I'll always remember the panic at my sister's house one Christmas when Captain, her beloved mutt, made his bid for freedom and went missing.
My siblings carried out a lengthy manhunt — or "mutt-hunt," rather — to no avail.
Finally, spent from hours of searching the neighborhood, everyone collapsed in the living room, hoping that Captain would return.
Just then, we heard scampering and a thump on the front porch.
My sister ran to the door, in front of which stood Captain, pleased and panting. He looked perfectly elated, victorious even, with a fat, greasy ham bone between his teeth and a healthy sprig of pine tucked haphazardly behind his black, furry ear.
No one was sure where he had been, but it was clear he had had a fantastic time.
What we didn't realize then was how fortunate we were that he survived his festive fete.
Holiday festivities and visitors can fill a home with love and good cheer. But with them comes potential for inadvertent illness and injury to pets. Pet owners should be aware of possible pitfalls and take precautions amid the merrymaking.
Pets on the lam
Dr. Tara Cumley, a veterinarian at the Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown, said dangers to pets abound during holiday gatherings. Chief among them is pet escape.
"Around the holidays, people have a lot of visitors who don't know the dog or cat's habits," Cumley said. "They may not be closing gates, for example, and the pets may accidentally get out."
As a result, Cumley said she commonly sees pets who have been hit by vehicles around the holidays.
Other visitor-related mishaps occur even when pets don't escape. An increased number of people in the home equates to an increased risk of a pet being trampled underfoot.
"I see a lot of accidents even just with recliners," Cumley said. "Pets will be on people's laps and then get down. The person won't realize (the pet) is not all the way down yet, and they'll get a little leg stuck in the recliner."
Pets under the weather
In addition to accidents, Cumley said she frequently treats pets during the holiday season for ailments of another nature. Namely, illnesses caused by "people food."
Ham, or any fatty food, for that matter, can cause mild to fatal pancreatitis in canines. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. While some dogs can tolerate fatty table foods, Cumley said others are more prone to problems digesting it.
Chocolate, depending on the kind, can be the kiss of death for dogs. It adversely affects the gastrointestinal system and can cause cardiac arrhythmia — in plain terms, an irregular heartbeat.
"Baker's chocolate is the worst. It can cause severe toxicity. It's a big deal," Cumley said. "If your dog gets into baker's chocolate, you need to get him in to the vet."
By being aware of potential dangers, Cumley said pet owners can take reasonable steps to ensure holiday gatherings are merry and bright.
Decorating tips to keep pets safe:
- Avoid tinsel and other stringy adornments. If ingested, they can cause intestinal perforation. "Pets, especially kittens, find them irresistible," Cumley said.
- If your pet is a chewer, monitor to ensure he is not nibbling on electrical cords to prevent electrocution. If you see burns in your pet's mouth, get to the vet.
- Keep cats away from ornaments. Cumley said she has found hooks attached to cats everywhere from under the tongue to the inside of the intestine.
- Anchor the tree to ensure cats and dogs don't topple it.
- Avoid decorating with mistletoe. "Depending on the species," Cumley said, "it can be a hazardous deal." Poinsettias, on the other hand, she said, "don't really cause a lot of problems as far as toxicity."