The holidays are upon us; a special time of year for the whole family, including our four-legged family members. It’s also a time of year when many dogs end up at the emergency vet or in animal shelters! Here are some ways you can help keep Fido safe this holiday season.
1: Dogs are for life, NOT just for Christmas
Let’s start with the most common mistake many owners make: getting a new puppy as a Christmas present. Too often, these puppies end up abandoned before they’ve even reached their first birthday. Never buy an animal unless you’re prepared and willing to be in it for the long-haul. Please ensure you’ve thought hard on it and weighed all the pros and cons before adopting a puppy/dog as a Christmas gift, especially for a young child. Some things to consider are:
- A child will be excited at first, but will likely not keep up with a dog’s care and training. This isn’t the dog’s fault! He can’t learn if you don’t teach him.
- Puppies will grow! Plenty of people seem to only want the novelty of having a tiny, cute pup that everyone will swoon over. But the moment he gets bigger, and maybe doesn’t look quite as adorable anymore, the shine is gone and now he’s no longer wanted. On top of that, the number of people who adopt large breed dogs and then give them up as soon as they “grow too big” is astounding.
- Dogs need constant care! A dog without adequate mental and physical exercise will become destructive. Again, that’s the owner’s fault. You’d become restless, too, if you were always bored out of your mind, with nothing to do. Your pooch is no different!
- Giving up a dog is almost certainly a death sentence. If you adopt a dog with even the slightest thought that “if it doesn’t work out, you can get rid of it”, please don’t adopt him. Turn around, and go invest in a goldfish. The sad truth is, giving up an adopted dog may sentence him to a place that could spell the end for him if he doesn’t immediately get adopted again. Not to mention that the older a dog get, the worse his chances are at getting a second chance.
Remember: dogs are not commodities! If you’re not 1,000% committed to caring for him for the next 10+ years, get a stuffed animal instead. At least they won’t pee on the carpet.
2: Watch for open doors
The holidays are filled with comings and goings. If your pooch is known for bolting out the door as soon as it opens, pay special attention to your dog when family and friends are visiting! It only takes a split second for a pooch to sprint for an exit. It’s easy for this to happen while everyone’s saying “hi” and hugging at the front door.
If you’re worried about this happening, keep Rover behind another barrier while the front door is open. This could be a baby gate, a crate, or just in a separate room.
3: Be careful with food!
Holiday feasts can be a treat for Fluffy, too. There’s nothing wrong with giving her a little piece of turkey meat or some mashed potatoes as a special Christmas treat. But many holiday favorites can be dangerous to dogs, specifically:
- Turkey bones – they can splinter and cause severe internal damage or intestinal blockage. Meat is okay, bones are not.
- Onions, garlic, grapes and raisins, most seeds, etc. – these can be very toxic to dogs. Be sure you know what kind of food is safe for your dogs to eat.
- Anything sweetened with artificial sweeteners – these can be lethal to dogs. Be very careful with the desserts, and make sure Fluffy doesn’t sneak a bite!
Keep in mind that guests often don’t know what’s safe for a dog to eat and what isn’t. A lot of the time, they’ll want to spoil your dog. If you can’t trust your guests not to accidentally poison your dog, it’s probably safer to her (or your guests, if you’d prefer) in a separate room while the food is out.
4: Be careful with the not-food!
Dogs aren’t exactly as discerning as we are when it comes to putting stuff in their mouths. Scented Christmas decorations like candles and other knick-knacks can be just tempting as a juicy turkey leg. I once had a golden retriever eat a bag of beeswax tealight candles. That was a fun trip to the emergency vet…
Similarly, tree ornaments can be tempting toys for dogs. For larger dogs, the tree itself can make for an alluring target. Interactive Christmas toys, like your singing and dancing snowman, should probably be kept on a high shelf.
Christmas presents also probably shouldn’t be kept under a tree, i.e. at nose-level. Dogs will be eager to play with boxes and/or eat them. At best, you’ll end up with slobbery presents. At worst, you’ll end up with a hefty vet bill for emergency surgery to remove little Timmy’s legos from your dog’s tummy.
Note: If your dog does make a buffet out of your tree, decorations, or presents, call the vet or emergency vet immediately. Don’t risk your dog’s life by using a ‘wait-and-see’ approach!
5: Plan for office closures
Many pet care professionals are closed, or have reduced hours, between Christmas and New Years. Be sure these closures won’t affect your pet’s care by taking the following precautions:
- Book your regular grooming appointment several weeks ahead of time
- Buy extra dog food so you don’t run out on Christmas day
- Consult with your veterinarian if your dog is under regular care for chronic conditions. Ensure you have enough medication to get you through the holidays, if your vet’s office will be closed.
6: Be mindful of stressed-out doggos
While the holidays can be a great time for us to visit family and friends, or have large groups of people over, this can be extremely stressful for many dogs. A dog under stress can be unpredictable. Even the most gentle soul can become reactive, and hurt themselves (or someone else) if they’re put under enough stress.
Here are a few tips to give you and your pooch the best chances at an incident-free holiday season:
- If entertaining at home, pay close attention to your dog’s body language, and look for signs of stress. Provide them a safe space to escape the noise and crowds if they need to. This is especially important if there are children present!
- If visiting someone else’s house with your dog, the same rules apply. Bring a crate with you so you can put your dog somewhere safe, if needed. If you know your dog doesn’t do well with large gatherings, other dogs, or children, it might be safer to leave him at home.
- If travelling without your dog, use a reputable kennel or pet sitter while you’re gone. If a friend is watching your dog during the holidays, be sure she’s well aware of your dog’s needs and how to best provide them – especially if she’s having people over for Christmas, too.
- Keep in mind that holidays are the busiest dog park days. People bring their pooches out to “tire them out” before larger gatherings. This means that parks are crowded with dogs who are over-stimulated, and very likely don’t have too good of manners. At this time of the year, it might not be the best space for your furry friend.
- Give your dog some TLC in an environment that’s comfortable for them. We totally get it: things are crazy during the holidays, and everyone already wants all of your time as it is. But with all the hustle and bustle, your best boy is going to miss you, too! Don’t forget to make some time for him when you can – even if it’s just for a few minutes to give him a cuddle, throw around his favorite toy, or brush his fur to keep him looking his best. Grooming a dog helps to stimulate his blood flow, which keeps him healthy, both in body and spirit!
All these points are particularly important for puppies and senior dogs alike. Remember that puppies go through several fear-imprint periods while they’re growing up. A traumatic experience can cause life-long anxiety issues. Senior dogs, on the other hand, become much less tolerant as they age. So even if old Rex used to be fine with kids pulling his tail back in his youth, it doesn’t mean you should let your 1-year-old niece do that this Christmas.
(But also as a side note, don’t let kids pull on a dog’s tail in the first place. This hurts the dog and can cause them to reflexively react with aggression, which could put the child in danger. It’s basically a lose-lose situation for everyone involved!)
All in all, the holidays are a wonderful opportunity to take time off work and spend it with your loved ones. With the right precautions, your pupper will enjoy this time as much as you do!