It is that time of year again, wrapping up work, getting ready for the holiday season, the weather is warming up and the Christmas get together is not that far away. While we get caught up in the hype, we need to remember that our dogs are there too, watching, helping and sometimes even eating! Christmas time also seems to be the period when storms hit, fireworks are lit and things can be a bit chaotic.
So in this blog, I thought I would highlight some of the hazards and concerns we need to be aware of so you can avoid a trip to the emergency clinic or council pound and hopefully you will have a wonderful time over your holiday break.
Christmas gathering hazards
Christmas lunch is often a super feast and all sorts of delicious stuff comes to the table. While we overindulge, we need to remember that some of it can be deadly for our dogs so below is a list of not just food, but also household items that you need to watch out for. If you suspect your dog has ingested any of these items, then a trip to your vet or emergency clinic is necessary.
- Alcohol – dogs love alcohol because of the yeast content however their kidneys cannot break it down and kidney failure can occur soon after ingestion. Make sure there are no beer cans, half empty wine bottle, champagne bottles or stubbies lying around
- Fruit cake/pudding – this dessert is rich and loaded with raisins, sultanas and alcohol, all of which cause acute kidney failure
- Grapes – commonly dished out in the fruit platter at the end of the day, ensure nobody is tossing them over to your dog for fun, grapes cause acute kidney failure also
- Macadamia nuts – often coming out during the feast, especially the chocolate coated variety, these nuts can cause paralysis and have a nasty side effect
- Chocolate – just a reminder as most people know these days that chocolate is harmful, it can cause clotting problems and liver problems, chocolates are for humans only!
- Onions – whether you are cooking up onion rings or just slapping a batch of them on your BBQ, ensure they are not in reach of your dog. The oil and fat makes them super attractive and delicious but if they are eaten, they will cause the blood clotting system to go haywire and a blood transfusion might be needed
- Garlic – whilst we use garlic a lot in cooking, dogs are not designed to eat it so avoid giving them left overs with loads of garlic in them
- Corn cobs – often bathed in butter as they come off the BBQ, whilst they are not poisonous, they are notorious for causing a bowel obstruction so ensure they are binned well and not tossed in the garden compost
- BBQ bones – ensure your well meaning relatives don’t toss these nasty bones over their shoulder to treat the dogs as cooked bones are brittle and jagged and will not digest in the stomach. Instead they break into shards inside the intestine and can cause a blockage or a tear as they attempt to make their way out. The attempted passing itself is also excruciatingly painful!
- Fish bones – these nasty little bones are just as dangerous as they are to humans if they get stuck. Not only can they be hard to find but they can easily penetrate through tissue because they are so fine
- Corks and bottle tops – these party lids are often found strewn across the yard the after the celebrations and for older dogs, are quite possibly not such an issue however, for the younger more curious dogs, they may be tempting enough that they will eat them and swallow them. Corks in particular are yummy as they have yeasty residues on the end of them so be sure to do a cork and lid sweep before letting your dog back out into the garden
- Cigarette butts – just the thought of my dog picking one up is yuck so ask your guests to place their butts in an ashtray rather than toss them in the yard!
- Butter – this fatty food is not great for dogs. If they have a moderate quantity, it can spur on pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas which can be life threatening. Ensure your butter is well out of reach of your dog
- Batteries – these little buggers are making their way to the top of the poisons list over the last few years and more so the cell batteries that we find in small devices and kids toys. Batteries, once in contact with the moist mouth or stomach, will start to burn the tissue and can cause horrific burns and damage along the way. Ensure there are NO batteries lying around on the floor or tables after the unwrapping is all done
- Christmas wrapping and ribbons and ornaments – beware of ribbons around the presents as they can easily be ingested as can baubles and tinsel. Once the pressies have been unwrapped, collect all the rubbish and recycle it and keep an eye out on your Xmas decorations as well
The family gathering
Family gatherings can be wonderful and they are often the only opportunity for everyone to come together on the one day and this means everyone is going to be very excited and happy…….and so will your dog!
Before the big feast, plan out what you will do with your dog. Here are some tips on how to help the day go by smoothly without creating a drama between your guests and your dog.
- Where will your dog be on the day, especially if there are young kids coming? Think about whether you and your dog will cope better if it was tucked away in a bedroom for the day, set up in the garage, settled in a crate in the house away from the chaos, at your neighbour’s house or causally wandering around with the guests. You know your dog best so all you need to ask yourself is, will your dog behave and cope with the party people or not
- What will you do if your dog starts to muck up? Have your plan of action ready to go so if your dog starts to muck up because it is either way too excited or just over it, don’t wait until it gets really out of control. As soon as you see the earliest signs of your dog finding it hard, call it! This is when you send your dog to its quiet zone to chill out
- Where will your dog be when everyone eats? Again each dog is different but if you have a loiterer or a very generous relative who dishes food off the table, then this might be the time your dog gets sent off to its quiet zone so everyone can eat in peace and you don’t have to stress about whether Uncle Bob just fed your dog some grapes!
- What will you do if your well intended family member handled your dog in a negative way? This can happen as some people still believe and follow the Dominance Theory. If you have been raising your dog using fabulous force free training methods, harsh discipline from another person can cause trauma and create a very negative association towards unfamiliar people. If you know you have a guest who thinks punishing is better, then it is best you keep your dog well away from that person!
- What if your guest asks if it can bring their dog along also? This one for me is an easy one. If your dog knows that other dog and gets along well, then yep, why not bring a dog buddy along. But if your dog has never met this dog before or simply does not get along with it, then politely say that you prefer it doesn’t come over. We need to remember that it is quite ambitious expecting a dog to just tolerate a random dog being brought over into its home. It might sound cute but dogs are like people; they take time to warm up to others and sometimes they just don’t get along with each other
- What about kids and babies? Again, if your dog has experience around children and is calm around them, then they can interact but always under strict supervision. Ensure no dog food is lying around that may cause the dog to guard and ensure the children know that when the dog is resting, to leave it alone. When it comes to babies, just keep them apart. New mums are stressed enough as it is without having a dog glaring at their newborn
- In a nutshell, if having your dog around is fun and everybody enjoys the company, then allow your dog to be part of it, however, if you feel your dog will be stressed or you are already worrying about your dog, then set up a safe and quiet zone for it. You will find you will both be relieved!
Australia is notorious for having a good old thunderstorm during the Christmas period. Whilst many dogs are habituated to the sound and light show, the newer, younger dogs might not be so we want to ensure their first experience is not a super scary one. For the anxious dogs, thunderstorms are just terrifying so we need to ensure good management comes into practice so they can get through it.
Here are some tips on how to help your dog cope with thunderstorms.
- Ensure they have a safe space to retreat to, preferably somewhere they can access when you are not home. We don’t want them to rely on getting to their safe space only when you are home or they will assume you are what keeps them safe, not their private space. Consider the kennel, a covered crate, wardrobe, under the bed, under the coffee table, under the couch, in the bathroom or laundry, bedroom, etc. Dogs like to retreat to a space where they can squeeze in when they get scared and they will often hide there until it is all over. Encourage them to seek these spaces out on their own
- Play some music or talk back radio on the days forecast to storm. It might help muffle out the rumbling thunder as it rolls in
- Consider using Adaptil products leading up to the forecast storms – these products have calming pheromones in them and come in a collar, plug in diffuser and spray variety
- If your dog is already thunderphobic, talk to your vet about medication that might ease the stress
- Consider a Thundershirt – this is a specially made wrap around vest that is designed to apply gentle even pressure to the body and in doing so, can alleviate mild stress. The key is to pop the vest on randomly when the dog is in a relaxed state, not just when there are storms otherwise they will see the vest as an indicator of an impending storm!
- Play with your dog and go out in the yard, toss treats and make it fun. If your dog sees that you are relaxed about it, then your dog might not stress about it as much. We have to be careful that our behaviour does not influence theirs. If you are in a state of panic, yelling at the dog to come inside quickly away from the scary storm, then your dog might learn that YOU are scared of storms and that they are really, really bad. We want dogs to think storms are no big deal
So many clients stress out over the last few weeks of December because they know they are going to have people in the neighbourhood setting off illegal fireworks and crackers. Dogs find these particularly scary because they are so random and loud. If we had fireworks popping off every day of the week, dogs would habituate like they do with other noises but when they go off once or twice a year, it can be really hard to adapt to.
Here are some tips on how to prepare our dogs for fireworks.
- Pop your dog inside the house before you head out to your NYE party, especially if you know your dog has never seen or heard fireworks before or is already scared of them. Set them up in their safe zone
- The other option is to see the year out with your dog! That way you can supervise and ensure your dog can cope
- Play some talk back radio or classical music in the background but ensure the station is not going to broadcast their own live countdown as fireworks can often be heard in the background. Classical music in particular can be rather calming
- Get the Adaptil products on board and consider the Thundershirt on top
- If your dog already suffers from anxiety or fear of fireworks, speak to your vet about medication that might just help the night go by a bit easier
- Unless you know for sure that your dog is totally bomb proof when fireworks are going off, think about leaving the dog home so it has the control to remove itself if it does not like them. This can be hard for the dog when it has been taken to a NYE festival and has no choice but to sit it out until the folks want to go home
Going on holidays with your dog
If you are having a break with your dog, whether you are going camping, off to a holiday home or on a farm, ensure you have packed all your dog’s stuff, including food, food bowls or dispensers, bedding, crate, toys, water bowl, any current medications your dog might be on, dog first aid kit, poop bags and walking equipment.
Here are a couple other tips to ensure your holiday goes smoothly.
- Ensure your dog’s microchip details have been updated, including your emergency contact
- Check with the local vet clinic to the area you are going to and find out if there are particular parasites you need to be aware. We don’t get all the nasty parasites here in Melbourne because our weather is not always hot but if you are going up north, you will need to watch out for heartworm, paralysis tick, hookworm and a few others. To be sure, call the clinic and ask what you need to watch out for and what is needed to prevent infestation
- Don’t forget that Summer also means snake season so if you go bush, watch out for them
- Ensure the environment is safe and secure. Some rural properties only have sheep fencing around them and dogs can easily crawl through those. Do a perimeter check to look for gaps. You might need to consider tethering to a line to prevent your dog from escaping
- Ensure you follow the local laws of the zone you are going into. Check whether you are allowed to have your dog on the beach or whether there are curfews. Check if your dog can go into the bush with you (State Parks allow dogs to go in on leash only, National Parks do not allow dogs in at all unless they are a Service Dog).
- Ensure that your dog is not a nuisance and does not bark the whole time you are away. If you are in the bush it might be okay but if you are in an area where other people are staying, then it might be annoying to them
- If you are staying in a rental property, make sure your dog does not wreck the furniture or garden and check about the rules as to whether your dog can go up on the couch/bed or not!
I hope I have given you some great ideas on how to keep your dogs safe and happy over the holiday period.
Merry Christmas everyone!