Monday, December 20, 2010

Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching and there are some basic steps you can take to keep your pets safe, happy and relatively stress-free through the festivities. 

Many people travel during the holidays, if you are traveling with your dog remember to do the following:
  • Make sure he has current collar tags and a microchip.  Tags will get your dog home faster than anything else.  Make sure that the number on the tags is a number you can be reached at while travelling - this usually means a cell phone number.  Consider also putting a temporary tag with a local number on his collar.
  • Restrain him in the car – either with a seat belt or in a crate that is secured so it can’t move around in the event of an accident.
  • Consider making and carrying a lost dog flyer with a current picture in the event that you are separated from your dog while traveling.  At the very least, email yourself a couple of recent pictures (head and profile shots) so you will have access to them in an emergency.

While you are visiting or if you have visitors in your house:
  • Try to keep your routine as consistent as possible.  Keep walk, feeding and exercise times as consistent as possible.
  • Whether you are visiting or have visitors in your home, make sure you take your dog’s crate or bed and put it in a quiet place, out of the flow of traffic where visitors won’t bother him.
  • Even if your dog is a social butterfly, make sure you give him periodic “time outs” to let him settle from the excitement.
  • Manage greetings.  If you have a young dog or multiple dogs, crate or restrain the dogs while people are coming into or leaving the house.  Let them out to socialize after people have the settled in.  

If visiting family involves merging one or more packs of dogs:
  • Manage coming and going.  Introduce dogs outside with a little side-by-side walk.  Moving helps dogs settle and gives them something constructive to do while getting comfortable with a new dog.
  • Watch mixed groups of dogs.  Your dog may get along just fine with your brother’s dog on a walk or outside but add confined spaces, lots of people and yummy food and your ordinarily friendly dogs may start to posture, resource guard or mark territory.  Remember that doorways, people, food, toys, beds and cars are all likely triggers for resource guarding. 
  • Let individual dogs or individual packs of dogs rather than everyone out at one time.  This will help reduce stress.  Take all the dogs out together for walks or playtime outside if they all get along. 
  • Give each group of dogs their own crating space like separate bedrooms.  Let them out together in managed situations.  Consider putting a baby gate up so each pack can have free run of their own end of the house without all being thrown together.
  • Remember that mixing groups of dogs increases the chance that dogs will urine mark in the house.  If you have a dog that marks, manage him so he doesn’t have an opportunity to pee.  A single urine mark can quickly degenerate into a full fledged pee war and that’s not very festive.

If there are small children involved:
  • Don’t leave any dog, no matter how sweet, unattended with small children.  Any dog can be pushed past his threshold especially after a long day of excitement. 
  • Make sure the dog has a place he can retreat to where the children will leave him alone. 
  • If your dog isn’t used to children, remember that a baby gate can be a great tool for allowing both of them to see the action while keeping them safely separated.
  • If children are old enough to play with the dogs safely, supervise them and make them a part of playtime.  Many young children enjoy throwing a tennis ball, playing a game of tug with an appropriate toy or asking a dog to sit or do tricks for a treat. 
  • Manage the dog during greetings to make sure he can’t jump on or intimidate a small child.  Don’t expect him to just “get it” on his own.

And about the big meal:
  • If your dog is used to getting table scraps and people food, you can substitute up to ¼ of his normal ration with appropriate people food like lean turkey meat, mashed potatoes, or green beans.  So if your dog normally eats two cups of kibble per day, you can substitute ½ cup of table scraps for an equal amount of kibble without much likelihood of an upset stomach. 
  • Remember to avoid all the usual suspects like chocolate, onions, garlic, grapes or raisins.  Many dogs also don’t process wheat, gluten or dairy products well either.
  • Avoid salty foods like cured ham, sugary foods like desserts and greasy foods.  Cooked poultry fat causes gastrointestinal upset for some dogs. 
  • And of course, cooked bones are a no go.  They can splinter and cause impactions or perforations in the digestive track.

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