Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Do you like to give holiday gifts to your pets? You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make them happy—as any cat owner whose cat likes the box better than the toy already knows. Rather than listing the latest and greatest toys you can buy at the last minute on Christmas weekend, I’ll discuss a few things you can do for your pets to keep them healthy and stress-free throughout the year.
Toys are an important part of environmental enrichment for both dogs and cats. Environmental enrichment means giving animals objects and experiences that meet their psychological and physical needs. Providing adequate enrichment reduces animals’ anxiety, which in turn reduces unwanted behavior.
Consider your pets’ natural instincts when choosing toys. Some dogs enjoy playing fetch; others (like all of the dogs I’ve had myself) would rather watch you do the fetching. Cats are natural predators and need toys that simulate stalk-and-pounce hunting.
Behaviorists suggest using toys that provide different types of sensory stimulation (taste, vision, hearing, smell, and touch). For both dogs and cats, rotate toys to prevent boredom. Be mindful of possible choking hazards and monitor your pets while they are playing.
Toy ideas for dogs:
Toy ideas for cats:
Exercise, which can include both walking and interactive play, benefits both you and your pets. Walking your dogs promotes bonding; sending them alone into a fenced yard does not. If you usually play with your pet for only a couple of minutes at a time, consider increasing the interaction time. In one study, owners who played with their cats for bouts of 5 minutes or longer reported fewer cat behavior problems than owners who played with their cats for only 1 minute at a time.
Give your pets indoor hideaways. A safe space can be a crate, a tall cat perch, or a quiet room—anywhere they can get away from visitors, other pets, or loud noises like New Year’s fireworks. Give your pets time to become comfortable with the safe space before a stressful event occurs so they will see it as a retreat, not a punishment.
A veterinary blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the gift of good health! Fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites (like hookworms and roundworms) are all common in the South. Parasite preventives are safer and more effective than they were in past decades, and keeping your pets free of parasites will also protect your own health. A new toothbrush and pet toothpaste are great stocking stuffers for pets. Regular physical examinations, appropriate vaccinations, and good nutrition will also help keep your pets healthy.
Disaster Preparation Plan
Give yourself peace of mind and ensure your pets’ safety by preparing in advance for winter storms and unexpected disasters. Plan how you’ll take your pets with you during an evacuation, and consider giving them microchips as permanent identification in case you get separated. See the disaster plan post for more tips.
Above all, give your pets lots of love and attention, and have a wonderful holiday!
Thanks to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (environmental needs PDF), Clinician’s Brief (environmental enrichment for cats [PDF] and dogs [PDF]), American Veterinary Medical Association, Indoor Pet Initiative, Companion Animal Psychology, and Psychology Today for some of the ideas in this article.
Photo by oliverromero
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The winter holiday season brings some potential hazards for pets. Here are some tips to keep them safe over the holidays.
Tinsel: Cats like shiny tinsel—and they like to put it in their mouths. Swallowed tinsel can cause dangerous intestinal blockages, so keep tinsel off the tree if you have cats.
Other ornaments: Broken ornaments can injure paws. Any swallowed ornament can block the digestive tract. Hang ornaments made from salt dough (or anything else that’s attractive to your pets) out of their reach.
Christmas trees: Cats can tip over Christmas trees by climbing them. Consider anchoring your tree to the ceiling or a door frame, possibly with fishing line. If you have a live tree, don’t use water additives. These can harm pets who drink the water.
Snow globes and bubble lights: The liquid inside these decorations can be toxic to pets. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, some snow globes contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze), which is extremely dangerous if it’s swallowed. Old-fashioned bubble lights may contain methylene chloride, which is also toxic to pets (and children).
Liquid potpourri: Scented oils can cause mouth and digestive tract ulcers, skin irritation, and nausea. Cats are more sensitive than dogs to the toxic effects.
Lighting: Don’t leave pets alone in a room with lit candles, and be sure burning candles are out of reach of wagging tails. Keep electrical cords and batteries away from curious or fast-moving pets.
Plants: Lilies are highly toxic to cats. Holly, mistletoe, and amaryllis flowers and leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea when ingested. Amaryllis bulbs and large quantities of mistletoe can cause more serious problems. Poinsettias are only mildly toxic, usually causing mild stomach upset. Christmas cactus is not considered toxic, although ingestion can cause mild vomiting and diarrhea. Christmas tree needles can irritate the digestive tract. Pets that ingest needles or water from Christmas trees may develop vomiting and diarrhea.
Food and Alcohol
Ask guests not to give your pets human food as treats. Don’t leave alcoholic beverages where pets can reach them, and clear food from the table before you let pets into the room. Cover your kitchen garbage can or take out the trash before your pets have a chance to investigate it. Chocolate, alcohol, grapes, raisins, yeast dough, sugarless candy, onions, bones, and fatty food (including gravy and turkey skin) are some of the foods that are hazardous to pets. See the November post about human foods that are toxic to pets for a more complete discussion.
Give your pets a quiet place indoors (a crate or quiet room) to get away from the hubbub of holiday parties. If retreating to a familiar safe zone is not enough to manage a pet’s anxiety, call us for other options. When visitors are entering and leaving your home, keep an eye on your pets to be sure they don’t escape. Be sure each pet has an identification collar, a microchip, or both. If guests will be bringing pets that yours have not already met, either keep the 2 sets of pets separated or introduce them slowly and watch them closely while they’re together.
If your pets are traveling with you out of state or out of the country, familiarize yourself with animal travel regulations. Schedule an appointment for a health certificate examination if needed. Pack a copy of their medical records (such as vaccination history) and all of their medications, including monthly heartworm and flea preventives if they will fall due while you’re traveling. Locate a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic near your destination. If you are traveling by air, contact the airline in advance in case they have additional requirements. Tranquilizers are not recommended for pets traveling by air.
New Year’s Eve fireworks are challenging for pets who are fearful of loud noises. For pets who take antianxiety medication for noise phobia, check your supply and arrange for a refill if needed. See the post about noise phobia for more information.
Photo by Spiritze
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM