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Column: Don't upset your pet's routine during holiday season

We love our pets like family members. But as the holiday season arrives, it's important to remember that they're not tiny, furry people.

It's our job as their guardians to be proactive in anticipating situations that could get them into trouble and to do what we can to avoid problems.

After years of working during the holidays at a veterinary emergency clinic, I can narrow down the majority of problems that pets encounter at this time of year to three causes: breaks in routine, access to trash and new items, and not having a safe place for pets to escape the holiday hubbub.

Here are my suggestions to pet owners for preventing problems:

• Provide routine. Those mildly irritating habits that your pet has throughout the year can be magnified if your pet's routine is interrupted. Remember that a tired pet is much more likely to be a well-behaved pet. If your dog is used to a two-mile morning or evening walk, don't think you'll have the same mild-mannered animal if you break that habit.

• Provide meal

consistency. If your pet doesn't get table scraps throughout the year, don't choose Christmas morning as the time to introduce him to bacon grease drizzled on his kibble. If he is at the table begging, put him in another room with an appropriate toy, or tell the other members of the family assembled for the meal not to give him table scraps.

• Be responsible. You may think pets ought to know better or feel a sense of guilt over getting into the garbage or eating an entire plate of goodies off the counter. But they don't. If your pet eats a chocolate cake, raw bread dough or gets into the garbage, it's your fault, not theirs.

• Don't tempt fate. Keep holiday goodies out of the reach of pets. Keep household garbage bins behind closed doors. If that's not possible, keep them covered or frequently emptied. Kitchen garbage bins are not the only problem. Tissue paper and other items in bathroom gar-bage can be equally


• Provide an escape. Have an escape plan in place for your pets prior to your guests' arrival. If you have cats, take a moment to think about the placement of their food, water and litter box from their point of view. Make sure these resources won't be in unusually loud places during the holidays. If you have guests in your home, make sure your cat won't have to pass by children or visiting pets that may generate stress.

• Consider segregating. Dogs that are especially stressed by the ringing doorbell and the arrival of guests may fare better in a quiet back room with their food, water, bed, a favorite toy and also the radio or TV turned on low to drown out the sounds of visitors. For dogs that usually aren't overly stressed by the presence of visitors, it's still a good idea to offer food and toys such as rawhides in an environment free of distractions or competition from visiting pets.

• Watch for problems. Keep an eye out for the subtle signs of stress in dogs such as inappropriate yawning, lip licking or looking away. If you see any of these in your dog, remove him from the situation. These early indicators can easily progress to a raised lip, growling and lashing out with a bite.

No one wants to spend the holidays upset with a pet or, worse yet, in the waiting room of the veterinary emergency clinic. With a little thoughtful planning, you can dramatically reduce the chance of holiday mishaps with the animals in your family.

Dr. Amanda Bruce is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102. You can reach her at or 218-461-4400. For more information visit