dog is more likely to growl or bite.”
Host(ess) Note #1: Do not lock the dog in the same room where all the coats, jackets and purses are stashed. That’s not a treasure hunt Fido needs. “There are sugarless gums and breath mints that have Xylitol for their sweeteners — enough of that chemical can cause low blood sugar, even liver failure in severe cases,” Nelson said. “And yes, dogs have been known to eat cigarettes — that can lead to nicotine poisoning.”
Parties and dinners always include food, and a lot of these foods contain ingredients that could be toxic to dogs. Most of us are aware that chocolate can be toxic to dogs, but other things to ban from the canine shopping list include: grapes (and raisins), garlic, onions, nuts of all kind (but especially macadamia nuts), and most dairy products. At the least, these foods can cause your dog to vomit on your best Persian (the rug, not the cat); at worst, you’re rushing the dog to an emergency vet visit.
“A lot of dogs like to do what we call ‘counter surfing’ — they’ve got their nose up there at the edge of the counter or buffet table and they’re looking around for anything they can grab off those counters,” Nelson said. “A lot of these foods have a lot of fat in them, more sugar and salt than what we eat most days. A smaller dog eating a ‘human portion’ can suffer life-threatening pancreatitis or even just annoying vomiting and diarrhea that you have to clean up.”
Host(ess) Note #2: Ask guests to refrain from “treating” your dog. A “little nibble of something” from 20 different people quickly adds up!
Host(ess) Note #3:If you think it is out of the dog’s reach, put it just a bit higher.
Another popular activity at this time of year is shopping. Gifts that involve most any type of food (think about that “gift set” with the two mugs and package of hot cocoa mix) are a target for those incredible canine noses. “If you come home from a big shopping trip, don’t leave shopping bags on the floor, or even the bed, where a dog could get to them,” Nelson cautions. “Not just food items, but even clothing and shoes are at risk. Some dogs are naturally curious, and will tear a box open just for the fun of it.”
Some dogs enjoy playing with plush or stuffed toys. Leaving a new teddy bear under the Christmas tree could be an unnecessary risk — the dog may think it’s actually a gift for them. “In that case, you really can’t blame the dog for doing what they naturally do,” Nelson said.
And it’s not just dogs that are affected by the holidays. While cats are a bit more self-reliant than our canine friends, they have their own pitfalls during the holiday season.
“Some cats are very, very attracted to shiny things, or things that light up,” Nelson said. “Keep the Christmas tree ornaments a little higher, if your cat is prone to seeing them as a toy. Shiny tinsel is attractive — cats will play with it, then chew on it, and then ingest it. That’s a potentially pricey vet visit.”
Because cats are natural climbers and leapers, keep a close watch on things like scented candles and potpourri, she added. A candle or other open flame knocked off a shelf is a fire hazard. “We see a lot of singed whiskers during the holidays, and then the potpourri that’s out there can also be toxic to them. We want to make sure we’re keeping these things up and out of their reach.”