A vet shares expert advice on the health risks that can affect your pet over summer and the festive season.

The festive season brings with it all sorts of delights, including delicious meals, lazy days and sunny rays. While these things are all brilliant, it’s important to be aware of some of the health risks for our pets. Here, Dr Nick Taylor of Greencross Vets Roseville shares some things to keep an eye on at this time of year.

1. Overindulgence

You may think that you’re treating your pet when you share a bit of the Christmas ham with them, but remember that your pet’s tolerance for rich and sometimes fatty foods is much lower than yours.

One of the most common issues at this time of year is overindulgence. Pancreatitis is a often a sudden, severe and painful illness that can come from your pet overdoing it on leftovers or raiding the bins. Keep your bins well sealed and out of reach. High-fat meats are particularly dangerous for dogs – so the Christmas trimmings and fat are definitely off the menu.

Some of the ingredients that feature in the food of the season, including onion and garlic, are poisonous to our pets – both dogs and cats – and macadamia nuts are also associated with toxicity and diarrhoea in dogs. Chocolate is toxic to pets and should never be shared with them. Raisins, grapes and sultanas that are often found in fruit cake and mince pies are also toxic and off the menu

2. Travelling

We all know the frustration of the long drive to our holiday destination, and pets can often feel this too. Some pets can experience travel anxiety, so a pet carrier might help them to feel more relaxed. If you plan on using one, let them sleep a few nights inside with toys before you leave to help them feel comfortable and secure before the journey. If you aren’t using a carrier, be aware that your pet must be safely and securely restrained with a car safety harness. Unrestrained pets are distracting to the driver and can become airborne if the car unexpectedly stops, swerves or becomes involved in an accident.

Some pets struggle with travel sickness, so you should avoid feeding them on the morning before a big trip. You can also find a range of safe and effective anti-nausea travel medications from your local Greencross Vets team. Even if your pet is a seasoned traveller, the ‘Stop, Revive, Survive’ rules apply to them, too. Stop every two hours so they can stretch their legs, use the bathroom and have a big drink of water.  Placing a small towel over your cat’s travel carrier may assist the weary feline but ensure they stay cool. There are also dog and cat specific natural pheromones that may help to keep your pet calm during their travels – Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. When travelling, remember never to leave your pet unattended in the car.

3. Heat exhaustion

Australian summers are hot and humid and pets are more prone to heat stress over this period. Be sure that your pet has lots of water from multiple sources at all times and, if it’s really hot, keep them indoors, perhaps in a cool room like a tiled bathroom or laundry. Pets that really struggle with the heat will benefit from a fan or air-conditioning. It’s good to put ice cubes in their water or make some healthy frozen treats for them. Never leave pets in cars unattended or leave them tied up outdoors. Signs of heat stress include uncontrolled panting, bright red gums and tongue, and collapse. If you notice any of these signs, place your pet under cool running water, and urgently seek help from your closest vet or call your local Greencross Vets team immediately for advice.

4. Seasonal parasites

During the summer, ticks and fleas are at their worst. If you’re travelling to a holiday destination with your pet, be sure to check if it’s a tick hotspot as tick paralysis can be fatal.

Fleas are also more active in the summer and are associated with irritation, itching and allergic dermatitis in some dogs and cats, but don’t forget that fleas will bother you, too! There are a number of products available to safely treat fleas and ticks on dogs and cats – remember that some dog products are toxic to cats and should not be used on dogs in families that also have cats. Your local Petbarn or Greencross Vets team will be able to advise you on which products are suitable for your pet.

5. Wrapping and decorations

Baubles, lights, tinsel, wrapping and cracker toys are at their best on the tree, but can cause huge problems for your pets. Shimmering and bright tinsel, toys and baubles will draw pets’ interest and they will often end up accidentally ingesting them. Sometimes they can become stuck and require surgery. Prevent access to the tree prior to Christmas with a playpen fence or keep the tree in a room you can close off.

On Christmas morning, be careful with the decorative elements and perhaps set your dog up outside with a meal or chew treat. Avoid cats playing with ribbons as these too can cause problems if eaten.

6. Fireworks

The year always ends with a bang – literally. Fireworks can be a major source of noise phobia for our pets, especially dogs. If there are fireworks in your area over the festive season and your pet reacts badly, there are some ways to help. Ensure that your pets are indoors and secure well ahead of the scheduled time. Take them for a walk earlier in the day so they are naturally tired in the evening and consider feeding them earlier than usual to avoid toileting accidents. Create a cave-like retreat for them in a room that can be made as dark and quiet as possible, with their normal bed or other familiar items in that area with a small amount of food and water available. Here, your pet will feel more secure.

For animals that have a history of phobia there are a range of very effective strategies and medications available via your local Greencross Vets team.

7. The beach

Some pets love hitting the beach just as much as we do, but remember that salt water can spell trouble for some pets. If your dog drinks too much sea water, they may vomit or become very unwell.  Keep an eye on how much they are ingesting and take fresh water for them to drink. Their skin can also become irritated when the salt water dries, so be sure to give them a rinse down or bath when you get home.

Just as we wouldn’t swim at the beach after stormy weather, it’s important that your pet doesn’t either as we all know how they love to find the smelliest thing they can. Watch your pet closely to ensure they don’t eat any pufferfish, jellyfish or other sea creatures. Take care as fisherman may leave bait or hooks buried in the sand. If the sand is hot be careful your dog doesn’t burn their paws and remember they are wearing a fur coat so keep them cool and watch out for signs they are getting too hot.

If your pet is in their golden years, don’t let them over exert themselves as soft sand can be very tiring, especially on arthritic joints. Encourage them to walk on the firm sand near the waterline. If your pet is new to swimming keep a close eye on them as not all pets are good swimmers.

Whatever you have planned for the festive season, be sure you locate your nearest Greencross Vets team for any emergencies. You and your pets are sure to have a safe and happy festive season with proper planning.