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12 Days of Holiday Hazards...Day 4

12/03/2008

On the fourth day of the holidays, my true love gave to me...GUESTS

Along with the tasty food, fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) presents, days off work, and other joys of the holidays come another treat: houseguests. Whether you're entertaining a few guests or many, for the evening or for a week, even the most welcome of guests can wreak havoc with our pets. While we're focusing on being great hosts, we can't forget to also be protective pet parents.  

Here are just a few examples of ways our pets can be affected by guests. By keeping these in mind, we can help ensure our pets' safety while enjoying the company of our family and friends.

-Food. Yes, food. Guests are notorious for giving the family pet pretty much...anything. Fatty food, spicy food, food with bones, foods that are toxic to animals...you name it, it's been given to a pet by someone's well-meaning guest. I kid you not, I once saw a dog who came in to me for sudden blindness, and because her eyes had turned completely white. I mean, COMPLETELY white. She looked like an eerie zombie dog.  I'm an internist, not an ophthalmologist, so of course I showed the poor doggie to the veterinary ophthalmologist in our practice right away. What the heck? She nodded wisely, and asked "Have the dog's owners had a party lately?" Yep, turned out they had. "Had the dog perhaps been given some high-fat treats, such as hot dogs or sausages?" Yep, turned out the party guests had been all too happy to share. Well, the ophthalmologist explained, this dog had ingested so much fat that the fluid in her eyes had become creamy and opaque from all the fat in her bloodstream. Luckily, the condition is reversible; as the fat is metabolized and leaves the bloodstream, the dog's eyes return to normal. But still, a scary lesson about the dangers of party guests, right?

-Trash. Along with guests, comes trash...lots and lots of smelly, delicious, overflowing-out-of-the-bin trash. And since the pet owner is completely distracted by all those very same guests, and so busy, and maybe not keeping an eye on Fido and Fluffy...they're in the kitchen having a party of their own, snacking on all sorts of tidbits from that overflowing, messy garbage can. Uh-oh. Greasy trash, moldy trash, bones in the trash, chocolate cake and cookie leftovers...it's all so yummy. And dangerous. So, when you're entertaining, be sure to bag that trash up tightly, and tuck it away where the pets can't enjoy the buffet. Or the next party you attend may be the one in your veterinarian's waiting room, with all the other pet owners whose little darlings have also been partaking.

-Doors. Guests love to leave them open. Or sort of closed, but not latched. Point is, guests going in and out (and in and out) can lead to escaped pets...which can lead to lost pets, pets hit by cars, or a host of other terrifying scenarios. If you're having a party, with lots of guests coming and going, please please please lock the pets away someplace safe, such as a bedroom or study, with a big KEEP OUT sign on the door. Not only will this protect your pets from open doors, it will also  keep them safe from the food, and the trash... (see above!).

-Stress. If you think about how stressful it is for you to have houseguests, multiply that times a million, and you'll get an idea of how stressful guests can be for some pets. OK, especially cats. When guests are staying in the house, the cat is often to be found under the closest bed. And that may mean the cat isn't eating...which can lead to serious liver disease and other health problems. So please, when you have guests, make sure your pets have a place where they can find some peace, particularly if children are among those staying with you. Make sure your pets are eating normally (this may mean feeding them wherever it is that they're hiding, or staying with them while they eat so they feel safe). Try to keep to their normal schedule as much as possible, and be sure to spend a little cuddle time with them when you can grab a minute. It will calm you down too.

-Bites. OK, the guests probably won't bite your pets. Though who knows? But a scared or stressed pet may bite (or scratch) a guest. And not only will that not make you a popular host, it can cause legal trouble for you and your pet. So if you have a pet who may react badly to the 3-year-old pulling really really hard on his ears, keep that animal confined away from the guests, for his own good.

 Good luck out there folks!

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