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Cat Etiquette for the Holidays

By: Joan Paylo

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Planning to take your pet along when you go to see friends or relatives this season? Think again. Not every hostess – or pet, for that matter – can deal with a holiday visit.

Reasons to Leave Them Home

  • First off, many animals don't enjoy being away from a familiar home, and they really don't look forward to playing with your cousin's pet. In fact, your cat, your dog and your budgie don't know or care that it's one holiday or another.

  • Some of the things we humans look forward to all year are nothing but a nuisance for many animals. A crush of family and friends may annoy them, and they can turn snappy. Rich holiday foods can make them sick. Decorations can pose health threats. Cats may claw at electrical wires and even chew on them; ribbons can get caught in an animal's throat; scented candles are sometimes toxic – and certain plants, like mistletoe, are dangerous.

  • Another reason to leave the cat home is the sensibility of your host or hostess. Some hosts may shrug off a nervous pet's accident on the carpet, and your holiday visit may work out just fine. Some people, though, have allergies or animal phobias – which aren't so easy to ignore. Others usually seem easygoing but, confronted with holiday entertaining, turn into meticulous control freaks, easily rattled by an animal's unpredictable ways.

    Preparing for a Visit

    It goes without saying that all visiting pets must be well behvaved. If your cat tends to have accidents when he's nervous, if he won't stay off the table or howls at all hours of the night, do everyone a favor and leave him home.

    Before you make your plans, have a straightforward talk with your host and ask the right questions. Even if your host agrees to put your cat up for a night or two, find out how he, his partner and his kids really feel about animals. Are the children of the house afraid of them? Does the family know what to expect from a four-legged visitor? If they have pets of their own, how do their animals get along with others? Is the host willing to pet-proof his house? Making a place pet-friendly is difficult at any time of year, but more so at holidays, when traditional decorations can become an issue. Ingested tinsel or broken tree ornaments make for medical emergencies.

  • Never arrive with an unannounced pet – even if you think your visit worked out fine last year. What you remember and what your host recalls may differ diametrically.

  • Be sure there is a quiet place where your pet can be alone. If the unexpected happens – their kids scare your pet; their pet threatens yours – it's not sufficient to confine your pet in a crate in a bustling room. It's best if there is an extra room where you and your pet can stay together, and where the crate or carrier can be placed for your pet's peace of mind.

    Making the Trip

  • Give your pet reliable identification. Tags are not enough. Tattoos and microchips are more secure. Carry veterinary records and a recent color photo of your pet, just in case.

  • Understand how travel affects your pet. Tricky weather conditions and heightened airport congestion at this time of year are particularly stressful – even dangerous – for a pet. Make sure you check with your airline about their rules well in advance. Regulations have changed over the past year, and each carrier has slightly different requirements. Remember, too, that Amtrak doesn't allow any animals (except service dogs) aboard the train.

  • If you go by car, holiday traffic will lengthen your driving time. Plot a route where you can stop to let the cat take a bathroom break. Always crate cats while they are in the car. If your pet has a tendency toward motion sickness, ask your vet for medication that will relieve it or reconsider whether the trip is worth the animal's misery.

    When You Arrive

  • Be gracious. Bring a gift for your host's pet, perhaps a toy or homemade biscuits. Author Peter Gethers, who has traveled the world with his Scottish fold cat, Norton, suggests carrying over-the-counter antihistamines to dispense to allergic friends.

  • Pack a kitty bag. Bring along your pet's favorite toys and blanket. Include grooming tools to limit nervous shedding and a dependable lint remover. If you're not sure that your pet's regular food is available at your destination, bring it with you. Also bring litter and a box.

  • Introduce animals slowly. Don't plop your little visitor in the middle of his four-legged hosts or allow your cat to go scampering around the house.

  • Keep your cat in a carrier and release her first in the closed-off area where you'll be staying. Keep her confined to a room with a "Keep closed" sign posted on the door. It doesn't matter whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat; in mere seconds, your precious, frazzled baby can dash out the door and disappear. Bring along a litter box and, just as you do at home, establish one spot to keep it throughout your stay.

  • Don't leave your pet alone with the pet-in-residence.

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