SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 16, 2012

Make sure your pet has a happy holiday

Vet Connection Dr. Elizabeth Bradt
The Salem News

---- — The holidays have arrived, with Thanksgiving next week and Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa soon to follow. What gifts can you give to your pets? The retail opportunities are so vast that it can be hard to make a good choice for your pet.

One of the best gifts you can give animals in general is to refrain from gifting any pet to a person over the holidays, especially if it is not an expected gift. I have seen adults in tears in my exam room because family members unexpectedly gifted them a Labrador puppy (insert any animal species here) to care for in addition to the four children and the full-time job.

Do not purchase an exotic pet unless you have done lots of research. All types of exotic pets need precision care and lots of knowledge to keep them healthy. A surprise gift could mean a very unhappy pet and owner. Many of these gifted pets end up in a shelter or dead due to neglect within a few months.

If you currently have a pet as a member of the family, there are a few inexpensive things you can do to help your pet over the holidays. You can give your pet a quiet place to rest during big holiday parties. This way, guests will not be able to feed your pet food that could cause severe gastrointestinal disruption such as vomiting, diarrhea or pancreatitis. Being away from the noise and hubbub will also decrease the chance of your pet developing signs of stress. Ideally, the quiet place is a familiar room or kennel that your pet frequents. You can refrain from decorating with any stringlike garlands or tinsel, which pets can ingest and become obstructed. Even ribbon should be kept away from the pets. You can refrain from using rock salt on your sidewalks, as this can irritate your pet’s feet. Use cat litter or sand instead.

What to gift the pet that already has everything? Shop carefully for chew toys. If a chew toy does not have some flexibility, it may be too hard for your pet’s teeth. Hard marrowbones and beef bones can fracture dog’s teeth quite easily. If chewed all the time, bones can wear the teeth down. Tennis balls can wear teeth down to nubbins with exposed and painful nerves. Rawhide dental chews can be safe and are great for getting the smelly bacterial biofilm off your dog or cat’s teeth. A solid scratching post that your cat can climb will exercise your cat’s claws and muscles. Treat your exotic pet to a more varied diet after consulting with your vet on the proper foods.

A microchip will provide you peace of mind and your pet with safety. One-third of all pets are lost at some point in their lifetime. Ninety percent of pets lost are never recovered. If they have a microchip, they are much more likely to be returned to you. More than 1 million pets have been recovered thanks to microchips. A microchip could save a lot of heartbreak for you and could save your pet’s life. It would make a great present.

Our dog Otis ran away to a local camp while we were on Cape Cod this summer. Before we knew he was gone, we received a call. The girls in the cabin at the camp had called the number they found on his tags. The microchip company contacted our practice, my receptionist called my husband, and then my husband contacted me to let me know he was at Cape Cod Sea Camps being adored by a cabin of campers. It turns out Cape Cod Sea Camps is right next door to our cabin through some woods. Otis probably heard the sound of laughing kids and blew through the screen window to go visit. If he did not have the microchip and tag, he might not have been found. Before we walked back down the beach, Otis received his own camp badge donated by a friendly counselor who, amazingly enough, was also named Otis.

Pet insurance is another great peace-of-mind gift for you and your pet. Pet insurance can help pay for treatment if your pet gets sick. Paying a small amount each month could help you pay some big unforeseen bills in the future.

Give your pet some comfort. If your pet has a thin coat of fur, a coat with a thick windbreaker will help keep him warm. Purchase a thick, comfortable dog bed for your dog or a heated bed for your cat.

The latest news from veterinary behavior specialists is that harnesses are a much more humane way to lead your dog or cat on a leash. They will thank you for not tugging on their necks. Also, the majority of behaviorists are recommending that you not use any choke chains to train your dog because they are a negative and painful method of training. Get your pet’s attention by having treats in your pocket and hand. Provide positive reinforcement with your voice and treats every time they come closer to performing the good behavior you desire.

As a present to your whole family and your pet, spring for some behavior training classes. All behavior trainers are not equal. Some specialize in aggressive dogs, others specialize with certain breeds, and there are many training methods. Ask your veterinarian which behavior trainers they recommend. Consider having your child be the trainer and participate in the behavior training lessons. A trained pet becomes a well-adjusted pet and a permanent member of the family. That is the best gift of all for the whole family.

---

Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem (www.creaturehealth.com). She is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Email your pet questions to docliz@creaturehealth.com. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”