Archived News

Caring for Animal Companions during the Holiday Season

December 15, 2003

Pet lovers need to be especially conscious of the needs of their animal companions during the winter holidays when hectic schedules and changes in routine affect animals as well as people. The season also poses the possibility of a new pet being introduced to the family as a gift. Well-meaning friends or family may wish to consider these tips offered by the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Pets as gifts? Please reconsider

The image of a tiny critter mewing under the tree Christmas Eve may evoke a tingle of pleasant surprise. However, please keep animal needs in mind when considering giving a pet as a gift. Pets are too personal and too much of a commitment to be given as presents, according to Niels Pedersen, Director of the Center for Companion Animal Health. Adequate planning for an animal addition to the family is essential. Consult with all family members to consider the compatibility of an animal with a family’s lifestyle, economic circumstances, and the animal’s daily needs for companionship and activity. Postponing pet adoption for just a few weeks can create a smoother transition for companion animals and provide time to learn more about caring for an animal. Would-be owners will find their patience rewarded.

In the meantime, a gift certificate, video, pet food, or stuffed toy can "announce" a new pet and provide opportunities to discuss your family’s commitment and considerations about the type of pet that will be best integrated into your family. Then the right animal can be adopted when ample time is available to introduce it into the household routine. An animal-related book will acquaint prospective caregivers with the basics of pet health. (The School of Veterinary Medicine’s own Book of Dogs would be nice, if we do say so ourselves.)

Holiday cheer and changes

Whether new to the home or a long-time member of the family, every pet needs special attention at holiday time. Take care when opening doors not to expose animals to the risk of getting lost or injured. Remove choking hazards such as tinsel, lights, and ornaments from areas where pets frolic, and be sure that if you set up a Christmas tree it is secure enough to withstand a curious cat or dog.

Be aware of your companion animal's reaction to groups of strangers entering the home or young children who may tire the animal. Educating family members and guests to keep human goodies such as chocolate and holiday plants, including poinsettias, out of reach of sensitive animal tummies may prevent unscheduled visits to your veterinarian.

Try to minimize holiday plans that involve leaving pets alone for an extended time period, or make arrangements for adequate care to keep your pet from harm or destructive behaviors.

Cold weather

Even animals accustomed to being outdoors need to become acclimated to colder weather, and their shelters should be protected from wind. If you live where temperatures can drop below freezing, check water dishes frequently to be sure that your pet's water supply remains clean and unfrozen. Inspect paws after walks on snow, ice or salted roads, and clean footpads before your pet has a chance to lick them and ingest salt.

The taste and smell of antifreeze attract dogs and cats, so keep antifreeze well out of reach of your pets so that they can't ingest it--and clean any spills that may occur around your car.


If your traveling companion has four legs, you'll want to plan ahead before you hit the road. Contact your veterinarian to see if preventive medication is needed to protect against health threats specific to the region animals will be visiting. Medication might also be recommended for a carsick or overly nervous dog or cat. Take along vaccination records, lists of medication and health history in case their pets need veterinary care while away. Pets also should be protected against temperature extremes, conditioned for long hikes and always provided with plenty of water.

Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season for you and your animal companions from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California's primary resource for animal health.