Written by Renee DiNino and Wolfie / Photography by AK Photography
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! From trick-or-treating, Thanksgiving and all the “Pawlidays” to celebrate, pet parents love to treat their furry family members like everyone else with sweet treats and gifts. However, we should breakdown a few dos and don’ts from eats to treats and even giving the gift of a pet. I wanted to go to the experts before I offered my personal opinions and suggestions as a dog mom to Wolfie.
Let’s start with treats and eats for the holidays. I spoke with veterinarians to get to the bottom of the treat bowl, because everyone will tell you, “It’s fine,” or, “I gave my pets this all the time and nothing ever happened.” Even worse, they treat behind your back.
There are some foods to avoid. “This is my usual list,” said Dr. Rachael L. Currao, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (SA) and staff surgeon at the Surgery Department for New England Veterinary Center and Cancer Care. “More could be added but these are some of the most popular: onions, garlic and chives, chocolate, macadamia nuts, corn on the cob, avocado, artificial sweetener (xylitol), alcohol, cooked bones, caffeine, and bread dough.”
Additionally, Dr. Currao stated the most common reasons she sees dogs and cats in the ER over the holidays are toxicities (i.e., food, chemicals, drugs), foreign object ingestion (i.e., tinsel, ornaments, bones, corn cobs) and pancreatitis—sometimes from ingesting large amounts of human food.
“A common, known toxin is chocolate, which is found in many of our holiday treats and gifts,” explained Dr. Kristin Haviar, DVM, at the Animal Hospital of Rocky Hill. “The toxicity can vary based on the type and amount of chocolate ingested as well as the size of the dog. Baker’s chocolate, dark chocolate and cocoa powder have the highest level of toxicity; small amounts of these types of chocolate can cause harmful effects. It’s important to keep all chocolate out of reach of your dogs; this includes not putting any gifts that may contain chocolate under your Christmas tree where your dog may have access to it.”
“And, most importantly, grapes and raisins are also known to be toxic and can be found in many holiday dishes,” Dr. Haviar continued. “Any amount of grape or raisin can be toxic to a dog no matter their size. Grapes can cause kidney failure if the pet is not seen and decontaminated quickly. Xylitol is an artificial sugar that is found in many products, including baked goods, peanut butter and chewing gum. This product can be highly toxic to dogs and lead to liver failure.”
Rawhides are also not recommended by Drs. Haviar and Currao, especially those with the festive red and green dyed colorings. A warning for pet parents of counter surfers, plastic food wrap can be deadly. Great alternatives to offer to those friends and relatives who think you are starving your beloved furry children: make a special treat bowl/platter/area filled with approved goodies by you and direct all animal lovers to the designated treat area. Gating the kitchen area may be a good suggestion, although cat parents know that may not be a deterrent for our feline family members.
Gifting a Pet
Is there anything cuter than a puppy or a kitten with a bow in front of a Christmas tree, or in a blue ribbon in a beautiful Hanukkah display? The answer is no, but is giving the gift of a pet a good idea? Here are some thoughts and suggestions by our experts. You should also know there is a spike of returned and even missing pets after the holidays, not always related to gift giving. Animal control officers have informed me they can directly point to gift giving around birthdays or in general as a huge factor in the reasons pets end up at shelters.
“No, pets are not gifts! They are a commitment of at least 10-15 years,” exclaimed Sherry DeGenova, an animal control officer (ACO) for the City of Hartford Police Department and president of Kenway’s Cause Animal Rescue. “There’s a lot of responsibility where all family members should be involved and not everyone in a family may want a pet.”
ACO Roslyn Nenninger and K9 Comfort Dog Mallard of Wolcott Animal Control and Police Department added, “I hate the idea on so many levels. Pets are not gifts and can’t be returned in many instances. They are not a novelty like a toy or a coat that wears off or goes out of style.”
Patti Hawkins and Carol Lee Ferrucci of CT Dog Gone Recovery, a division of Dog Star Rescue, also see this on a daily basis. “More than likely, the dog will be either surrendered to a shelter or just let loose. It is a lifelong commitment. Kittens and puppies grow up to be cats and dogs. They are a lot of work. People get very excited with the cuteness and sweetness when they’re small. Sometimes they lose interest once they are grown.”
If you are intent on giving the gift of a pet, there are some great questions and tips to decide on the best pet for your family. Do you want a large or small animal? What breeds and characteristics? Are there allergies to consider? Do you own or rent? Will your insurance cover a pet in the house? Can you afford this responsibility? Is everyone on board with this decision? Do you travel for work or pleasure? Do you have trustworthy options when leaving? Pets can add so much to your life and home but should be a decision not made lightly; all should be on board, including an existing pet in the home.
This brings us to the scary part of the article. What if my pet goes missing? Always be sure to have a current dog license in your town, have a current photo ready showing distinctive markings and be sure your pets identification tags/collars have up to date info.
When do our experts typically see pets go missing the most? “Summer is the busiest for us. Fireworks and thunderstorms are typically when we get the most calls. Fourth of July weekend is probably the busiest. It starts before Memorial Day and really doesn’t end until Labor Day. For the holiday season starting on Thanksgiving through the end of the year, we see missing pets mainly due to people having company coming over and people do not close the doors properly,” said CT Dog Gone Recovery’s Hawkins and Ferrucci.
“Pets go missing because guests either don’t know you have a pet loose in the house or are not paying attention when they open and close the door,” added ACO DeGenova. “Keep collars on with ID tags. If people are coming and going from your home, put a large note on the door making people aware you have a loose pet in the house or secure your pet somewhere safe while people are coming and going.”
“Accidents happen even with the best and most cautious of owners and dogs can escape or go missing,” said Dr. Currao. All agree, including our veterinarians, microchipping is another useful tool to keep track of your pets. “One of the first things we do when a stray animal is brought into the hospital is scan it for a microchip. If the dog has a microchip, we can go online and identify and contact the owner within minutes. In some instances, it can be lifesaving for a dog to have a microchip if they run away or become lost.”
“Microchipping is a great idea for all pets,” added Dr. Havier. “Not only does it help identify and reunite lost pets. But some of them, like the HomeAgain microchip, also have additional services including a medical hotline and pet poison hotline.”
The holidays are a time when more than normal company is expected and a reason for parties. “Keeping your pets away from large crowds while having parties is a good idea,” ACO Nenninger suggested. “If your pets are not used to children or older guests who may need canes or walkers, all the noises and excitement, just put them away in a safe, quiet space. Watch if your dog loves food or has food aggression around parties. If your dog has allergies to food, remember people think pets need to have a little something and will feed your pet—most of the time without asking or if you’re not looking. Avoid guests bringing their pet(s) to your house without prior consent or your pets meeting.”
Favorite Holiday’s Pawlidays Gifts
What are some of the best gifts to give our beloved pet kids? Here’s a list with the help of our contributors and, of course, approved by my Wolfie.
Top Picks for Dogs
- Indestructible toys (such as Kongs and Jolly Eggs): Eventually these toys will need to be replaced because they will find a way to break through.
- Balls, balls and balls: Chuck It dog throws and balls are very popular. Felt balls aren’t recommended as they go right through them.
- Gift cards: Get gift cards for the pet parent’s favorite local pet store.
- Food: Pick up some baked pet treats from pet bakeries.
- Stuffed toys: They are great, but be mindful of the squeakers, especially if you have destroyers on your hands.
Top Picks for Cats
- Catnip toys
- Scratch posts, pads and lounges
- Cat condos/towers/tunnels
- Mouse toys
- Fabric wands/teasers with strings and toys attached (Important to note: be careful of any toys with excessive ribbons. These should be monitored and not left out when unattended.
Wolfie and I want to wish all our readers a happy and safe holiday season! When in doubt, please ask the pet parent before giving any treats. Be mindful of your surroundings, especially if visiting a family member or friends with pets. Always check before giving the gift of a pet with all parties involved first.
People and pets, when we’re kinder to animals, we’re kinder to people! Happy Pawlidays!
Renee DiNino is an iHeartMedia radio and TV host, blogger, podcaster, and public speaker. Connect on Facebook @ReneeDiNinoCT, Instagram@reneedinino and Twitter @MyCTcommunity.