Keeping your pet fit and healthy can improve its quality of life and increase longevity. Surprisingly, holiday time can pose a number of unexpected risks to your pet's health and safety.
"During the winter months and around the holidays, it's especially important for pet owners to take certain precautions to ensure their pets stay happy and healthy," says Dr. Marty Becker, veterinarian and consumer spokesperson for National Pet Wellness Month.
Dr. Becker offers the following advice for keeping dogs and cats healthy during the winter holiday season:
Schedule a wellness exam
Because pets age, on average, up to seven times faster than people, every pet should receive a wellness exam twice a year. As the seasons change, now is an ideal time to have your pet examined. During the exam, the veterinarian will conduct a physical, take the pet's history, conduct blood and urine screenings, and update vaccinations. The veterinarian will look for signs of kidney, liver and heart disease as well as cancer. Semi-annual exams give your veterinarian the opportunity to detect, treat or, ideally, prevent problems before they become life-threatening.
Exercise your pet
As a general rule, pets should exercise at least 15 minutes, two times a day. Except for sick, overweight or older pets, pets should be panting tired if they're getting vigorous enough exercise. Without enough exercise, pets can become overweight and lethargic, which can sometimes lead to serious health conditions. In some parts of the country, pets that are active and outside most of the year tend not to get their usual amount of exercise in winter. Taking your dog for a brisk walk or playing with toys that catch your cat's attention can help keep them fit and less bored. Any snow or salt should be removed from your pet's paws immediately.
Holidays are a wonderful time for family and friends, and food is often at the center of our celebrations. While some "people foods" such as a bit of white turkey meat are OK for pets in moderation, other foods can be toxic, cause anemia or upset your pet's digestive system. In particular, chocolate can be fatally toxic to dogs if enough is consumed. It's best for pets to stick to a pet-food diet to ensure proper nutrition. Naturally, guests should be asked not to share food with your pets.
Keep a safe environment
Many holiday plants and decorations are toxic or potentially injurious to pets. Some plants such as holly, ivy and mistletoe can be toxic if ingested by your pet. Shiny tinsel is appealing, especially to cats, but, if ingested, can cause serious intestinal problems. Breakable ornaments should be kept inaccessible to pets. Electrical cords should be out of the way and covered to prevent pets, especially puppies, from chewing on them. Snow removal products should be stored where pets cannot get into them.
Monitor your pet
Pet owners should always monitor their pets for any changes in weight, diet, eating, drinking, elimination or behavior. Sometimes we assume that changes are expected because pets age much faster than people. However, changes could also be signs of more serious health issues.
Accidents, sudden illness or other emergencies can happen anytime -- at home or while traveling. Be prepared by keeping phone numbers for a veterinary clinic and animal poison control center.