Pet-Friendly Holidays

by Jeff Fleischer

(Chicagoland Tails, Holiday 2006)

The holiday season is fast approaching. And because guardians consider their pets as part of the family, many want to include their dogs and cats in the festivities. Still, it’s important to remember what’s fun for humans can be stressful to pets. Whether heading to grandmother’s house or hosting the clan, make sure to take the necessary steps for a healthy, happy holiday.

Traveling with pets

Of course, before leaving home with your pets in tow, you should think about whether you’ll be able to spend time with them where you’re going. “If a pet is left alone in a strange hotel room and out of their ordinary routine, that’s not a good choice for [him],” says Gail Buchwald of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “What we might think of as a vacation for us can be disturbing for the pet, and that can yield injuries or trying to run away.” Often, it’s a better option to have a friend, neighbor, or pet-sitter stay at your home with the animals, or board them at a kennel.

If you do decide to bring your pet, make sure to bring two forms of identification for her, including an ID tag with a cell phone number or number where you can be reached locally. It’s also a good idea to take your pet for a checkup before a long trip.

When traveling by car, keep cats or small dogs in carriers and bigger dogs secured with safety harnesses. “Animals should never be loose in the vehicle,” Buchwald says. “Too often, you hear about dogs who get excited about a rolled-down window and jump out on a highway. Adequate water should be available, and animals should never be left alone in a car because temperatures can be much more extreme than we realize.” Always pack more food, water, and medicine than you expect to need, and bring along toys or bedding to make your pet more comfortable.

Before taking your pets on a long drive, get them used to the car with short trips. “You don’t want the only time they get in the car to be to go to the vet or the day you leave for a holiday vacation,” says Stephanie Shain of the Humane Society of the United States. “If you have a cat who’s riding in the carrier, you want to make sure she’s comfortable in it. Have the carrier out for a few weeks before your trip, just so she can investigate it and get familiar with it.”

The HSUS doesn’t recommend traveling by airplane with your pet, but says it’s better to bring them in the cabin with you than to make them fly cargo. Check with the airline beforehand to make sure animals are allowed in the cabin, and know that your pet generally needs a separate ticket.

Handling pets with company

When you’re the one hosting guests, keep your pet’s personality and safety in mind. A pet who gets nervous or isn’t used to large groups is usually better off staying in a bedroom or other quiet space until company leaves. “Leave them with their own bed and a favorite toy or treat,” Shain says. “Put the radio or television on, and it’s fine to just have them stay in that room to keep them from getting in trouble or getting out of the house without anyone noticing.”

If you choose to leave your pets out, keep an eye on them so they don’t get a hold of things they shouldn’t. Unsupervised, they can eat decorations such as tinsel, pieces of gifts, or “people food” that can make them sick. “If you let people give your animals table scraps, you’re going to condition a begging behavior in the pet,” Buchwald explains. “Rules enforced when there aren’t guests around should be enforced just as stringently when they are around. It’s the only way to prevent training confusion.” Also, watch children’s interactions with your pets, as they can sometimes frighten an animal and provoke a bite or scratch.

When guests with pet allergies stay over, provide them with a separate room. Wash the bedding in hot water before they arrive, vacuum, and use a wet cloth to dust all surfaces in the room.

Giving pets as gifts

If you’re going to give a pet as a gift, make sure you’ve talked about the idea beforehand. “The key is you don’t give an animal as a surprise gift,” Shain says. “It’s one thing if you’re giving a pet to your child or your spouse, where you’re in the home and able to make sure the animal is cared for properly and is wanted. It’s another to give one to an aunt who’s never expressed an interest.”

The best way to give an animal is through a gift certificate to a shelter, so the recipient can pick out the perfect companion himself. Many shelters sell certificates to cover adoptions and other expenses. “We recommend wrapping up either dog toys, a litter box, or other supplies so they have something to open,” Shain says. “Then giving the certificate so they can go and find the animal they identify with, because it’s so important to have that bond. That way they can still have the fun of opening something exciting on Christmas morning, but you allow them to pick the individual who will be part of their family.”

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