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How to keep Richmond-area pets safe over the holidays

cat and dog sleeping and cuddling

Wrapping paper is bad for your pet's tummy, but so is that piece of gravy.

The holidays can be challenging for humans, but animals also get stressed out during this time of year. Friends or relatives might slip them extra treats from the table, they might find wrapping paper and Christmas decorations to be a tasty treat — or they might be staying away from home while their families travel.

What happens when pets need urgent and emergency care during this period? Tabitha Treloar, director of communications at the Richmond SPCA, has some advice to help pet owners breathe a sigh of relief this holiday season. The Richmond SPCA has a veterinary hospital that helps serve low-income residents. Urgent and emergency care may otherwise be out of reach financially, so the organization likes to emphasize prevention over everything else, especially now.

Food for thought

“Some of the biggest risks are foreign body ingestion and pancreatitis in dogs,” Treloar said. She added that it’s easy to prevent things that are “known risks,” such as feeding table scraps from a holiday meal to pets that could upset their digestive systems or giving extra treats.

If pet owners want to indulge their animals over the holidays, Treloar suggests preparing a fun treat — like putting kibble or veterinarian-approved treats in a Kong or other puzzle toy and freezing them in advance.

“Then you can give them that treat in another room away from where everybody is dining, so that they can enjoy that favorite,” Treloar said, “It also keeps them from pestering grandma for that little piece of gravy …that really is too rich for their stomachs to handle.

She also added that when gifts start getting unwrapped, animals might mistake wrapping paper, ribbons or holiday decorations for tasty treats: “Those are all kinds of foreign body things we worry about.” While unwrapping gifts, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a close eye on pets, just to ensure they’re not ingesting any small bits that may fall off the packaging.

If pet owners find themselves in need of emergency or urgent care and can’t afford to take pets to a veterinarian’s office, there are options.

In need of urgent care?

UrgentVet emergency centers have opened throughout the Richmond region, including in Short Pump, Carytown and Midlothian.

“These are kind of in between your normal primary care vet, like at a hospital, and the full-on emergency center,” Treloar said. She recommends calling pet urgent care centers in advance to find out if they have weight limits for animals, and to see what potential costs are.

If an emergency situation that requires immediate care arises, Treloar suggests calling emergency centers to find out what the wait times are, and to make sure they’re open and accepting patients —because holiday hours can change things.

The same goes for pet owners who have an exotic or unusual pet.

“Hopefully those who do have that type of pet will already have an [established] relationship with a vet,” Treloar said.

If pets get sick, she also recommends not using any home remedies found on the internet and to instead stick to vet-recommended solutions. “Our vets often tell us really rough stories that come from people trying to do things on their own at home that can cause more problems than the initial issue,” she said.

Boarding away from home

If pet owners are traveling over the holidays and unable to take their pets with them, they might choose to board their pets. There’s been a lot of news coverage recently about a respiratory illness affecting dogs. Making sure your pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations is key for situations like this, especially if an outbreak of kennel cough or parainfluenza breaks out at a facility.

“What is being seen is that people’s habits and vaccinations sometimes flipped during the pandemic, as did access to vaccinations here,” Treloar said.

Treloar also said that between lower vaccination rates and a surge in typical respiratory illnesses in animals around this time of year, things are being seen “a little bit differently among the populations.”

If pets aren’t traveling with their families for the holidays, they might end up at dog parks, or crowded places like daycare facilities, where the vaccination status of other animals could be unknown. By making sure pets are up-to-date on their shots or keeping them at a distance from other animals, pets are better prepped to healthy in case of a bug going around.


Phil Liles is VPM's morning news host.
Meghin Moore is a VPM News editor. She's a Penn State graduate with a background in broadcast and digital journalism. Previously, she worked at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.