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Animal Safety for the Winter and Holidays

   Everyone has a story about his or her pets and I am no different. My story involved a huge 16-pound Tabby Maine Coon named Frass that had spent his entire life as an indoor cat. Frass at age thirteen was losing his vision and sense of spell. His long hair with the typical Maine Coon markings could be sighted on most of my living room furniture and my favorite rug from Bahrain. He particularly liked to watch himself in the living room mirror while perched on the sofa table.

The Halloween following Frass’s 13th birthday, everyone got dressed up and the house was decorated to the limits. Spider webbing was placed around the doors and windows. The lights were cut off with the exception of the lawn units. Candles were placed around the mirrors and my Elvira costume found its way out of the closet. Bowls of various candies were placed at the door for the trick or treaters. The children of the house took off to collect goodies from the neighbors and I started dishing out M&M mini-bags to the kids. Frass lounged on the sofa watching the whole scene with an air of disdain. After an hour, Frass started to get restless and wanted a closer view. He moved to the front window, which appeared to be safe. I was dishing out candy when I heard, "hey, lady, your cat is smoking…is he on fire?" I whipped around to see Frass in front of the mirror standing over a small candleholder and sure enough, his fur was smoking. It was quite an eerie sight to see smoke furling up towards the ceiling and the cat standing on the sofa table looking like he was saying "I did not do whatever is going on". He singed most of the fur off his tummy and along one side. He was fortunately not burned, but his coat was a mess. The kids in my doorway started yelling at others on the street and in yards to come see the smoking cat. For the next two hours, I had a mass of children coming to the door wanting to see the burning cat act…word had literally spread through the neighborhood like wild fire.

The following day, my vet and I had a serious discussion about Frass and how to ensure his home safety. While the candles had looked great for the decorations, they had posed a tremendous risk for an animal (or child). Below are some tips from the Ralston Purina Company to help your pet to weather the winter and holidays healthy and safely.

  • Keep indoor pet in a dry, warm area free from drafts. If possible, elevate your pet's bed off the floor.
  • Provide outdoor dogs, or cats with a dry, insulated pet house or shelter out of the wind. Bring your pet inside of the wind chill or other weather conditions become severe.
  • Staying warm requires extra calories, so feed your pet accordingly when the temperature drops. Talk to your veterinarian for advice on feeding you pet.
  • Remove ice, salt and caked mud from your pet's paws and coat at once. Contact your veterinarian immediately of you suspect your pet has frostbite. Frostbitten skin may tun reddish, white or gray, and it may be scaly or sloughing.
  • Cats and kittens often nap on a car engine for warmth. Knock on the hood and honk the horn, then wait a few minutes before starting your car.
  • Pets like the smell and taste of antifreeze, but even a small amount can kill them. Thoroughly clean up spills at once. Tightly close containers and store them where pets cannot get to them.
  • Always have fresh and clean water available for your pets.
  • Alcoholic beverages, holiday treats such as chocolates and bones from poultry, pork and fish can be harmful or toxic to pets. Keep your pet on his regular diet.
  • Aspirin can KILL cats. It causes cardiac arrest due to its effect on the pH balance.
  • Fireplaces can pose a hazard to your pet. Make sure you keep the damper closed when not in use. Fire screens will protect your animal from flying embers as well as reducing your risk of a fire.
  • Many plants including Christmas rose, holly, mistletoe, philodendron and dieffenbachia are toxic to pets. Keep them out of your pet's reach.
  • Candles and other decorations should be monitored closely when animals and children are present. Do not leave them in a room unattended.
  • Holiday paraphernalia can be dangerous to pets. Cover or tack down electrical cords. Keep tinsel and glass ornaments out of your pet's reach. Read warnings on the item like spray-on snow. Never put ribbons around your pet's neck or allow it to play with the plastic or foil wrapping or six-pack beverage holders. Most cats like to climb Christmas trees, so be on the lookout.

Wanda Walters, Safety Officer, USNH Rota, Spain 1998-2000
US. Naval Hospital Mailing Addresses
US Mailing Address:
U.S. Naval Hospital Rota
PSC 819 Box 18
FPO, AE 09645-0018
DSN: 314-727-3305
Spanish Mailing Address:
Hospital Americano
Base Naval de Rota
ATTN: Department or recipient
Apartado de Correos 33
Rota, Cádiz 11530