To some, the thought of waking up on Christmas morning with a Fluffy or a Fido tucked among the holiday gifts may be irresistible, but by mid-afternoon, the cute factor may have worn extremely thin when Fido and Fluffy start leaving their own "gifts" on the carpet.
"A new pet can be a great holiday gift," said Brent Herrin, DVM, who has offices in Monett and Cassville. "You need to do your homework first, because it's a big commitment."
Factors to consider before purchasing a furry friend include lifestyle, available time and finances.
"People need to make sure the pet's needs and temperament fit in with the family's ability to care for it," Herrin said. "Another thing to consider is how a pet will fit in with existing pets, as well."
Pets, and dogs especially, need to be house trained, socialized and exercised.
"Pets live for many years and will often develop serious behavioral problems if their needs are not met," Herrin said. "All pets need good quality food, protection from the elements, water bowls, toys, treats, a crate or kennel and a collar. Those items add up."
Another important thing to consider is the animal's medical care. Puppies and kittens will need regular worming and vaccinations, examinations, and, perhaps most importantly, spaying or neutering.
"Some breeds have common medical conditions that can require life-long treatment, shorten their life or even require surgery," Herrin said. "Even though there is no joy equal to watching a child with a new puppy or kitten on Christmas morning, that joy can dissipate quickly if that pet has a life-threatening disease that required hundreds of dollars to treat. It is important that people choose their pets from a reliable source and have the pet examined first thing to make sure it is healthy and protected from parasites or contagious diseases."
With the holiday comes special dinners, treats and other unexpected hazards for furry family members.
"Diet change can make a pet sick," Herrin said. "Especially rich and fatty foods can cause vomiting, diarrhea and a possible life-threatening disease called pancreatitis.
"There are some foods that we know are toxic to pets, including raisins, macadamia nuts, chocolate, onions, garlic and mushrooms," he continued. "Anything containing xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in gum and candy, can cause fatal kidney failure in pets.
"The best rule of thumb is to stick to the animal's normal food," Herrin said. "For a special treat, try a proven pet-safe toy or treat."
Holiday decorations are also a temptation to four-legged family members.
"Poinsettias can cause gastroenteritis or an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and a loss of appetite," Herrin said. "Ornaments, especially tinsel, can pose problems if ingested. Cats are especially prone to playing with and ingesting tinsel, leading to an intestinal obstruction that can prove fatal if not surgically corrected."
Pets also like decorated trees, so Herrin recommends that the tree be secured from falling or the pet kept away from the tree. Chemicals added to the water for live trees can also be toxic to animals.
"Pets, especially puppies, like to chew on electrical cords," Herrin said. "They can actually ingest them or suffer a severe electrical shock."
Outdoor pets can face equally dangerous hazards, including exposure to the elements, lack of fresh water and the accidental ingestion of ethylene glycol, a common component in antifreeze.
"It is sweet and attractive to pets," Herrin cautioned. "If an animal ingests even a small amount, they can suffer life-threatening kidney damage."
Older and debilitated pets that live outdoors should have a warm place to shelter from frigid winter temperatures.
Herrin reminds those who are considering adopting pets over the holidays to remember that, along with a new and loyal family member, comes a lifetime of commitment.
"The most important thing a pet owner can do is make sure the animal gets routine examinations to help them live a long and happy life," Herrin said. "Routine diagnostics should be run on healthy pets to screen for disease and watch for trends specific to their breed, age and size.
"With nearly every examination we do, we find a problem the pet's owner did not realize," Herrin said. "Some are serious or painful conditions that the animal will hide. With regular visits, we can catch an illness early and treat it when it is likely to be successful and cheaper."
Other tips to help pets enjoy the holidays include some quiet time.
Just as people get stressed out when there is a large, noisy gathering, animals are likely to get stressed and misbehave as well.
For those considering adopting a pet, there are several local organizations, such as Haven of the Ozarks, where staffers can advise prospective pet parents of the nature of the cat or dog they are considering, as well as its ability to adjust to other household pets. Adopting an older pet may even be more desirable to many people who don't want to bother with the hassle of potty-training.