Holiday Pet Tips, Gifts for Pets and Pet Owners

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.

While it’s easy for us to enjoy household parties with friends and relatives, don’t overlook pets at this time of year. For the person who has everything, yet owns a pet, there are plenty of good options out there for you.

Here are some key suggestions offered by the Community Practice faculty at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine that will make your pet happier, provide you with a few gift ideas and will help avoid frustration for a gift recipient. "Don’t purchase a pet on impulse," advises Terri Schneider, a veterinary clinical instructor at WSU. "Whether it’s for yourself or a friend, owning a pet is a lifetime commitment, meaning 10-15 years in most cases," explains Dr. Schneider. "And it can be up to 70 or 80 years if it’s a bird. Pets are not a material item that can be discarded. They have feelings, too. Many shelters find themselves overloaded with 'surprise' Christmas gifts that become instant mismatches with people who don’t have the time or environment to care for the animal."

If someone is considering the purchase of a cat or dog but is uncertain what breed, purchase a book on breed selection to help them make the right choice. Activity level, shedding, size, economics (cost of feeding and veterinary care) and space requirements are just a few of the basic priorities that should be addressed. Also, a person has to consider their lifestyle carefully before bringing a pet into their home. Those books written by respected behaviorists are the best, since these individuals deal with day-to-day problems, are familiar with the nuances of each breed and usually don’t contain breed-specific prejudices. For the responsible pet owner, a veterinary home-care volume is a good bet. "While it might buy the owner some critical time in the case of emergencies, a book should never be used for diagnosis," stresses Dr. Schneider. "In that respect, they can create more problems than they solve. But they do contain good basic information that can be helpful and cost-effective in many cases."

If your or a friend’s pet doesn’t have positive identification, consider a tag or license, microchip or tattoo. Positive pet identification is the best life-insurance policy you will ever purchase because they are the key to reuniting a lost pet with its owner.

"Purchase a spay-neuter certificate from a local veterinarian for an unaltered pet. Not only does this safe and common surgery help reduce pet overpopulation, it prevents many age-related disorders like ovarian and prostate cancer from occurring in most animals," says Dr. Schneider.

Finally, Dr. Schneider also lists several gift ideas for pets, all oriented toward the animal’s physical health and well-being:

A toothbrush and toothpaste -- for your dog, that is. Regular brushing will help reduce periodontal problems in cats and dogs. "Veterinary medicine is beginning to realize more and more the essential role of good dental health to a pet’s overall health and longevity."

Enzyme-treated rawhides stimulate the gums and help minimize doggie dental ailments.

Kitty condos are those wooden structures covered in plush carpeting one sees in pet stores that serve as a haven year-round. They are particularly well suited for your favorite feline during the holiday season when they might be trying to escape the rush of visitors. In the spirit of the season, make certain your pets are well winterized, says Dr. Schneider. This means having fresh water—not ice—always available for outdoor animals. This may involve keeping it heated to avoid freezing or breaking ice and making more frequent changes.

Because a dog’s metabolism speeds up during cold weather to help maintain warmth, outdoor pets burn up more calories than in the summer. Hence, add a small amount to its daily diet to compensate for potential weight loss, taking caution not to increase it too much and fatten your pooch like many do. "Obesity in companion animals is the number one medical issue veterinarians have to deal with in otherwise healthy animals and it is completely preventable," says Dr. Schneider.

Dr. Schneider adds, "Animals can suffer from hypothermia just like humans. For those living outside, make certain they have warm, dry, well-insulated shelter faced away from the direction of the most wind and rain. In these cold 20-and-under-degree nights, they would certainly appreciate being allowed inside a warmer area like a garage. That could be the nicest Christmas present they will receive." Blankets, wood shavings or straw all serve well for insulation so long as they are cleaned and replaced regularly. Add a door flap and your dog will be eternally grateful. It does wonders for reducing the wind-chill factor.

"Your favorite horse will benefit from a windbreak and overhead shelter, too," says Dr. Schneider’s colleague, Dr. Melissa Hines, who cares for many of the public’s horses that come to WSU’s veterinary college. "The windbreak is particularly critical, since wind will chill the animal faster than snow. Clean water needs to be available at all times without icing over. Lack of proper water consumption and the resulting dehydration is a major cause of colic in horses. When a horse doesn’t consume enough water, the feces harden and impact, presenting a greater risk for colic."

Contact: Charlie Powell, WSU News Bureau, 509/335-7073 or 208/882-1134, December 8, 2000

Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

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