Holidays and pets: Maine Animal Welfare director, state vet offer advice

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Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 4:00pm
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 The holiday season can be an exciting, active time for Maine families and their pets, said Liam Hughes, Maine Director of Animal Welfare, who is offering tips for pet owners and those expanding families to include new pets. The pointers aim to help avoid stressful visits to the veterinary emergency room. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's State Veterinarian and Director of Animal Welfare are urging Mainers to consider the following:

Before acquiring a new pet

During the holidays, families often consider obtaining a new pet. Animal Welfare Director Liam Hughes recommends doing some basic research ahead of time, considering that pets require a long-term commitment.

"Pets owners need to be ready for a long-term emotional and financial commitment," said Hughes. "Before adopting or purchasing a new pet, people should consider a number of things, including: does my/our lifestyle allow time for a pet; what type of pet; and what are the costs associated with a pet? If you are looking for a pet in Maine, search animal shelters, pet stores, or breeders that are licensed by the state. Don't buy animals on the side of the road or in a parking lot since you cannot meet and evaluate the appropriateness of that pet for your household ahead of time.

Beware of online sales for the same reason - and because you might not get what was advertised."

Tips for Adopting a new pet

Work with a reputable local humane society whenever possible.

Meet with the pet prior to adopting it to ensure that its behavior and demeanor are a good match for your family.

Obtain a copy of the animal's medical record, vaccination history, and Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate).

Ensure that the dog or cat is vaccinated for rabies if it is three months of age or older.

If working with a rescue organization, ensure that it is properly registered and licensed in Maine and in the state where the business is based, and/or with USDA Animal Care.

Mainers can contact the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's Animal Welfare Program at (207) 287-3846 for more information on which animal rescue and breeding organizations are appropriately registered.

Helping Pets avoid danger

"Healthy pets make happy owners. We want all Mainers and their pets to have a positive experience this holiday season," said Maine State Veterinarian, Dr. Michele Walsh. "A little bit of forethought can go a long way toward avoiding stressful, expensive, possibly fatal trips to a veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and other organizations offer tips on how to help ensure that your pets make it through the holidays safely."

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website (http://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/holidays.aspx) offers the following Holiday Pet Safety tips:

Food

Keep people food away from pets. If you want to share holiday treats with your pets, make or buy treats formulated just for them. The following people foods are especially hazardous for pets:

Chocolate is an essential part of the holidays for many people, but it is toxic to dogs and cats. Although the toxicity can vary based on the type of chocolate, the size of your pet, and the amount they ate, it's safer to consider all chocolate off limits for pets.

Other sweets and baked goods also should be kept out of reach. Not only are they often too rich for pets; an artificial sweetener often found in baked goods, candy and chewing gum, xylitol, has been linked to liver failure and death in dogs.

Turkey and turkey skin - sometimes even in small amounts - can cause a life-threatening condition in pets known as pancreatitis.

Table scraps, including gravy and meat fat, also should be kept away from pets.

Many foods that are healthy for people are poisonous to pets, including onions, raisins and grapes.

During the holidays, when our own diets tend toward extra-rich foods, table scraps can be especially fattening and hard for animals to digest and can cause pancreatitis.

Yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating.

Quick action can save lives. If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn't have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. You may also want to call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 1-888-426-4435. Signs of pet distress include: sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Decorating

Greenery, lights and Christmas trees can make the holidays festive, but they also pose risky temptations for our pets.

Christmas trees can tip over if pets climb on them or try to play with the lights and ornaments. Consider tying your tree to the ceiling or a doorframe using fishing line to secure it.  

Ornaments can cause hazards for pets. Broken ornaments can cause injuries, and ingested ornaments can cause intestinal blockage or even toxicity. Keep any homemade ornaments, particularly those made from salt-dough or other food-based materials, out of reach of pets.

Tinsel and other holiday decorations also can be tempting for pets to eat. Consuming them can cause intestinal blockages, sometimes requiring surgery. Breakable ornaments or decorations can cause injuries.

Flowers and festive plants can result in an emergency veterinary visit if your pet gets hold of them. Amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar, and holly are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets who decide to eat them. Poinsettias can be troublesome, as well.

The ASPCA offers lists of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats.

Candles are attractive to pets as well as people. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle; it could result in a fire.

Potpourris should be kept out of reach of inquisitive pets. Liquid potpourris pose risks because they contain essential oils and cationic detergents that can severely damage your pet's mouth, eyes and skin. Solid potpourris could cause problems if eaten.

Parties and visitors

Visitors can upset pets, as can the noise and excitement of holiday parties. Even pets that aren't normally shy may become nervous in the hubbub that can accompany a holiday gathering. The following tips will reduce emotional stress on your pet and protect your guests from possible injury.

All pets should have access to a comfortable, quiet place inside if they want to retreat. Make sure your pet has a room or crate somewhere away from the commotion, where your guests won't follow, that it can go to anytime it wants to get away.

Inform your guests ahead of time that you have pets or if other guests may be bringing pets to your house.

Guests with allergies or compromised immune systems (due to pregnancy, disease, or medications/ treatments that suppress the immune system) need to be aware of the pets (especially exotic pets) in your home so they can take any needed precautions to protect themselves.

Guests with pets? If guests ask to bring their own pets and you don't know how the pets will get along, you should either politely decline their request or plan to spend some time acclimating the pets to each other, supervising their interactions, monitoring for signs of a problem, and taking action to avoid injuries to pets or people.

Pets that are nervous around visitors should be put it in another room or a crate with a favorite toy. If your pet is particularly upset by houseguests, talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions to this common problem.

Exotic pets make some people uncomfortable and may themselves be more easily stressed by gatherings. Keep exotic pets safely away from the hubbub of the holidays.

Watch the exits. Even if your pets are comfortable around guests, make sure you watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving your home. While you're welcoming hungry guests and collecting coats, a four-legged family member may make a break for it out the door and become lost.

Identification tags and microchips reunite families. Make sure your pet has proper identification with your current contact information, particularly a microchip with up-to-date, registered information. That way, if they do sneak out, they're more likely to be returned to you. If your pet isn't already microchipped, talk to your veterinarian about the benefits of this simple procedure.

Clear the food from your table, counters and serving areas when you are done using them - and make sure the trash gets put where your pet can't reach it. A turkey or chicken carcass or other large quantities of meat sitting out on the carving table, or left in a trash container that is easily opened, could be deadly to your family pet.

Dispose of carcasses and bones, and anything used to wrap or tie the meat, such as strings, bags and packaging, in a covered, tightly secured trash bag placed in a closed trash container outdoors (or behind a closed, locked door).

Trash also should be cleared away where pets can't reach it - especially sparkly ribbon and other packaging or decorative items that could be tempting for your pet to play with or consume.

When leaving the house

Unplug decorations while you're not around. Cats, dogs and other pets are often tempted to chew electrical cords.

Take out the trash to make sure your pets can't get to it, especially if it contains any food or food scraps.

Maine Animal Shelters: http://www.maine.gov/dacf/ahw/animal_welfare/shelters.shtml

Ways that you can support the Maine Animal Welfare Program can be found at: http://www.maine.gov/dacf/ahw/animal_welfare/index.shtml