Keeping dogs safe and healthy over the holidays

What a glorious autumn we’ve had!  Chilly nights, warm days, colorful trees and blue skies. Unless you go into a shopping center where Christmas decorations are already on full display, it’s easy to forget the holidays are just around the corner. Including our pets in the season’s festivities can be enjoyable for everyone if we keep some tips in mind.

Halloween can be especially scary for dogs. They simply don’t understand the little goblin or ghoul at the door is really a child in costume. The sight of a strange human combined with doorbells ringing and kids yelling “trick or treat” can be frightening to nervous dogs, causing them to bolt through the door. Territorial dogs may growl or bite an innocent child. If your pet is wary of strangers, or easily frightened by all the activity, don’t let her greet the scary monsters at your door. Confine her to a crate or other room with a good chew item to keep her comfortable until the trick or treating is done.

Dressing our dogs up in costumes can be a lot of fun for us, but our dogs may not feel the same. Many short-coated breeds or small dogs get used to wearing coats and sweaters during cold weather and may not mind a costume, while other dogs find the experience unpleasant. Watch for signs of cowering, tucked tail, flattened ears, panting (when he’s not hot), or refusal to move, as these may be signs your dog is stressed and not enjoying the experience. Respect your dog’s comfort level and let him choose if he’s okay dressing up. If Fido does wear a costume, just as with children, make sure he can see clearly and move freely.

All those Halloween candy treats can present hazards for dogs. Many candies and sugarless gums contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is particularly dangerous for dogs. Ingesting even small amounts can cause hypoglycemia, seizures, liver failure and even death. Chocolate contains stimulants that can cause a range of problems from gastric upset to seizures and death. The darker the chocolate, the greater the danger. Keep the candies out of Fido’s reach.

While indulging in all the special foods and treats is the norm for most of us over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, too much of a good thing can be bad for our canine companions. Too many rich, fatty or new foods can cause gastric upset for many dogs and in some cases lead to pancreatitis, a painful and severe inflammation of the pancreas. If your dog is used to eating home cooking and leftovers, make sure it’s low fat, and don’t give too much. Stick to items such as mashed potatoes (no gravy) a bit of turkey and plain green beans. Stay away from cooked bones, as these can splinter and cause lacerations in the digestive system. For dogs with sensitive tummies, keep them happy with some healthy dog treats.

The festivities wouldn’t be complete without all the beautiful holiday decorations. Unsupervised dogs and young puppies are at risk of electrical shock by chewing through cords and strings of Christmas lights. Some dogs will eat anything that remotely resembles food, including holiday wrappings, tinsel and even candles. Consider restricting your dog’s access to the decorated areas of the house during the holidays. Supervise carefully when your dog is near the Christmas tree, and provide entertainment in the form of a food-dispensing puzzle, or interactive dog toy.

Sudden changes in routine and lots of holiday guests can be upsetting for some dogs. Stick to normal feeding and exercise times to minimize stress. Give shy dogs a safe, quiet place away from the fun to relax and rest. The exuberant greeter may need a brush up on how to greet guests politely. If there is no time for training, use baby gates and leashes to manage the situation when guests are arriving. With some careful supervision and a few adjustments, your dog can have a safe, enjoyable holiday with the family.