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Joan Merriam: Holiday stress and your dog

Ahhh, the holidays: a time for good cheer, good food, good friends and good times. So why would so many of us rather be locked in a room with a quartet of Velociraptors from Jurassic Park than deal with the holiday season?

In a word, stress.

But lest you think you’re the only one who experiences holiday stress, think about how it must feel for your dog. Suddenly his orderly, calm and predictable world turns into chaos: full-grown trees sprout overnight inside the house … otherworldly lights appear where they’d never been before … spiky, iridescent strands snake around doors and windows and up stairways … unfamiliar people invade his territory bearing delicious-smelling treats he’s prohibited from tasting … and everywhere there’s a sense of barely-controlled pandemonium.



Here are some hints that will help you ensure your pup makes it safely and happily through the season:

Visitors



Remember the old “know thyself” adage, and apply it to your dog. Does she generally like meeting new people, or is she shy or fearful? Does he get so excited with visitors that he crashes around like an untamed kangaroo, or can his exuberance be controlled with a few firm words? Some dogs love to meet new people, and some don’t; it’s important to know how your dog will react to guests before they arrive.

Brush up on obedience training beforehand, and have a plan for what you’ll do if things begin to get a little frenzied. Use a baby gate to keep him contained, or set aside a quiet room away from the commotion where he can calm down. For some dogs, you may even need to have him stay at a friend’s house or a boarding facility for your — and his! — safety and comfort.

Be sure to tell your visitors about any dog-related rules or prohibitions. For instance, if she has allergies or medical conditions, don’t let well-meaning friends give her treats containing certain ingredients. If he’s a counter-surfer (like my own Casey), make sure the buffet table is high enough to keep him from helping himself to the holiday goodies, and advise guests to keep their plates well-guarded or out of reach.

Ask overnight visitors to store their medications and anything that could be enticing to an inquisitive dog inside their suitcases or on a high shelf.

One of the biggest holiday hazards can be an open door: when people flock in, your dog can rush out, something you might be unaware of until he’s already disappeared. In the excitement of the moment, he also could find himself under the wheels of one of your visitor’s cars, with horrific consequences.

Food

By now you probably know that chocolate is one treat your dog should NEVER have. But did you know that some types of chocolate are worse than others? As a rule, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to dogs; a 6-ounce bar of milk chocolate may have no effect at all on a 60-pound lab, but that same bar of dark chocolate could result in serious health problems. The Pet MD website has a helpful Dog Chocolate Toxicity Meter that you may want to bookmark.

Certain nuts can also be highly toxic to dogs, especially macadamia nuts and walnuts. Other nuts pose different hazards: choking, intestinal obstruction, and even seizures are common. Nuts are also high in fats, which can result in problems as mild as stomach upset or as serious as pancreatitis.

Trimmings and fat from your holiday turkey can be problematic as well, and bones — which can splinter and cause obstruction or lacerations of the digestive system — are especially dangerous. When in doubt, avoid giving your dog anything from the holiday table.

And never allow your dog to drink alcohol, even if he’s over 21.

Holiday Decorations

It stands to reason that your dog shouldn’t eat or garland or decorations … but many dogs will try to eat anything that isn’t nailed down (and even then, they may give it a try).

What begins as curiosity can end with a dog in emergency surgery because he samples something like tinsel or ribbons. Once these types of items are consumed, they can coil or glob inside the animal’s stomach or intestines, even leading to death.

Those bright, dazzling ornaments can also attract your dog’s interest; if she decides to embark on a munching spree, she could end up choking or with mouth lacerations from trying to eat hard plastic or glass.

If your dog likes to chew, he could go for the string of holiday lights or an extension cord. You don’t need a Ph.D. in electrical engineering to know the result.

As for candles, remember that many of them are scented with things that dogs could find irresistible, so put them in hard-to-reach spots. Never leave your dog alone with lighted candles; not only could he seriously burn himself with the flame or hot wax, knocking over candles could result in a deadly fire.

And don’t forget about the Christmas tree itself: while most dogs won’t be tempted to nibble, oils from live or fresh trees can irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach, and tree needles can cause gastrointestinal irritation or obstruction.

The most important “rule” of all? Take time to enjoy this festive season with your furry friends, and keep them safe for all the holidays ahead!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.


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