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A Season of Petrified Pets

Because Christmas is not only stressful for us but also four our four-legged friends

By Focus FeaturesDecember 4, 2016

You can feel it in the air: the whirling dervish that is Christmas in the Philippines is picking up speed. The decorations are up, Jose Mari Chan is going full swing, flights for the holiday vacation have been booked, dates are being blocked off for parties, the Noche Buena menu is being drawn up as you read this.

Disruptor of Routine

Don’t forget, though, if you’re a pet owner, that there are animals in your home that can’t quite grasp what the excitement is all about. They don’t understand why there are nights when it seems the entire neighborhood is in your house; or, on the other side of the spectrum, why you disappear for days with your luggage.

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“The holiday season is an especially stressful time for pets,” says Dr. Heriberth Benedicto, owner of and veterinarian at St. Benedict Veterinary Clinic. Since house pets—especially dogs—thrive on routine, a disruption of their regular activities would cause some trauma. And what is the Christmas season in the Philippines if not a huge disruptor of routine?

This stress, as well as the subsequent trauma that pets and other animals may suffer during the holidays, is on the brink of trampling on animal rights. As the amended Animal Welfare Law (RA10631) says, “It shall be unlawful for any person to…neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter [to domestic animals]…”

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Of course, no one’s going to jail for failing to walk their dog this December. But let this be a wake-up call: Animals have rights, too, and if there were a time that these rights were forgotten, it would be Christmastime.

The loud, loud New Year’s Eve

Perhaps the most significant traumatic holiday experience animals go through, at least in the Philippines, is New Year’s Eve. A parade of fireworks is lit and continues to stay lit for at least half an hour after midnight at the turn of the year. For animals that are scared of loud noises—there are some who don’t mind the sound, after all—this might seem like hell on earth.

But pet owners can help ease this fear.

“You can give your pets a sedative about an hour before the fireworks start,” suggests Dr. Benedicto. “Acepromazine is the most common tranquilizer for pets; its effects last for about six to eight hours.” This sedative lowers the blood pressure and supposedly blocks emotion signals, which stops the animal from feeling extreme fear. Valium does the same, and Dr. Benedicto also suggests, in place of Acepromazine, giving anxious pets—before they get anxious—half a dose of Valium. Remember, though, that these sedatives are prescription drugs. You can’t buy them over-the-counter.

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A non-chemical alternative would be to cover pets’ ears with cotton. Wet the cotton with a few drops of baby oil and put them in the ears, but not all the way. As additional support, you may wrap fabric, criss-crossed, around your pet’s midsection. Keep it a snug fit so they will feel more secure.

All the Christmas trimmings

Loud fireworks aren’t the only things that stress out animals over the holidays. Changing their routine is stressful enough. “When the holidays come, pet owners’ schedules change, which affects their pets,” says Dr. Benedicto. “Shorter—or no—walks, irregular feeding time, strange guests, and decorations in the house. These are all things that pets are required to adjust to, and some of them have a more difficult time than others.”

One priority would be to keep pets safe. Securely anchor your Christmas tree and other decorations so that no cats will fall off trees and no dogs will choke on glittery balls. “If possible, keep your decorations beyond the reach of your pets,” suggests Dr. Benedicto. “Put the tree on top of a table, for example.”

Another way to keep animals safe is to monitor their diet. There is a reason why they have special food: human food is too salty, sweet, sour for them. The holiday season, however, is a time of overflowing food, most of which is not healthy for animals. “Ham is too salty, desserts are too rich, pasta is too creamy. Almost everything on the Noche Buena table should be off-limits to animals,” says Dr. Benedicto. Make sure that your guests know this. Someone might slip a chocolate truffle under the table to your dog with only the purest of intentions, not knowing the catastrophic effects it will have on your pet.

So avert this disaster. Feed your pet before everyone else to keep him from asking for scraps at the dinner table (and also to keep you from feeling guilty about not indulging him).

Home Alone

Going on vacation will also require careful planning.

“When you leave for a vacation this Christmas or over New Year, and you’re not taking your pets with you, carefully consider where you leave them, and who you leave them with,” says Dr. Benedicto. “Either leave them with someone they already know and who likes them, or leave them in a reputable kennel.”

Also—and tech-loving pet owners will like this—Skype with them. “Why not?” asks Dr. Benedicto. “If it will help ease the separation anxiety, do a video call once in a while with your pets.” Of course, that includes their caregivers, as well.

If you think about it, only when you do recognize your pet’s rights to happiness and health can Christmas be a time of love and peace all around.

St. Benedict Veterinary Clinic is at #8 Hobbies of Asia, Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City. Tel: (02) 5561483.