The other 'claws'

Keep 4-footed family members in mind when decorating

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2007

What's good for the human might not be good for the pet.

Those critters that give their humans so much love and companionship during the year need a bit of extra attention during the holidays to keep them safe from food that might not be good for them or situations that are out of the ordinary routine of their lives.

Patsy Tallant has owned pets her entire life and has been a pet stylist for 28 years. So she knows animals and their sometimes unpredictable behavior and normally safeguards them against holiday dangers such as decorations, extension cords and candy by crating her dogs when she's at work.

But on Thanksgiving Day in 2001, Tallant's normally quiet standard poodle, Nikki, got the best of her human family before they could sit down to turkey. The meal had been prepared, and the family was having a devotion time before dinner, Tallant said.

"Well, we didn't get any turkey. No one had heard anything. We got back in there, and there were pretty much just bones left," she said. "Luckily, we had ham, but we had no turkey that year."

The holidays were big for Nikki that year. The poodle, who is no longer living, also opened her Christmas gift early. Tallant had placed Nikki's Christmas treats under the tree, and before the family got up on Christmas morning, the treats had been devoured.

Gail Luna, president of the Amarillo, Texas, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, suggests that people who want to give their dogs treats dip dog biscuits in melted almond bark. Making homemade dog treats are something the family can do together, she said.

Generally speaking, if one's home is child proof for Christmas, it is dog proof, but that doesn't necessarily apply to cats, Luna said.

Cat lover Doug Rittenberry might agree with that. He and his wife live the cat-proof life, not just during the holidays.

"That time of the year when you have boxes open and closets open, they love to crawl in places and go to sleep," he said.

The Rittenberrys conduct a cat head count every time they leave the house to make sure none has clambered into a space that has been closed up. He won't say how many cats he owns, except for "several."

They do not put up a tall Christmas tree, but have a small one. They've lost several personal items to a cat's antics.

"We've been doing this for so long, we've got every thing put up," he said.

Dr. Steven Hansen is senior vice president of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and executive director of the Animal Poison Control Center. To keep pets safe during the holidays, he suggested keeping three telephone numbers handy those of your regular veterinarian, the emergency animal clinic and the poison control center.

Hansen, based in Urbana, Ill., said the most important problem encountered with dogs during the holidays is the consumption of human medication. For example, a dog might find a medicine bottle, pill minder of inhaler that a visiting friend or relative left on a bedside table.

A dog has the capacity to chew and puncture the medicine bottle, pill minder or inhaler and consume the entire contents, Hansen said.

If this happens, call the vet immediately, he said.

Hansen noted some more holiday hazards.

If your dog fetches a glass ornament off the Christmas tree, he will crush it, and splinters will be a problem. Dogs chewing extension cords can get shocked.

A cat drinking even a little antifreeze from a broken snowglobe can develop kidney failure.

If a cat pulls string, tinsel or ribbon off the tree, and chews on it, the feline's rough tongue will preclude simply spitting it out. The cat will swallow the string and as the intestines try to move the object along, it may tighten and cut through the intestinal wall, Hansen said.

Contrary to popular lore, poinsettias are not fatal if eaten, but may cause upset stomachs in cats and dogs, he said.

Christmas cactus causes stomach upsets in both animals. Mistletoe can cause severe depression and vomiting in dogs. Holly, especially if the berries are ingested, also can cause stomach upset.

Hansen also suggested that a pet's normal feeding routine be preserved through the holidays.

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