Keep your pets safe and happy: Traveling, socializing and introducing your pet without trauma

Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 4:20 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Although the holidays are the most dangerous time of the whole year for pets, did you know that there are many items “experts” say are dangerous that actually pose zero danger to them? These include poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, Christmas tree water and small amounts of some kinds of chocolate. Conversely, there are many unknown items in our homes around the holidays that pose a real risk to pets — grapes, raisins, macadamias, bread dough, alcohol, fatty meats, bones, candles and walnuts. And there are others that are downright lethal to dogs and cats: Lilies, chewing gum and the artificial sweetener Xylitol – which can be found in sugar free candies, peanut butter, syrups, Jello, cough drops and desserts.

Moreover, veterinarians’ offices and ERs are encountering preventable situations like these:

• Licking their paws after walking on de-icing salt, or antifreeze that’s leaked onto driveways

• Human prescription medicine, especially topical chemotherapy agents (dogs chew through bottles and tubes)

• Potpourri and some diffuser oils

• Dogs who have eaten too much fat/gravy/bones get very ill with pancreatitis, which causes blindness and even death

• Dogs and cats who have been in fights with visiting pets

• Puppies who have chewed and swallowed a squeaker toy or battery - or bitten a tree light cord and burned their mouths

• Cats that have ingested the string off the poultry or had their tails burnt to the bone by passing them over an open candle.

Stressors from loud humans to strange pet visitors, travel and loud noises, on top of the new work-from-home paradigm, is tough on pets. The holiday season is the third most common time of year that pets are lost. It’s when there’s the highest spike in calls to Animal Poison Control, and it’s prime time for dog bites. Many pets will meet children for the first time; more than half of U.S. households are now two adults living with two pets. Veterinarian Dr. Natalie Marks joined NewsChannel 7 at 4 on Tuesday to share tips and tricks for keeping pets happy and stress-free, especially now.

Here are some bedrock truths about holiday pet safety that are always worth repeating:

• Keeping pets on a leash when greeting guests

• Putting “Not Pet Friendly” notes on food gifts

• Requiring visitors to keep medications in drawers

• Putting extension cords inside plastic PVC pipe so it doesn’t get chewed on

• Using screw-in eyelets and fishing line to secure the tree to the wall to prevent tipping from climbing cats

• Not using tinsel or glass ornaments. Cats, especially, love shiny objects.

• Remind guests not to feed pets table scraps. Poultry bones can get caught in a dog’s throat. Alcohol can cause low blood sugar. Unbaked dough expands in their stomach. Store garbage where pets can’t get into them.

• Keeping your toilet lid closed, especially if you use an automatic bowl cleaner.

• If you notice excessive vomiting, seizures, lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea, drooling or excessive thirst or urination, call your vet.

Finally, here are some specific steps to take to keep pets and their people happy during the holidays:

Travel – If traveling with a pet to visit family or friends, talk with your veterinarian about species specific pheromones, compression garments, nutraceuticals or safe, effective, proven, prescription products to give them a magic carpet ride of bliss.

Introductions – Almost 100% of people greet a strange pet the wrong way (bending over, direct eye contact, hand extended). Instead, you turn sideways, crouch, avoid eye contact, and let the pet come to you. Or not come to you. Never force it.

Socialization – How to introduce pets to others. To introduce your pet to another pet, put The visiting pet in a room and let them get to know each other under the door.

Children – One out of two children is bitten by a dog by the age of 12, both by their pets and those of others. Holidays are prime time for bites (far too often to the face). Why? The three most common times children are bitten are: When awakened from sleep, interrupted at meal/snack time, or when they feel a high value item might be taken (toys, treats). We can teach how vets have dramatically reduced bites even in the most stressful of pet interactions.

Music – It’s been proven that dogs and cats respond favorably to different kinds of music. Joshua Leeds took the experience of creating specialized soundtracks for children in neurodevelopment clinics and applied the psychoacoustic principles to music for cats and dogs, creating iCalm (also known as Through a Dog’s Ear/Through a Cat’s Ear). You can download this music for free, stream it or learn more at

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