The holiday season can be an exciting, active time for Maine families and their pets. State officials offer some helpful tips for pet owners and those expanding their families to include new pets. These pointers aim to help avoid stressful visits to the veterinary emergency room. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s State Veterinarian and Animal Welfare Director 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.
Pet owners need to be ready for a long-term emotional and financial commitment. Before adopting or purchasing a new pet, people should consider a number of things, including: does one’s lifestyle allow time for a pet, what type of pet, and what are the costs associated with a pet?
Those looking for a pet in Maineshould search animal shelters, pet stores, or breeders that are licensed by the state. One should not buy animals on the side of the road or in a parking lot, since one cannot meet and evaluate the appropriateness of that pet for one’s household ahead of time. Beware of online sales for the same reason – and because one 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 the 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 3 months of age or older.
If working with a rescue organization, ensure that it is properly registered and licensed in the state of Maine and in the state where the business is based, and/or with USDA Animal Care.
Only adopt or buy a pet from a licensed facility. All of the pet stores, breeders, and animal shelters need to have their State of Maine license posted in a visible place. If the facility is not licensed, one might not get what one hoped for, and might have a lot of future problems.
Avoid parking lots. If someone wants to meet in a strange parking lot to exchange money for a pet, use caution. If one has to meet in a parking lot, Animal Welfare suggests using the one at the local police department. It may help reduce the chances of being scammed.
Breeders, animal shelters/rescues, and pet stores should be open and helpful and they should be available to address any questions or concerns. If they are not forthcoming with information or secretive, one may want to avoid them and look elsewhere.
Schedule an appointment with a vet right away. If bringing a new pet into the home, have it checked out medically so there are no unwanted expensive surprises. Healthy pets under the Christmas tree will lead to long happy memories, plus one’s local vet will be able to help integrate the new pet into the family.
If needed, consider a local animal trainer to teach it the rules of the house. A certified trainer will help train one to train one’s new pet and can prevent frustrations of new pet owners.
Check with local town offices and see what laws may affect one and one’s new pet. Remember, dogs need to be licensed when they turn 6 months old.
Give the new pet time to adjust and get them into a good routine early on.
Mainers can contact the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Animal Welfare Program at 287-3846 for more information on which animal rescue and breeding organizations are appropriately registered.
Helping pets avoid danger
Healthy pets make happy owners. All Mainers and their pets should be able to have a positive experience this holiday season. 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 and other organizations offer tips on how to help ensure that pets make it through the holidays safely.
The American Veterinary Medical Association website, avma.org/public/petcare/pages/holidays.aspx, offers the following holiday pet safety tips:
Keep people food away from pets. If one wants to share holiday treats with 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 the 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 human 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 one believes a pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call a veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. One might 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.
Greenery, lights, and Christmas trees can make the holidays festive, but they also pose risky temptations for pets.
Christmas trees can tip over if pets climb on them or try to play with the lights and ornaments. Consider tying the tree to the ceiling or a door frame, 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 a pet gets a 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 a pet’s mouth, eyes, and skin. Solid potpourris could cause problems if eaten.
Hosting 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 a pet and protect guests from possible injury.
All pets should have access to a comfortable, quiet place inside if they want to retreat. Make sure a pet has a room or crate somewhere away from the commotion, where guests won’t follow, that it can go to anytime it wants to get away.
Inform guests ahead of time about pets in the home, or if other guests may be bringing pets to the 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 one’s home so they can take any needed precautions to protect themselves.
Guests with pets? If guests ask to bring their own pets and one doesn’t know how the pets will get along, one 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 a pet is particularly upset by house guests, talk to a 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 pets are comfortable around guests, make sure to watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving the home. While 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 a pet has proper identification with 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 their owner. If a pet isn’t already microchipped, talk to a veterinarian about the benefits of this simple procedure.
Clear the food from the table, counters, and serving areas when done using them – and make sure the trash gets put where a 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 a 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 a pet to play with or consume.
When leaving the house
Unplug decorations when not around. Cats, dogs, and other pets are often tempted to chew electrical cords.
Take out the trash to make sure pets can’t get to it, especially if it contains any food or food scraps
Maine animal shelters can be found online at maine.gov/dacf/ahw/animal_welfare/shelters.shtml. Ways to support the Maine Animal Welfare Program can be found at maine.gov/dacf/ahw/animal_welfare/index.shtml.