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Animal experts urge protection of pets during holidays

Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith  Hector, a 3-year-old pit bull belonging to the staff at Wellspring Animal Hospital, is all tangled in tinsel. Though the decoration looks festive, it can present a danger for animals who might get tangled or choked, according to Dr. Laura Thomas, also pictured.

Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith Hector, a 3-year-old pit bull belonging to the staff at Wellspring Animal Hospital, is all tangled in tinsel. Though the decoration looks festive, it can present a danger for animals who might get tangled or choked, according to Dr. Laura Thomas, also pictured.

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Hector makes the right choice here, opting for the dog treat over a chocolate cookie. Chocolate can cause digestive and other problems for dogs, Thomas said. She added that she treats plenty of animals who are sick from being fed more food during the holidays than they typically receive.

COVINGTON -- It's only natural to want to include all those you love in holiday festivities, including family pets. But holiday decorations, feasting and traveling pose some very real dangers to animals, and pet owners need to be aware of how to keep their animals safe this time of year.

Dr. Laura Thomas of Wellspring Animal Hospital said dogs and cats will eat tinsel; she's had to surgically remove the stuff, as the decoration gets stuck in pets' intestines.

"I think they ought not have it in the house if they have pets," she said.

The most common problem she sees during the holidays is complications from abnormal snacking. It may be tempting to let animals partake of feasts, but they can suffer gastrointestinal problems, or even pancreatitis, she said.

Chocolate will cause vomiting, but most dangerous of all is the dark, baker's chocolate, which can cause kidney and neurological problems, Thomas said. She said she once treated a dog that ate an entire bowl of Hershey's Kisses, wrappers and all. It's best to keep snacks out of reach of pets, she said.

While poinsettias can be toxic to pets if eaten in large enough quantities, "Most well-fed dogs and cats won't eat them because they don't taste good," Thomas said.

Those traveling with pets should be aware there is a medication, Cerenia, that prevents motion sickness in dogs without sedating them. The medication lasts for up to 24 hours, she said.

"Every year, someone loses their pet while on vacation. I would encourage people who travel a lot to put a (micro)chip in them," she said.

Those who are planning to leave pets at a kennel while traveling should take time to inspect the facility and ask several questions, according to the Better Business Bureau, which provided this list of suggestions:

-- Check the kennel out with the BBB first to makes sure they have a good track record for keeping customers satisfied.

-- Ask friends, neighbors, veterinarians or local animal shelters for recommendations.

-- Personally visit facilities. Check for cleanliness and offensive odors, and note the overall safety of the kennel and cages.

-- Ask about steps the kennel has taken to make sure their facilities are escape-proof.

-- Ask about how your pet may come in contact with other animals. Some kennels let animals play together while others keep them separate at all times.

-- If your state requires inspections look for the certificate on the wall and make sure the kennel is properly licensed.

-- Ask about the feeding schedule, water accessibility and frequency of, and fees related to, exercise.

-- Ask about staff members' background and experience and observe how they interact with other pets.

-- Make sure the facility requires that all entering pets have proof of immunization and ask about policies regarding flea and tick control.

-- Ask what happens in case of a medical emergency or other unexpected situation.

Those who will remain home but may have guests over for festivities should keep in mind how this will impact pets.

"Give your pet a safe place in the house to escape to when it becomes overwhelmed or confine it before visitors arrive for the pet's wellbeing and the visitors' safety," advised Teri Key-Hooson, director for Newton County Animal Control. For outside pets, owners should make sure the animal is happy having visitors before allowing anyone, especially children, to interact with it. Tell visitors to check with you before feeding your pet, Key-Hooson said.

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