For humans, holidays are joyous occasions filled with laughter, familiar faces and endless rounds of home-cooked meals. For the beloved family pet waiting anxiously on a sneaky hand to slip a gravy covered spoon under the table, the holidays can be a mysterious season.
Foreign coverings placed around their bodies — referred to as ‘sweaters’ by humans, noisy visitors and yummy, however sometimes dangerous foods discovered on the kitchen floor are all components of the holiday season animals encounter every year. Nevertheless, pets remain an irreplaceable member at family gatherings for many.
Fran, an eight year old basset hound, can usually be found slowly strolling up and down High St. wearing the newest addition to her cold-weather holiday season wardrobe — a warm fleece lined sweater with a pom-pom topped hood.
“The first sweater I put on her was tight around her neck, but she like showed me immediately, and then I just pulled threads out of it and it was fine. She’s pretty content all of the time,” Erin Pursinger, Frans’ owner and a junior studying marketing and management information systems, said.
Dr. Justin Nash, veterinarian at the Ohio Valley Animal Clinic of Athens, said putting clothes on pets, especially dogs, can go one of two ways.
“Sometimes it can actually make them feel better and more comfortable if they know that they have something around them and holding them, almost like hugging them,” Nash said.
Some dogs are known to enjoy their festive apparel so much they even become annoyed when their owner tries to undress them before bed. Ally Campbell, a freshman studying strategic communication, said her dog Fritz is one of those animals.
Campbell adopted Fritz, a maltese-yorkie or “morkie”, after the dog was found outside in the middle of winter weighing a mere five pounds. Now, a stockier Fritz weighs in at seven pounds and keeps toasty wearing his green Christmas tree sweater.
“He was so matted that we had to shave him so he had basically no fur, and he was so small so he always got cold so that’s why we started putting him in sweaters,” Campbell said. “Now he just likes them ... I think he just likes to stay warm because when we found him it was in the winter, and he was always outside alone.”
On the other hand, Nash said, if a pet is visibly stressed while being dressed, it’s best to leave the sweaters in the closet.
“I’d say if an owner is trying to put a costume or sweater (on pet) and they’re fighting it, they’re obviously not comfortable,” Nash said. “Especially if the animal is trying to put up quite a fight ... nipping or even biting at the owner ... A lot of times too, you have to slip these things over an animal's head and so it’s dark in there and during that period they’re uncomfortable.”
In addition to being mindful of how comfortable the dog really is in their new outfit, pet owners should be aware that a house full of strangers can also cause stress.
Dogs tend to be more sociable, while felines don’t necessarily enjoy being the life of the party, Nash said. However, it all depends on the individual animal.
“I’ve also seen dogs that hate being in public and don’t enjoy being in large groups, and I’ve seen cats that will make the rounds around a lot of people and love it,” Nash said.
Slowly introducing the animal to guests one by one versus all at once when having a large gathering can ease the anxiety, Nash said.
While it might be tempting to drop some scraps on the floor for the dog staring up with droopy, starry eyes begging for a taste of the honey-baked ham, some human foods can be toxic to pets.
“Grapes and raisins consequently are very, very toxic to our pets, specifically dogs ... there’s components in the skin of grapes that can damage the kidneys,” Nash said.
Food items such as garlic cloves and turkey bones and miscellaneous objects such as Tylenol and poinsettias are also things to be very careful about leaving places easily reached by your pets, Nash said.
Curling up with their owners by the fire, shredding wrapping paper to ‘help’ the family unwrap gifts or getting a visit from their favorite aunt or uncle can make the holidays a wonderful time for pets too when owners keep in mind their comfort and safety.