The fall and winter holidays are a wonderful time. We bask in the glow of family and friends and enjoy fine foods, gifts, and company. This fine company includes our pets. Without them our families would be smaller; our lives less complete. This is the time of year to remember not only our human friends and family, but those animals that share our world, as well.

There are many ways to show our thankfulness and love for our pets. One way is to give them gifts. Some gifts are best purchased; others can be made. Start out by replacing that worn-out leash and frayed collar. Then buy your older pet a new orthopedic mattress and a special chew toy. Replace the bird's rusting cage with a clean, roomier one and purchase that kitty condo you have been eyeing for the last year. Don't forget that the rabbit needs a new nest box and litter pan. And every pet loves the gift of food. Whether you buy or bake, remember biscuits for the dogs, carrots for the horses, and catnip treats for the cat.

Presents are not the only way to your pet's heart. The gift of health is given by scheduling that long forgotten veterinary appointment or by updating vaccinations. The gift of friendship is given by scheduling time with your pets. Your pets need you, not just food and shelter. Find moments in your busy holiday schedule to walk the dog, groom your horse, play with the cat, and let the rabbit out of the hutch. Use the brand new chew toy, bone, or flying disc to play with your pet. Including your pets in your plans can be the best holiday gift you will ever give.

Thanking our pets by showering them with love and companionship is just part of our responsibilities during this time of year. Just as importantly, we need to protect them from physical harm. In the hustle and bustle of planning and parties, it is easy to overlook your pets' safety needs. So take steps to make sure your pets are protected and secure this holiday season. Guard them from holiday stress, accidents, and injuries.

Start by examining holiday decorations. Because the decorations are new, they attract the attention of curious household pets. So you need to protect the pets and the holiday trimmings from each other. Otherwise, you can end up with ruined decorations and sick animals. The Christmas tree is the most obvious addition. It is wonderful to look at, but potentially dangerous. The most beautiful Christmas trees are those that pets cannot reach! Keeping the Christmas tree in a room that is off-limits to the pets can save wear and tear on the pets, the tree, and the rest of the family.

If you cannot separate the pets from the tree, try thinking like your pet when placing and trimming it. You may even need to get down on the floor and view the tree from the animal's perspective. If the cat can climb the Christmas tree, use fishing line to secure it to the ceiling. If the new puppy is going to eat the tree, put it behind a decorative fence and out of the puppy's reach. Keep glass and edible ornaments away from curious critters by hanging them high up on the tree, not at pet level. And avoid tinsel and yarns that pets can chew. These decorative items are easily swallowed and can end up causing severe intestinal damage. Finally, make sure that pets cannot drink the water out of the Christmas tree stand. It may be contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers that can make pets ill.

Other holiday ornaments also need to be kept away from pets. The needles of pine wreaths and decorations may accidentally be swallowed, causing pain and damage to sensitive mouths and intestines. This is also true for artificial decorations, as the leaves and needles of these synthetic plants and trees are easily pulled out and ingested. Also, living holiday plants can be poisonous, so decorative plants such as mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias should not be used in households with animals that eat plants. Bows and ribbons may be mistaken for toys by puppies and kittens, so they should be kept in closed cupboards. And all light cords and holiday lights should be kept away from pets. The hot lights can cause severe burns and curious pets that chew electric cords can be severely shocked. This is often the case with rabbits and young dogs.

It may sound like decorating a house with pets is overwhelming. It is true that the pets cannot be kept out of every room for the entire holiday season. But decorating really is an easy task, as long as you remember that pets are a lot like young children. They will get into anything that attracts their attention. So think about your pets' safety and welfare while decorating. Remove fragile or dangerous items. Eliminating the handmade gingerbread ornaments will prevent trouble later and be noticed by no one but you. Taking the streamers off the centerpiece will keep the cat off the dining room table. If you decorate with pet safety in mind, everyone can enjoy the beautiful decorations without worrying about the animals.

Once the house is decorated, start to think about holiday foods. Your pets do not eat like you do. Over-eating sweets and fats during a holiday meal may send you to the couch for a nap. Unfortunately, it may send your pet to the emergency veterinarian with severe digestive problems. So keep your pets on their regular diets during the holidays. Do not feed them all the leftover fats and scraps, the end of the eggnog, or the bones left from the ham or turkey. If you wish to indulge your pets, limit treats to those made for pets, or feed tiny scraps of meat without fat or bones, vegetables such as string beans or carrots, or a little plain pasta or rice. Do not give large amounts of any treat and avoid foods that you know make your pet ill. If your guests cannot resist the dog's pleading eyes, you may need to remove the dog from the room during holiday meals.

The most important gift you can give your beloved pets is the gift of stability. Holidays are exciting, but very stressful. They are even more stressful for animals that are creatures of habit. They do not understand why all your relatives are sitting in your kitchen taking up all your time and stepping on their tails. They do not know why you have forgotten to feed and walk them on time. All they know is that they are hungry, bored, and nervous, and that the children keep bothering them. The change in routine can be very stressful for pets.

Help your pet adjust to hectic holidays and a house full of visitors. Keep your previously established pet care schedule, complete with timely walks and meals. Introduce the pet to each new visitor and instruct children to respect the pet. In addition, find a 'safe' room where all pets can escape from overly friendly visitors. Every house should have one room where only the pets are allowed. This way a cat or dog that has reached its limits of patience can escape to a quiet sanctuary. Make sure this room is easily accessible and has water available for the pet. You may need to move your pet's crate or bed into this room ahead of time. By finding a quiet retreat you can help a pet cope with the holiday changes.

We love our pets all year round. The holiday season is an important time to remember and act upon this love. Do not forget your pets while making holiday plans. Include your pets in the plans and keep the animals safe. Make sure your pets' emotional and physical needs are met throughout the holiday season. This way you will start the new year surrounded by healthy and happy animals.
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