It's December 11th and even though yesterday was a sunny 55 degrees in Wisconsin, Christmas is just around the corner which means holidays parties, lots of guests, lots of travel, and questions about how to handle it with your pets. I have put together a pile of tips and recommendations to help you get through it all.
Giving Puppies as a Gift
Every year the holiday season is very busy for us, who doesn't love the idea of putting a puppy beneath the tree and making the kids scream with delight when they realize Santa has made their dreams come true? It's a great idea but one that should involve a lot of planning and consideration before you actually do it. Unlike toys, a puppy cannot be something that is loved for the moment and then pushed aside after the holidays are over and life goes back to normal. Please remember that a puppy is a lifetime commitment and if you are not ready to deal with that then perhaps think of a better idea to make that Christmas morning fabulous for the kids.
If you have decided that you want a puppy for Christmas take your busy holiday schedule into mind. I've had lots of people want to get their puppies on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning but then they think about all of the traveling they have to do and all of the people that will be over and realize that maybe it isn't such a good idea. If you don't have a lot to do and you can dedicate yourself to the puppy then getting it right on the holiday may work out fine, just consider how busy you are and how much time you will need to give to your new family member. Also be aware that you should limit how much exposure a new puppy has to new people as their immune systems are not fully developed, they are not fully vaccinated, and lots of exposure to people could result in sickness and unwanted stress for them.
In the past we have had people want puppies for Christmas but have decided it's better to wait to get them until after the actual holiday activities are over so I have sent them pictures as the puppy has grown and they usually print them out and wrap them up for under the tree. I've also had families purchase items like leashes, collars, toys and other puppy supplies that they have also wrapped and put under the tree for the kids to open and realize that a puppy is in their future. We do also offer gift certificates which you can also wrap and are great for someone who maybe wants a puppy, but isn't quite ready at that exact moment.
Another thing to consider is the weather. Here in Wisconsin it gets nasty and cold in December, the 55 degrees we had yesterday is unheard of and it currently feels like Spring, but we generally have below zero temperatures with tons of snow. I've had families from other states be very adamant about wanting their puppies on certain dates for Christmas but if a puppy has to be shipped I have to comply with airline rules and regulations about shipping them and if it's too cold they can't leave. If you want your puppy shipped on December 24th and there's a major snowstorm I can't control the weather, I can't control a flight getting delayed, and I also will not put a puppy on a flight if I do not feel safe about it. Generally I ask families to plan on getting their puppies shipped a few days before the holidays so that we can deal with any weather delays, this often requires them to find a babysitter for the puppy as they do not want to bring them home and ruin the surprise, that's also something else to consider, do you have someone you can depend on to puppysit?
Puppies and Christmas Trees
If you have a puppy you will need to take their curiosity and chewing into consideration when decorating your house for Christmas. On top of having puppies in the house we also have cats and one in particular is an adult that likes to chew, one year he decided to chew apart the wiring on our pre-lit Christmas tree, luckily it wasn't plugged in and that was the end of the tree.
Puppies turn everything into toys, and depending on their age, they often like to put everything into their mouths and chew on it. Tree branches will of course look like heaven to a teething puppy, ornaments are shiny and move, lights blink, and the entire thing looks like a wonderful fort to run underneath, around, and perhaps straight into! To make the tree safer we actually put it up on a coffee table so that it is too high for anyone to reach, I realize that not everyone is willing to do this, so avoid putting decorations, garland, or tinsel on the lower branches that can be reached. I would also avoid putting lights on any areas that can be reached to avoid chewing and electrical shock or potential fires. I would also avoid putting anything edible on the tree like popcorn or berries as the smell may make it even more tempting for the puppy and some berries may be toxic.
If you just don't trust having your puppy near the tree you can consider putting it up higher like we do with the coffee table or perhaps fence the tree off with a few exercise pens, or if possible put a baby gate up to prevent the puppy from entering the room that the tree is in when they are left unattended. I have also read about something called Sticky Paws which is a sheet of double sided tape that you can put on the floor around the tree as animals do not like to walk on sticky products.
Puppies chewing on Christmas lights can lead to electrical shock so my best advice is that you do not allow your pet near the tree unattended and to be sure and unplug the lights when you are not near the tree or supervising your pets. Symptoms of electrical shock aren't always obvious and don't appear immediately, injuries can also vary based on the voltage and the path of the current through the body. The most obvious sign of electrical shock is a burn mark at the point of contact. If your puppy was chewing on Christmas lights and got shocked they may have a burn strip across their mouth or tongue. If you suspect your puppy has been shocked it is very important that they be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
Lots of medical issues can arise during the holidays so be sure and ask your vet what their holiday hours are and who you can contact in case of an emergency. It is a good idea to have names and phone #'s written down in advance so you are prepared. My vet's office is not open during Christmas but we have an Emergency Clinic that is located about an hour away that is always available and I have their contact information written down in case I need to call them. Emergency Clinics generally are very expensive so it's also a good idea to have some extra money set aside to cover unexpected expenses.
Lots of people like to decorate for the holidays with plants and flowers, my best advice is to keep them high up and out of reach of your pets. Here is some information on common holiday plants:
Poinsettia- I was always told as a kid that these were highly toxic to animals so I have never had one in my house. Apparently this is an urban legend and Poinsettia's are now said to be mildly toxic and can cause nausea or vomiting, still not something I would choose to deal with.
Lillies, Daffodils, and Amaryllis- These are very common for Christmas and bulb kits have become a popular gift idea, we got one for my Mother in Law and she loved it. All of these flowers are very toxic to cats and Daffodils are very toxic to both cats and dogs, especially the bulb which would be so tempting for a puppy to chew on. Eating/chewing on these plants can cause symptoms of gastrointestinal upset, cardiac arrhythmias, kidney failure, convulsions and even death.
Mistletoe and Holly- Both of these plants along with their berries are more toxic than the Poinsettia. Mistletoe contains several substances that are toxic to both dogs and cats that can cause diarrhea, sudden drop in blood pressure, breathing problems and hallucinations.
Christmas Trees- Christmas trees are considered to be mildly toxic to both cats and dogs. The fir tree oils can be irritating to their mouth and stomach which can cause excessive drooling or vomiting. Those sharp tree needles are not easily digested and can possibly cause intestinal irritation, vomiting, gastrointestinal obstruction or puncture.
Christmas Cactus- You're safe with these, they are non toxic to both dogs and cats but I still suggest keeping all plants out of the reach of your animals.
I do suggest that you have a phone number available for all veterinary clinics that will be open for emergencies during the holiday season.
Most people have parties during the holidays and not all of your guests may realize that your dog is not allowed to have 'people food' and may decide to slip them a treat or two when no one is looking. You may want to consider having your pet contained while you are eating or to discuss with your guests before hand that people food is off limits to your pets. My family dogs are like vacuum cleaners during dinners, you can always find them under the dinner table waiting to snatch up any scrap that may fall to the floor. Here are a few foods to either avoid having available during parties or to warn your guests about:
Chocolate- We all know there will be Chocolate overload everywhere during the holidays so please be careful! Chocolate contains theobromine, a stimulant that puts dogs into heart stopping overdrive that can cause death. It also contains caffeine and we all know a puppy doesn't need any extra energy!
Xylitol- This is an artificial sweetener that can cause liver failure. This Summer I read a lot of articles about it being found in peanut butter which is commonly used as a treat for pets so please be sure to read your labels and do not feed this to your pets!
Avocado- This contains Persin which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Grapes and Raisins- These can cause kidney failure in dogs
Macadamia Nuts- According to the ASPCA Poison Control they can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hypothermia in dogs within about 12 hours of eating them.
Cooked Chicken and Pork Bones- Cooked bones can splinter and cause holes in the intestinal track, ham bones can break teeth. I suggest avoiding rawhide bones as well because they too can splinter. Stick with natural chew products like pig ears, bully sticks, hooves, and horns.
Alcohol- Some holiday foods and candies contain alcohol and some guests can leave cups unattended and at easy reach for your puppy. Alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death.
Please have a safe and happy Holiday Season, and please have your vet's contact information available just in case of an emergency.