How to keep the holidays safe for your pets

West Lafayette, Indiana - Whether you are leaving your pet at home or traveling with them over the holidays, planning is the key to ensuring their safety, a Purdue University veterinarian says.

"The last thing any pet owner wants on Christmas or New Year's is to rush their pet to the animal emergency room," says Lorraine Corriveau, a pet wellness veterinarian in Purdue's College of Veterinary Medicine. "The truth is that many pets can be injured or poisoned during the holidays unless their owners take proper preventive measures."

Animals that travel by air are required to have a health certificate from a federally accredited veterinarian within 10 days of the flight. Corriveau says pet owners should bring medical and vaccination records and their own pet food. They also should research pet-friendly hotels and parks and try to keep their pets on the same schedule to minimize stress.

Those who will be driving with their pets to a holiday destination should use a carrier or a harness to ensure the pet's safety as well as your own while driving. Some pets may benefit from a mild sedative to help with travel. This should be discussed with your veterinarian to decide what drug is best for your pet. Corriveau recommends that the drug should be tested on the pet in advance to make sure it has the desired effect.

If pet owners decide to board their pets, Corriveau offers the following tips:

* Ask to visit/tour the facility.

* Does your pet have special needs? Can the kennel care for those needs?

* Check to see if there is a veterinarian associated with the kennel.

* Take note of how they handle the animals and the facility's cleanliness.

* Ask the staff about the services they offer and if there are structured daily activities.

"If your dog hasn't been at a kennel for a while, and you're leaving on a long-term vacation, it's probably best to board your dog for a night or two before you go to get them used to it," Corriveau says.

Another option is having someone come and pet sit at your residence.

If you decide to do this, Corriveau offers these tips:

* Ask the sitter to come multiple times a day or stay at your home with the pet.

* Get references.

* There are certified professional pet sitters, or ask your veterinarian if he or she can recommend someone who offers this service.

* Find out if they are insured.

* Have a contact number for emergencies.

Even when owners don't travel, holidays can be dangerous for pets. Homes should be pet-proofed when holiday decorations are out.

"Ribbons, shiny tinsel and noise-making ornaments are especially attractive and hazardous to cats," Corriveau says. "Keep an eye on electrical cords to ensure puppies and kittens don't chew on them.

"Decorative plants also are a source of danger. Mistletoe and holly can cause vomiting and lilies are often deadly to cats. Poinsettias, despite their reputation, are not deadly and often cause little more than mild stomach upset."

Food also can be a problem for pets.

"Poultry bones, especially cooked, have potential to both break off and cause a perforation of the digestive tract, or if large amounts are consumed, could cause an obstruction," Corriveau says.

She says other foods to avoid include grapes and raisins, excessively salty foods, foods flavored with onion or garlic powder, desserts and sweets containing Xylitol, and chocolates.

When pet owners host family and friends for large holiday gatherings, they should take their pets' anxiety level into account.

"It might be best to keep pets confined if they are overly anxious," Corriveau says. "Also, monitor people going in and out of the front door. Pets might take advantage and try to escape."

Corriveau says keeping emergency contact information close is a good idea.

"Keep phone numbers for your veterinarian and the local animal emergency hospital handy," she says. "A quick call to either of them can give you life-saving advice or even help you avoid a trip to the ER."

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