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December 23, 2009 > Ohlone Humane Society: Keeping your fur-family safe during the holidays

Ohlone Humane Society: Keeping your fur-family safe during the holidays

By Nancy Lyon

Our furry and feathered kids are family members that we naturally want to include in holiday season festivities. Like the family youngsters, we need to protect them from potential hazards that are a part of these celebrations. There are dangerous toys, foods, decorations and potentially deadly temptations that can go unnoticed during this traditionally busy time.

Those jingling bells just might not be Santa but a signal that a well planned attack on jangling ornaments is underway. The sound of a Christmas tree crashing can be the result of your cat finally cracking under the strain and giving in to the call of prey drive and entertainment. After all, we are who we are, and that goes double for cats, bless their fuzzy, if crafty, little hearts. Chalk it up to their rich fantasy life.

Those sparkly lights and tinsel can also tempt them to "taste" and swallow them causing serious health problems, even surgery if their digestive tract becomes blocked. One precaution is to hang old and unbreakable ornaments at the bottom of the tree and place those that can be broken up high. By doing this and avoiding tinsel you can save a lot of grief for everyone especially the "innocent" feline perpetrator.

Festivities and candle lighting associated with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa can also bring dangers to your fur-family. It's common to have chocolates and other goodies as part of the celebrations. Children and adults can be distracted and leave choice treats around that can be an overwhelming temptation. Most people know by now not to feed health hazards like chocolate and things sweetened with the chemical xylitol to pets, but remember "a dog is always listening and a cat is always watching" and they can be pretty enterprising when it comes to going after the goodies. Keep them away from the table and don't leave them alone in the kitchen with food on the counter or unsecured garbage containers. With the right incentives they can put Cirque de Soleil performers and safecrackers to shame.

A number of holiday traditions include lighting candles, but leaving them lit when you are not around can end up with them being overturned by playful critters resulting in burns or starting a fire. The safest thing to do if you can't keep an eye on them is to put them out until you return. Burns also result from chewing on exposed electrical tree wires that can deliver a potentially deadly shock. If punctured, toy and other batteries can cause chemical burns to the mouth and esophagus of an inquisitive critter.

A big NO-NO and perhaps one of the hardest to keep is sharing fatty, spicy and other indigestible human food with critters. They can cause indigestion, vomiting and diarrhea. Cooked bones that might be particularly appealing can end up perforating stomach or intestines resulting in a rushed trip to the emergency veterinarian ... pretty painful and expensive. Better to stick to treats meant for them or safe, hard rubber Kongs that can be stuffed with healthy foods and can keep them out of trouble for hours.

Cats have their own fatal attractions during the holidays. Stringy ribbons, yarn and small items you'd think they'd never consider swallowing can also end up in their intestines and threaten their lives... and there goes that vet bill again. Hundreds of cat-friendly toys are available like balls that are too large to swallow and catnip-stuffed toys. And, as we've recently learned, they might very well be overjoyed by a condo made of stacked cardboard boxes taped together with shipping tape. With doors and windows, these structures are fun for them to explore and play hide 'n seek. Throw in a catnip toy and viola! What heaven.

Keep in mind that some traditional holiday plants can cause severe adverse reactions. If eaten, poinsettias, holly and mistletoe can cause gastric upset and in the case of mistletoe cardiovascular problems. Keep it safe and carefully choose animal-safe bouquets or artificial plants - safer and reusable... you can't beat that.

If party time is on your holiday schedule, remember to tell your critter-loving guests that it's OK for them to give a little TLC to your fur-kids but it's definitely not OK to slip them forbidden treats or to leave alcoholic drinks sitting out where an inquisitive animal might give them a try. If you know that your friends are likely to cave in or smother them with affection, give your animal companion a quiet place to retreat from the merry making.

Once you all make it safely through year-end celebrations, remember that year-beginning celebrations carry other hazards for all animals. At the countdown to the New Year, confetti can do the same damage as gift wrapping and ribbon. Noisy poppers and midnight explosions can send animals into a frightened frenzy. Please keep them safe by making sure they are inside with you or if left home alone, in a familiar enclosed safe room, preferably one that is windowless. New Year's celebrations are second only to July 4th in danger to your pets.

The holidays are great times and please make them safe for both you and your animal family. It only takes a little precautionary thinking and remembering that it's not only someone else's animal that needs protection to survive but yours as well. They're depending on you.

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