Tucker, intently waiting for his stocking, which has “Buffy” a stuffed buffalo toy peeking out the top. 2011

Dr. Cate Drost

It is the Holidays! Hanukkah has just finished and Christmas is really gearing up.

When I think about the Holidays and our pets, I think of Tucker, our Golden, who absolutely loved to wear his “antlers” and carry around a toy. I miss him frequently still, but he was such a part of Christmas morning on our farm.

I think of all the funny photos of your pets with Santa, or posed under the tree, or dressed in an Ugly Christmas Sweater.

You should have fun with your furry family!

But, as a Vet, I also think about the problems we see this time of year associated with stress and holiday eating. And, no, I don’t mean the stress of working during the holidays and all the tasty treats our clients share with us this month! And, boy oh boy, do you big-hearted folks deliver on the treats!

I am talking medically.

“Stress” is kind of a strange concept. Most of us understand what it feels like, but what causes stress, and how it is expressed can be very different for each of us. This is true with our pets as well. I have been blessed to meet some amazingly laid back cats during my 30+ years in this industry. But, even those super-chill cats can get stressed! The kitty that disappears under the bed/back of the closet/far reaches of the basement? Sure, that kitty is stressed. But they are rarely brought to us just for hiding. Pets are usually brought to us when they have stress-related behavior changes that affect their presence in the family. With cats, it is often urinating outside the box, or having blood in the urine. With dogs, it can be acting out of character; snapping at a guest or family member, destroying something.

This time of year we change our routines, change our homes with decoration, and we invite people to our homes. It is part of the joy of the season for me! I love a house filled with laughter and poorly sung carols.

Be sensitive to the stress that brings to our pets. Make sure they have somewhere quiet and safe from the changes to spend their time, with easy access to quiet comforts of bed, box, and water. If you are having out of town guests, and they are bringing a pet, plan carefully. There are no guarantees they will get along! And, remember, they did not invite strangers into the house. You did.

Imagine walking into your bedroom one day to find a stranger sleeping in your bed. You have no way to make them leave. Stress?

As a child, Christmas in our home was quite a big deal. My mother is an accomplished hostess and a professional party planner of extravaganzas. Our farmhouse in Connecticut was a showplace, so during the holidays? It was magic.

My eldest sister and I were the “barn girls,” we took care of the horses and the geese.

On Christmas night, she and I would set up in the mudroom and start making the Christmas dinner for the horses. We would cut up carrots and apples and heat up an enormous bran mash. Over the top, we would swirl dark molasses. Then, bundled up we would carry the steaming bucket through the snow to the barn. The horses would smell the warm molasses and stick their heads over the stall doors, little icicles on the whiskers of their muzzles, snuffling puffs of white breath through their nostrils taking in the sweet smell. They relished the Christmas bran mash. And, I felt good sharing some joy with them.

I understand wanting to share the goodies with the 4-legged ones you love.

When it comes to our pets, be thoughtful about what you share. For veterinarians, holidays can bring pancreatitis to our patients.

Pancreatitis is an extremely painful, dangerous and potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas, a small (but mighty) organ of the digestive tract.

It is a temperamental little booger, and when the pancreas is unhappy, the entire body is screaming.

What makes it unhappy? It doesn’t take much! Fat is the usual culprit. I have seen many a pancreatitis in a pet who got “just a”. By that, I mean “just a little piece of “ or “just a taste of”… followed by a fatty food we humans eat all the time. Bacon, gravy, turkey fat, steak, meatloaf, sausage, pepperoni pizza are all examples of pancreatitis causing agents in my own patients.

If you want to share a holiday treat with your pet, safer choices are vegetables like carrots, green peas or green beans. Or, fruits like a bit of sliced apple or a few blueberries. Add warm water to the bowl for ”gravy” without the pancreatitis!

Steer clear of toxic foods like grapes and raisins, avocados and nuts.

And, if you have a Tucker, who loves a toy and would never rip out the squeaker and the stuffing, (causing intestinal obstruction) consider skipping the gastronomic treats, and instead of giving a stuffed buffalo.

Happy Holidays to all!
Dr. Cate