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How to ease holiday pet stress

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Holidays can bring an array of goodies — and temptation — for four-legged friends.

While this season falls below July 4 for pet stress, there are certain safety considerations, said Dr. Steven Friedenberg, an emergency and critical care specialist at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Around the holidays, it is rare for an animal to ingest a light bulb or an ornament. Tinsel would be more of a worry because they're so much smaller than a dog, he said.

Chewing on holiday lights can cause burns in the mouth or electrocution, and even issues with paws if a bulb breaks. What veterinarians see most often year-round are dogs stomaching socks, underwear, tissues and bones. And if they happen to eat a poinsettia, it can cause gastrointestinal upset, which could be treated conservatively with supportive care.

As far as food, holiday gatherings can present an issue with more exposure to treats or overfeeding. Watch for chocolate, raisins and grapes, which can be toxic for dogs. In cats, avoid onions and garlic, which could cause anemia and destroy red blood cells.

A little piece of yeast dough isn't going to make a big difference in a dog, but large amounts can cause potentially harmful bloating. Large amounts can ferment in the belly, causing alcoholic toxicity, Friedenberg said.

Concerning signs that your pet has eaten something it shouldn't have are vomiting, diarrhea and excessive drooling, which can be consistent with nausea or vomiting. Animals can hide their signs, but if they're skipping meals, behaving abnormally and it's during off-hours, call the emergency vet in Duluth at (218) 302-8000.

As far as home preparation, Friedenberg said to be mindful going in and know your pet. Worst-case scenario, keep them away from the entertainment area and out of the kitchen.

If you're going off-campus for the holidays, pack accordingly. That includes copies of your pet's medical records.

If you're traveling by car, Friedenberg suggested starting with a shorter trip to gauge your pet's comfort level. With that information, feel free to move onto longer car trips.

Along with regular potty breaks, he recommended crating the animal, adding: "They have seat belts for dogs now."

Travel-by-lap is OK in the car if you have a small dog, and it's going to be relatively comfortable. "Definitely crate cats," he added.

When you arrive at your holiday location, a hotel room or a guest room, set aside a space for your pet. Let it have a sniff around. Give them access to and show them the water. Stay with them for a period of time, so they feel comfortable.

The holiday season can prompt a lot of foot traffic if you stay home. Let guests know up front if your pet has allergies and what you allow for treats.

Pets who are normally comfortable around people may get nervous when exposed to a lot of people. These tips from The American Veterinary Medical Association may help reduce stress and temptation.

• Make sure your pet's tags and microchips are up-to-date.

• Create a pet-friendly space that's quiet and cozy, away from the action. If children or people are disturbing, let them know that's their spot to retreat.

• To accommodate allergies, etc., tell visitors about your pet beforehand. If you're asked to bring a pet, think about its demeanor. It's your choice to politely decline. If you say "yes," consider planning a meeting ahead of time to monitor their interaction.

• Keep the counters, table and serving area clear of food when not in use.

• Store trash securely.

• Unplug decorations, take out trash when you leave the house.

"Sometimes animals can outsmart us, and some things are impossible to prevent," Friedenberg said. "We just need to help manage the consequences as best we can."

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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