The Night Before Xmas

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

" 'Twas the night before Christmas" begins the popular poem often recited at this time of year. Therefore, you still have plenty of time to think ahead and plan properly to make sure your pet enjoys a safe and healthy Christmas Day.

In the overnight hours, leading up to this magical day, the poem goes on to assure us, "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." However, remember this quotation is from a fictional tale. Although most of the family may be sleeping soundly, there's a very good chance that, in fact, a pet may be stirring. Cats and dogs can be quite nocturnal, especially if there's something new in their environment that interests them. They are likely to feel an investigation is warranted. This means a Christmas tree with an exciting array of brightly wrapped presents beneath, some of them perhaps exuding the exciting scent of food or candies, may be just too much for an inquisitive pet to overlook. Despite its best efforts not to be naughty, it may not wait until Christmas morning to open some of those presents. Without an owner being around to supervise such activities, it could be dangerous for a pet to consume or explore some of those gifts.

Remember also, in many homes, Christmas Eve will include celebrations with family and friends where snacks and food and drinks will be out for everyone to enjoy. Try to make sure that when the evening ends and everyone heads off to bed, there's no cheese plates, bowls of nuts or boxes of chocolate left where an inquiring pet may find them. It's even important to make sure that those cookies and milk left out for Santa, indeed get to the jolly old elf, himself, and are not eaten by the family pet.

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care" we are told. The care taken in hanging those stockings needs to ensure they are well out of the reach of any pet in the home. I treated a patient one Holiday Season who, during the night before Christmas, had taken down and eaten most of the contents of all four stockings hung on the mantel over the fireplace in his home. His family awoke Christmas morning to find their black lab feeling violently ill. Fortunately, with a few days of treatment he made a successful recovery and his family escaped what could have been a haunting memory in Holiday Seasons to follow. So, the first step in having a pet safe Christmas Day will be to get through Christmas Eve.

As magical as that wonderful day of Christmas can be, it's one that can be fraught with potential pet hazards. Now, I don't want these cautions to be too much a downer. I want your pet to enjoy the festivities with your family. Please don't lock it away in a room far away from everyone, just take a few common sense precautions to help it stay safe.

Many of these cautions are food related. Most pets can enjoy a nibble of white meat from the turkey everyone else is enjoying, but make it a nibble and stick to the white meat, no skin, fat or other fixings. When you are preparing the holiday feast, save a few chunks of the vegetables. Most dogs will think a little piece of raw vegetable - green beans, carrots, broccoli or squash - a most exciting holiday treat. Though some owners may find it hard to believe, a pet will be just as excited by a bowl of its regular food on Christmas Day as it is every other day of the year.

If guests will be arriving to share food and fun on Christmas Day, please take care when doors are open for coming and going. In the excitement, it's very easy for a pet to slip out the door, streets may be busy and it may be sometime before it is missed. Take care with the introductions. If a pet is unfamiliar with children, supervise the interactions with young people carefully. This is not the day to have either a child or a pet require a medical emergency room visit. Never be shy in telling guests, especially those who may not be pet-smart, the food rules for your pet. Popcorn, peanuts, potato chips, grapes, chocolate candies are offered for the two-legged guests to enjoy, but please, avoid giving them to the pet in the house.

My wish to all pets and their people will be much like Santa's at the end of the poem referred to above, Happy Christmas to all and to all a good (and safe) day and night.