It’s November and the holiday season is about to begin. Even in this era of COVID restrictions, we like food and fun with close family, including our pets.

Your furry family member has special needs at this time of year. Common misperceptions can mislead pet parents on the care of their four-legged kids during this season.

Here is my top-five list of pet myths for the holiday season:

  • Myth 1: It’s OK to stop flea and tick prevention now that it’s cold outside.
    Fact: Fleas don’t like the cold. But if a few fleas got into your home during the summer, they will not experience winter indoors. Or, if a pet carrying fleas visits during the holidays, these tiny guests may decide to stay. Unless you continue flea prevention, you may have a flea infestation in mid-winter.

    Although we see a variety of ticks in Greater Newburyport, deer ticks are of greatest concern. They can carry three diseases – Babesia, Lyme and Anaplasma. People are susceptible to all three; dogs can contract Lyme and Anaplasma; and cats may be affected by Anaplasma.

    Deer ticks survive winter and live for two years. During cold weather, they hunker under mulch and leaves. But our winter pattern typically sees fluctuating temperatures. On mild days, starving ticks search eagerly for a blood meal. Using tick control year-round keeps your pet safe.

  • Myth 2: My pet does not need heartworm prevention in winter.
    Fact: While it’s true that heartworms are spread only by mosquitoes, there are good reasons to continue heartworm prevention in winter.

    First, seasonal temperatures are unpredictable. Stopping heartworm prevention too soon in the fall, or starting too late in the spring, puts your pet at risk. Monthly heartworm prevention works backwards, halting any infection that might have occurred in the previous month. If a mosquito bites your pet even a few days after heartworm prevention was administered, heartworm disease will be a risk.

    Second, most monthly heartworm preventives also protect against common intestinal parasites. Many of these worms can cause disease in the whole family, whether two-legged or four-legged. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that dogs and cats be dewormed monthly because human family members need protection.
    Your kitty needs heartworm prevention, too. Being indoors is not entirely protective. One-third of feline heartworm cases occur in cats that are indoors only.

  • Myth 3: Poinsettias are the primary poison of concern in December.
    Fact: The pretty poinsettia has been dubbed dangerous for years. While the sap is irritating, it is unlikely to cause serious problems. Chewing on the leaves may cause salivation, mouth sores or tummy upset.

    Antifreeze is a much more dangerous product. Antifreeze is sweet, so pets like it. Antifreeze causes crystals to form in the kidneys within hours of consumption. Death follows rapid progression of kidney failure. If you think your pet may have been exposed to antifreeze, bring him to your veterinarian immediately. An antidote can be given if antifreeze ingestion was very recent.

  • Myth 4: A little holiday dinner and treats are OK for my pet.
    Fact: A special holiday dinner for Fido and Fluffy is tempting. But their digestive tracts may have difficulty handling this diet change. Greasy food can cause vomiting and diarrhea, or more seriously, pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be serious and sometimes requires hospitalization.

    Holiday treats intended for people can be risky for your pet, too. In addition to causing stomach upset, chocolate can be toxic for pets. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is.

    Artificially sweetened goodies, including chewing gum, are also problematic. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that can cause a sudden, life-threatening drop in blood sugar of dogs.
    So how can you pamper your furry sweetie? Many dogs love fruit or vegetables, such as chopped apple, baby carrots, or broccoli. And most kitties love a spoonful of plain, canned pumpkin. If you want something more unique, splurge on a few homemade treats at a gourmet pet cookie store. What Fido and Fluffy will probably appreciate most, though, is extra time with you.

  • Myth 5: My painkillers are OK to share with Fido and Fluffy.
    Fact: We have lots of over-the-counter remedies for our own ailments. Many of these drugs cannot be used safely in pets. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can kill a cat. Nyquil is a no-no for pet sniffles and sneezes. Ibuprofen is dangerous for pets. Imodium must be used cautiously. The bottom line, call your veterinarian before medicating your pet.

    Enjoy the holiday season with your four-legged companion. And remember, a walk with Fido or snuggle time with Fluffy is the best present you could give your pet.