By Krista DeRespino, DVM
The holidays are a wonderful time of family and friends coming together, and often family pets make the trip with us. Just like these times can be a bit stressful for us, they can be stressful for our pets as well. Some common ailments that bring dogs and cats to the ER around the holidays are injuries that result from fighting between normally docile pets, stomach upset from food changes, and stress-related urinary problems in cats. Knowing the warning signs and how to prevent these problems can help everyone get through the holidays happier and safer.
One common circumstance that can lead to problems is that many pets are given presents for the holidays, including bones, treats, and new toys, that can make pets (just like human siblings!) feel a little bit possessive. Keeping pets separate when new treats are introduced, especially food items, is a good way to make sure possessive feelings don't turn into fights. Even pets that normally get along well can turn less than friendly defending a delicious bone! Taking these toys/treats away when supervised play time is over can help relieve anxiety for a pet that feels like they have to "protect" their special prize.
Though they may not appear this way on the outside, most pets that are in new environments or have been traveling experience some level of stress. Older pets especially may tire more readily and be less tolerant or willing to play with younger, more energetic pets. Giving all pets time to relax and acclimate to their new environment is critical to keeping everyone in a good mood. Slowly introducing potential stressors one at a time may allow them to adjust new things (places, people, pets, etc.). Sometimes keeping younger, more excited pets on leash even while indoors helps limit their interaction with older pets that are visiting (or vice versa) and can help "level the playing field."
Keeping diets the same while traveling can help limit stomach upset for many pets. If taking a large supply of food is not possible (such as on a plane trip), consider finding your pet's specific food online and having a small bag delivered to your destination ahead of you. Though many family members will want to include pets in the holiday meals, the rich foods we enjoy can cause havoc on pets' stomachs that may result in hospital stays for IV fluids and supportive care.
Be aware of the type of pet that is visiting or traveling with you. You may be bringing your indoor cat to a household that does not normally house cats. Make sure all family members are aware of the need to close doors and windows and be conscious of the special needs of pets they may not normally think about (like not shutting the door to the room with the Iitterbox!). Pay special attention to the urinary habits of male cats and make sure they are drinking and urinating regularly. If you have any concern that your cat is not urinating normally or you ever observe them straining to urinate, taking them to a veterinarian right away is critically important.
Finally, always look up the location and phone number of the nearest emergency veterinarian in the area where you live or will be staying. Though we hope you will never need them, the better prepared we are the smoother the holidays will be for us and our furry family members!