How to Keep Pets Healthy During the Holidays

Photo Credit: Hugo Juarez

The winter season poses many potential risks to animal companions, from frigid temperatures to road trips, food, and holiday decorations. We spoke with some well-known area veterinarians to get their advice on what families can do to protect their beloved pets. 

By Taylor Smith 

Dr. Christopher Garruba of Nassau Animal Hospital, located at 3440 US-1 in Princeton, said that owners should be aware of salted sidewalks and roadways. “Dogs can slip and fall on the ice just like people and collect ‘ice balls’ between their toes,” he said. “Their paw pads may also become irritated by salt on the roads. It’s important to carefully examine your dog’s paws and paw pads after each walk.”

When asked whether all dogs require a winter sweater or jacket, Dr. Garruba assures that “tiny dogs with a small body mass will appreciate a sweater to keep them warm, but be aware that some dogs are allergic to wool. Also, dogs should never get soaked in the sleet or snow to the point of shivering. A waterproof raincoat will help to keep them warm and dry during walks in inclement weather.”

Animals, like humans, often experience dry skin during the winter months. The combination of indoor heating and dry air may lead to flaking of the skin and excessive itching, which is known to drive anyone crazy. Concerned owners should always consult with a veterinarian before treating their dog’s or cat’s dry skin. “Treating dry skin may include supplemental oils in the food, nutritional supplements, shampoos, conditioners, or medications,” says Dr. Garruba. “An appointment with a veterinarian will verify that there is not some underlying illness causing the dry skin.”

Photo Credit: Hugo Juarez

Morris Animal Inn in Morristown is unlike any other pet care facility because they retain a veterinarian on-call 24 hours a day and a full-time Pet Wellness department. This internationally-recognized pet care facility is dedicated to maintaining the health of all daycare and boarding animals through attentive and understanding care. Specific meal preparation, administering medications and supplements, training, engaged playtime, daily brushing, and special handling and care are all specialties.

Kristen Hedderich, director of pet care operations at Morris Animal Inn, said, “The safety and well-being of all pets is our number one priority.” This hands-on facility uses an air-handling system with UV light treatment to eliminate airborne illnesses such as canine cough or canine influenza. Also, hospital-grade cleaning equipment, smoke and fire detection, and backup generators ensure pet safety. Outdoor areas are kept clear of snow and ice and the indoor facilities are temperature controlled with soft natural lighting and skylights in every room. Hedderich adds, “We make sure that the Morris Animal Inn has the feel of a spa with soothing background music in every room — it is a calm environment for the animals.”

Grooming services take into account winter health issues. For example, dogs may receive a paw soaking treatment for dry, cracked paw pads or a healthy skin and coat treatment complete with a soothing shampoo and conditioner. Hypoallergenic options are available to pets with allergies or sensitive skin. Nail trim packages and soothing massage enhance pet comfort.

Older pets or animals with arthritis are given special attention, with frequent short exercises and plenty of quiet time as needed. The majority of the dogs engage in group play and are organized according to size and play style.

Cats are given special love and attention with games of toy chase, “story time,” views of the fish tank, brushing, and quiet lap time. In the Kitty Play Room, cats roam freely with access to climbing and scratching posts, outside views, toys, catnip, and furniture.

Pet parents are encouraged to contact Morris Animal Inn as soon as possible when making their holiday plans. Also, Hedderich said that owners are encouraged bring their cat or dog’s favorite items from home, whether it be a special toy or a blanket. These added comforts will decrease any separation anxiety experienced by the pet.

To request a reservation, call 973.532.5030 or visit www.morrisanimalinn.com.

NorthStar VETS is a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital offering specialty, referral, and surgery services for dogs, cats, exotics, and other animals. Their Central New Jersey location is at 315 Robbinsville-Allentown Road in Robbinsville. All of NorthStar’s veterinarians specialize in a specific discipline of veterinary medicine including internal medicine, critical care, dentistry, neurology, cardiology, rehabilitation, and more.

Dr. Stacey Rebello at NorthStar VETS in Robbinsville advises that pet owners should be particularly careful of what pets are ingesting during the holidays. “Most people know that chocolate is toxic. Ingestion of even small quantities of dark chocolate is likely to result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), cardiac arrhythmia, or even tremors and seizures in larger amounts. Milk chocolate (while dangerous) is much less toxic.”

There are also many ingredients in holiday baked goods that pose a threat to animals. “Raisins, which appear in fruit cake and many types of cookies, are of particular concern since the ingestion of even a few can result in irreversible kidney damage,” said Dr. Rebello. “Macadamia nuts can cause vomiting, depression, tremors, and transient weakness to the point of a total inability to walk/move. Lastly, onions and garlic can be toxic in large doses, particularly in cats, and can cause anemia (low red blood cell count).”

 

For indoor pets, including hamsters, guinea pigs and/or certain cats, the ingestion of holiday decorations or tree ornaments is not uncommon, but can pose terrible risks. Dr. Rebello warns that items like tinsel and ribbon can “cause obstruction and damage to the esophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract. And while not an obstruction risk, we also worry about the ingestion of potentially hazardous holiday plants like poinsettias, which can cause inflammation and irritation of the oral cavity, esophagus, and stomach lining and result in nausea, drooling, and vomiting. Meanwhile, other holiday plants like Easter lilies (more common in the spring season) are highly toxic and can result in potentially fatal acute kidney failure.”

For those who plan on taking a road trip over winter vacation and bringing their pet along with them, be advised that this can be particularly stressful for animals and their owners. It is helpful to get your pet accustomed to riding in the car ahead of the vacation. Taking brief car rides to a nearby park or around town will acclimate your pet, so that they won’t always associate the car with a trip to the doctor’s office. Dr. Rebello adds that “pet-appropriate safety equipment, including crates for cats and small dogs and seat-belt harnesses for larger pets, will ensure their safety in case of an accident.”

Safe travels!