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How To Enjoy A Safe Holiday With Your Small Animal Pet

Holiday fun also brings possible holiday dangers to your small animal pet, unless you are aware and plan for holiday safety.

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: December 9, 2014, 9:40 p.m. EST

The holiday season is a time of cheer and goodwill, entertaining, decorations and tasty goodies. However, it is also a time of disrupted routines, compromised eating habits, lack of sleep and chaos! People can easily take a moment for themselves during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but what about our pets? How can we protect them from holiday overload? The following outlines some steps you can take to ensure that your rabbit, ferret, guinea pig, hamster or other small animal pet has a happy holiday.

1. Maintain your pet’s routine. The holidays often bring many visitors to our home and our guests may inadvertently stress our pets with excess attention or wanting to see "Fluffy” do her trick one more time. Keep handling to a minimum and watch your pet closely for signs of agitation and stress, such as trembling, hiding, altered appetite or reduced stool output. If you are hosting a party, keep your pet caged and in a quiet, comfortable and secure area of the house away from visitors. Try and maintain as normal a routine for your pet as possible during the holidays. 

2.  Watch your pet’s diet. Many holiday treats contain items that are not recommended for pets. Avoid feeding or allowing your pet to eat foods with any of the following ingredients: 

  • Chocolate: This item is plentiful during the holidays but can cause severe diarrhea or even seizures and death at high doses. 
  • Onion: If eaten in excess, onion toxicity causes red blood cells to burst resulting in severe anemia, respiratory distress, renal failure and eventual death. 
  • Alcohol and caffeine: While no responsible pet owner would ever consider giving their pet an alcoholic drink, pets can be very curious about unattended cocktails. This can quickly lead to alcohol poisoning. Caffeinated drinks — such as coffee, tea and soda pop — are also dangerous. Caffeine alters cardiac function by disrupting the normal rhythm of the heart. This can have deadly consequences. 
  • Salt: Many snacks contain excess salt, which can lead to kidney dysfunction and swelling of the brain.
rabbit sitting by Christmas tree
© Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Power cords, ornaments, tinsel — all these common holiday items could be hazards for your pet.

3. Safety-proof your home. Most pets are naturally curious and are easily attracted to bright and shiny Christmas ornaments. Screening your home for danger can prevent an emergency visit to the veterinarian. 

  • The paint found on many ornaments could contain metals like lead or zinc, which cause severe gastrointestinal distress, neurological dysfunction and death if ingested. Broken glass from fragile ornaments can result in cuts and scratches. 
  • Many pets have required emergency surgery to remove strands of tinsel from the intestine. 
  • Secure electrical cords. A bite through a live wire could lead to severe burns and/or electrocution. 
  • Mistletoe, holly and poinsettias are toxic and should be kept out of reach.
  • Keep fireplace grills in place to prevent burns or the ingestion of ashes. 
  • Don’t allow your pet to drink water out of the Christmas tree stand. Keep dropped needles off the floor so that you pet doesn’t ingest them. These can be a choking hazard and lead to stomachaches. Some fresh trees are sprayed with harmful chemicals that can be toxic to your pet.

4. Check your pet every night. Before heading off to bed, take a moment to check on your pet. Ensure that there is food and water available to him, that the cage is securely closed, and that your pet seems to be resting comfortably. Droppings should be monitored daily to ensure that your pet is eating normally and that there are no signs of digestive upset. 

As the saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With proper precautions, both you and your pet can enjoy the holidays! 

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
How To Keep Your Ferrets Stress-Free During Winter Holidays
Help! My Pet Has Been Poisoned By My Medicine!
Tips For Finding The Right Veterinarian For Your Small Animal Pet

Posted: December 9, 2014, 9:40 p.m. EST

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