Tips for a Pet-Safe Howliday Season

It’s the time of year when a festive holiday spirit brings together friends and family in celebration; unfortunately, this happy time can also bring unintentional hazards to your pet’s environment.

puppy sitting among wrapped Christmas presents Luckily, with advance preparation, most risks can be mitigated to ensure that your pet’s holiday experience is as joyful as any human’s!

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), shares with owners how to ensure that their pet has a safe and positive holiday experience.

Holiday decorations are an important aspect of introducing winter cheer to a gathering. However, some pretty trinkets—such as ornaments, bows, ribbons, tinsel, and lights, as well as electrical cords—might have less-than-pretty effects on your pet’s health if ingested.

“Your pet may think holiday decorations are toys to play with or to chew,” Darling said. “Please keep all of these out of your pet’s reach. Eating holiday decorations may cause signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, depression, or abdominal pain; chewing lights or electrical cords may cause an electrical shock resulting in burns, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and even death.”

More natural decorations may also pose a threat to the well-being of your pet. Holiday plants such as holly, mistletoe, lilies, Japanese Yew, Christmas rose, and amaryllis can be dangerous to pets.

“The needles and the oils from a Christmas tree also can cause skin irritation or gastrointestinal upset,” Darling said. “Do not allow your pets to drink the water around the Christmas tree; it may be contaminated with fertilizers or bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal upset.”

Additionally, foods served at your celebration that are safe for you may still be dangerous for your pet. Owners should avoid feeding pets fatty foods such as turkey skin, meat fat and gravy, bones, and fried foods. Other snacks that may cause serious consequences if consumed by a pet include grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chives, chocolate, macadamia nuts, yeast dough, alcohol, coffee, caffeine, and xylitol.

“Keep food out of your pet’s reach,” Darling said. “Do not allow counter or table surfing. Place trash in a closed-lid can in a secure location.”

Pet owners should keep an eye out for open doors and double-check that their pet has proper identification, such as a collar or microchip, in case their furry friend slips out accidentally. It is also important that owners have contact information for a veterinarian easily accessible.

“During the holidays, our routine changes as we have family and friends visit. This can be confusing, stressful, or frightening to our pets,” Darling said. “Even pets that enjoy people may become overwhelmed with lots of guests. Allow your pet to have access to a comfortable, quiet place away from all of the commotion and when guests are arriving or leaving.”

To help relieve stress in both pet and owner, owners should consider taking the time to provide their pet with extra attention and exercise. It is important to remember that although pets provide many emotional and physical benefits, they are a serious responsibility.

“You may think a new puppy or kitty is a great present, but the holidays are a busy time,” Darling said. “It might be better to acquire a new pet at a less hectic time. If you are thinking of giving someone a pet, ask the person if they want a pet or if it is a good time for them to have a new pet.”

The holiday season is a wonderful time to show appreciation to those you love, furry friends included! With a few precautions, there is no reason your pet can’t be included in your holiday celebration.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

(Tur)Keys to a Pet-Friendly Thanksgiving Feast

Each Thanksgiving, we are brought together through food, community, and tradition to reflect on the year and give thanks. This holiday, pet owners can make sure they are showing appreciation to their furry friends by protecting them from any hazards these festivities may bring.

Goldendoodle puppyKit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), advises pet owners on how to best approach the holiday to keep their pets happy and healthy.

“Many of the foods we eat at Thanksgiving are rich and can cause digestive problems, pancreatitis and may be poisonous to our pets,” Darling said. “Foods that can be harmful to our pets include turkey skin, dark meat, and bones, garlic, sage, grapes, raisins, bread dough, macadamia nuts, chocolate, alcohol, and the artificial sweetener xylitol.”

Darling also advised pet owners to be wary of which decorations they keep in their home. Some festive plants, including ferns, lilies, amaryllis, Baby’s Breath, and Sweet William are toxic to cats and dogs.

In general, Darling said that animals should be kept away from table decorations.

If your pet does get their nose into the wrong dish or decoration, they may exhibit signs of poisoning including vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and behavioral changes. As always, prevention is key.

“Keep the food out of your pet’s reach to prevent table or counter surfing,” Darling said. “Put the trash out of the way where the pet can’t find it in a closed trash container that is behind a closed door or outside in a secure location. Be careful to keep plastic, strings, foil and bags out of their reach.”

If a pet owner suspects that their animal has consumed a harmful substance, they should seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Darling recommended that pet owners save emergency numbers into their phones so they are prepared in case of emergency. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) animal poison control center hotline is 888-426-4435.

That there are certain things pets should not eat does not mean that owners shouldn’t treat their furry friend to a sampling of the feast; however, doing so in moderation and being careful about the type of food they share are key.

“Some foods that you can give your pet are small amounts of white meat turkey, raw or steamed green beans, carrots with no seasoning, pumpkin, and apples,” Darling said.  “A dog might enjoy a bully stick, dental chew, a Kong stuffed with their favorite treats, or a food puzzle toy.”

Darling also advised owners to be aware of the hectic environment a holiday gathering might create, especially if guests are unfamiliar with the pet or bring children.

“Having a house full of guests may be stressful for your pet,” she said. “If your pet is shy or fearful, put the pet in a crate or a quiet room. Put your pet in a secure location when guests are arriving and leaving so the pet does not run out the door.  Let your guests know not to feed your pets any food unless you have provided them with appropriate treats.”

Darling stressed that it might be difficult to keep an eye on your pet for the whole celebration, especially if you are hosting. As such, it is important to communicate guidelines on how to interact with a pet to your guests so they don’t unknowingly cross a line.

With the proper knowledge and communication, your animal-friendly Thanksgiving will be a safe and memorable event for all of your loved ones.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Home Alone: Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Does your dog whine when he sees you heading for the door? Are shredded pillows a frequent welcome home from work? Does your otherwise housetrained pooch have a problem with accidents in your absence?

If so, your dog might have a case of separation anxiety.

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says canine separation anxiety is a condition born from love.

“Since dogs have been domesticated over thousands of years, there has been the development of a bond between dogs and people,” Darling said. “Dogs are social animals and thrive on companionship. They would like to spend all of their time with you if they could.”

Separation anxiety arises when a dog becomes stressed and anxious in the absence of their owner. Oftentimes, this distress manifests in symptoms that mimic misbehavior.

“Signs of separation anxiety include excess whining, barking, or howling; having accidents, even though housebroken; chewing things; scratching at doors and windows; digging holes; excessive drooling and panting; pacing; and trying to escape,” Darling said.

While there are many theories on why dogs develop separation anxiety, the exact cause can be difficult to pinpoint.

“Risk factors include coming from a shelter, being left alone or seldom left alone as a young puppy, change of ownership, change in family routine or schedule, experiencing a traumatic event when the dog is alone, moving to a new house, and loss of a family member,” Darling said.

When managing canine separation anxiety, a kind and patient approach is best.

“Do not scold or punish your dog because it might make the dog more upset and fearful,” Darling said. “The behaviors exhibited in separation anxiety are not the result of disobedience or spite.

“If your dog has mild separation anxiety, counter-condition training may be helpful. This is done by associating the sight or presence of the feared or disliked situation with something the dog really likes,” she continued. “Over time, the dog will learn something feared will predict something good.”

Distraction can also be a valuable tool, as a tired dog has less energy available for destructive activities. Darling suggests food puzzles, aerobic exercise, interactive games, daily walks, and playdates with other dogs to keep your dog busy.

“Each dog is different so you have to find out what motivates him and sets him up to be successful,” Darling said. “Providing lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation decreases your dog’s stress and enriches his life.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

The Magic of Pet Therapy

Does your pet have a talent for comforting those in need? Volunteering for pet therapy is a great way to spend more time with your pet, while also improving the lives of people in your community.Pet Therapy

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says pet therapy can have a multitude of benefits for many different types of people.

As president of Aggieland Pets with a Purpose, a pet therapy organization in the Bryan/College Station area, Darling has personally seen the positive impacts that therapy animals, including her own dogs, can have on people in need.

“Animals have a non-judgmental nature,” Darling said. “It does not matter what you look like or if you are happy or sad, they can provide joy and comfort for you.”

Pet therapy is often used to help people in hospitals or long-term care facilities, including assisted living, rehabilitation centers, and skilled nursing facilities. Therapy animals can also comfort people with special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or brain injuries.

“Therapy animals can lower blood pressure, relieve stress and anxiety, decrease loneliness, increase activity, improve communication, and enhance social opportunities,” Darling said.

By brushing, playing with, and talking to animals, patients in physical, occupational, or speech therapy can become more motivated to complete therapy activities.

In schools, therapy animals can provide a source of stress-relief before exams and even encourage kids to speak and read more in the classroom.

“Children can read out loud to the animal and it will not judge, criticize, or laugh if the child does not pronounce a word correctly,” Darling explained. “The animal can help the child improve their self-confidence, self-esteem, and social skills.”

Pets that are friendly, calm around people and animals, and well-trained may make good therapy animals. To get involved in pet therapy, Darling recommends searching for local groups and seeing what requirements they have.

Although every organization may have slightly different requirements, the Canine Good Citizen test can be a good starting point for training therapy dogs. This test determines how a dog reacts to loud noises, meeting new people or animals, and being touched or tugged on, as well as how it does with leash walking and basic commands like “sit” and “stay.”

Besides local organizations, larger groups like Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners can also help with certifying an animal for therapy work and finding a place to volunteer.

If you have the desire to make a difference in your community, look into volunteering for pet therapy with your dog, cat, or other animal. Even little things like hugging a dog or hearing a cat purr can make a big difference for someone who needs to experience the unconditional love of pets.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Tips for Safe Travel with Pets

Summer is the season for fun vacations with the whole family, often including pets.

Before hitting the road, Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has some helpful tips for keeping pets safe and calm during road trips, plane rides, and any other type of trip away from home.

The Magnificent Dog Car

Just like people need to wear seat belts in the car, pets also need to be strapped in to stay safe. Pets can be secured with a harness that attaches to the seat belt or they can travel in a well-ventilated crate.

“Before attempting a car ride, acclimate your pet to the harness or crate,” Darling said. “Begin with short rides and then gradually increase the time in the car, taking frequent breaks every two to three hours to allow the pet to get some exercise and go to the bathroom.”

Pets should never be allowed to ride unrestricted in a truck bed or be left alone in a parked vehicle, as heat builds very quickly and can be extremely dangerous.

“Do not allow your pet to ride with his head outside of the window as dirt and other debris can enter the eyes, nose, and ears causing injury or infection,” Darling advised.

If traveling by airplane, pets will need to ride in an approved crate for the full flight. If the pet is not small enough for its crate to fit under a passenger seat in the cabin, it will have to ride in the cargo bay of the plane.

“Contact the airline to find out what they require for pets traveling on planes,” Darling said. “The airline may have a restriction on breed, size, or age of the animal. Most airlines also require a health certificate issued by a veterinarian within 10 days of travel.”

No matter how the pet will be traveling, there are many ways to make sure it stays safe and comfortable upon arrival.

First, Darling advises double-checking that pets are welcome at the destination, even if the host will be a friend or family member. Good pet manners, such as using a leash and cleaning up after the pet, can help make sure they stay welcome throughout the trip.

“Whenever leaving the pet alone, put it in a crate and leave your contact information,” Darling said. “In a hotel or motel, put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, inform the front desk, and leave your contact information.”

When traveling with a pet, all supplies needed for that pet’s care should be brought along. Darling recommends packing a separate bag with the pet’s food, bowls, medications, toys, proof of rabies vaccination, veterinarian contact information, and any other necessary supplies.

Bringing along a familiar blanket or towel with the pet’s or the owner’s scent can help the animal feel relaxed in a strange place.

Pets may be tempted to run away if nervous, so they should be microchipped and/or wearing a collar with current contact information on the tag. Darling also recommends labeling the pet’s crate with contact information, especially for airplane travel.

Most importantly, remember to show your pet plenty of love and attention to help it feel safe, calm, and happy in an unfamiliar environment. Summer vacations are more fun when the entire family is having a good time.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

The Joys and Challenges of Adopting an Animal

person holding a black and white puppy in their arms, close upAdopting a pet from a shelter is a great way to find a new best friend. But it’s also a great way to make a huge difference for an animal, and potentially even save its life.

Sadly, many of the animals that end up in shelters come from bad situations. Adopting a mistreated animal can have extra challenges, but can be a great lesson in love, patience, and trust.

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the benefits of adopting an animal that has been mistreated and discusses the best ways to earn its trust.

Adopting an animal can greatly improve its quality of life; an animal that has known nothing but loneliness and fear can be given the chance to feel love and safety, Darling said.

In return, these pets can provide unconditional love and support for their owners. The benefits of pet ownership may take longer, but can be just as strong in the end.

“It takes patience and consistency to gain the trust of an animal that has been mistreated,” Darling said. “It may take a while for the animal to trust and accept your love. Go slow, take baby steps, and do not expect too much.”

At first, these animals may show signs of fear or aggression, such as cowering, growling, or shying away from touch. Some may even have an injury if they did not have time to heal at a shelter.

“Animals that have been mistreated may show significant emotional reactions to certain situations or objects,” Darling said.

She explained that fear may cause these animals to be withdrawn, unwilling to play, or have the inclination to hide. Some may also show separation anxiety when away from their new owner.

Darling recommends giving the animal a secluded, quiet place to retreat to so that the animal feels safe and secure and is not rushed into frightening situations.

She said that trust building begins by spending quiet time together on a daily basis. Speak clearly in low tones, give the animal treats, and do a quiet activity nearby to help the animal learn to trust you.

“Allow the animal to meet his new family one by one and at a pace that is not overwhelming,” she said. “If he is fearful of people or other animals, do not force interactions with them.”

Once the animal has begun to adjust to you and your household, basic training can be used to decrease any remaining fear.

“Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behaviorist can be helpful when dealing with mistreated animals,” Darling advised.

It can take a short or long period of time before the animal is fully comfortable with its new family. Some animals will always retain a bit of fear, but many others will fully recover and go on to live a normal life.

“It is important to be patient, consistent, and persistent in the rehabilitation process,” Darling said. “It can be rewarding to see an animal overcome their fears and enjoy life again. If you are willing to take the time and open your heart and home to helping a neglected animal, it can give you a joyous and rewarding experience.”

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to