Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Merry and Bright

Need tension relief at family holiday gatherings? A dog might help

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

The conventional wisdom during the holidays is that pets tend to raise blood pressure rather than lower it, but under the right circumstances, they can be tension relievers. We discovered this some years ago when several of us traveled to Oklahoma in an attempt to persuade my mother-in-law to move nearer to one of us while she was still healthy and able. Wanda was not especially a dog person, but my dog Harper was a puppy then, and I brought her along for some advanced socialization in the form of air travel, thunderstorms, staying in someone else’s home and meeting more new people.

What we ended up getting, I think, was some advanced canine family therapy.

Now, all of Harper’s new acquaintances on that trip tolerated -- and in some cases, even liked -- dogs, but certainly not to the extent that we do. There was no objection to Harper’s presence, and I crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t have any housetraining accidents in Wanda’s house, because that definitely wouldn’t have gone over well.

I didn’t need to worry. Not only did she behave perfectly and charm everyone, she acted as a source of tension relief. Any time things got stressful, there was Harper to be walked, Harper to throw a ball for, Harper to feed, Harper to pet. Her presence was a natural barrier to rising voices.

Of course, there are rules to being a good guest, especially during the holidays. Following them is the best way to ensure that your dog’s visit will reduce tension, not heighten it.

Ask about house rules for pets -- and follow them. If your hosts don’t want pets on the furniture, abide by their wishes. It’s a good opportunity for your pet to practice the “stay” and “go to your place” commands. If they are OK with pets on furniture, reward their kindness by having a clean dog or covering the sofa or bed with a sheet or other covering you brought from home.

Enforce good manners. Stealing food is a time-honored pet holiday tradition, and it’s your responsibility to keep it from happening. Take the initiative to place food or trash cans out of canine reach.

Let your hosts know what your dog is allowed and not allowed to do or have so they don’t allow him to jump up on them, feed him from the table or offer him forbidden treats such as cooked bones, fatty or salty foods, or liquor- and raisin-laden fruitcake.

If your hosts have pets, ensure that your dog behaves politely toward them. Keep him on a leash until you’re sure he gets along with their dog or cat. Never let him chase other pets or otherwise give them grief.

Bring your pet’s crate so he has a little bit of home where he can go to relax. Confine him to it when you aren’t around to supervise so he doesn’t get into trouble in a strange place.

Are you a pet owner hosting a visiting pet? Even if they are buddies, having another animal in the house, combined with the chaos of the holidays, may be stressful for them. Give your own pets, especially cats, a safe room where they can retreat when things get too crowded or noisy. It can be a bedroom or home office -- any place that your pet is comfortable staying for long periods. Stock it with everything he needs: food, water, toys, a comfortable bed and, for cats, a clean litter box.

That applies even if your pet is normally a social butterfly. Even outgoing animals can get overstimulated from too much handling and require a timeout.

Q&A

Avian obesity is

plus-size problem

Q: My veterinarian says my bird is fat. Is that really something I need to worry about?

A: You bet! Obesity is as much an issue in pet birds as it is in dogs and cats. An overweight bird can be predisposed to metabolic diseases such as diabetes. He can also become arthritic or develop fatty liver disease.

Certain species tend to be more likely to grow tubby -- Amazon parrots, parakeets, canaries, cockatoos and Quaker parakeets -- but any bird can gain too much weight if he's allowed to eat whatever he wants. Pet birds may start out on good diets but become choosy with age, deciding they are going to eat only one or two types of food.

Don't let your bird get away with that. He's most likely to have a balanced diet if he eats a variety of foods. A pelleted diet supplemented by healthy food from your own plate is the best way to feed him. Birds can and will eat pasta, cooked chicken, scrambled eggs, beans and most fruits and vegetables. Avian expert Scott Weldy, DVM, says that most birds do well on a diet of 70% to 80% pelleted food and 20% to 30% fresh or cooked food.

Avoid giving birds avocado, onion, mushrooms or chocolate, all of which have toxic effects. Highly salted foods are a no-no as well.

What's the key to determining if your bird is overweight? Birds with cleavage rivaling that of a Hollywood starlet are too fat. Birds should be lean and sleek, with no cleavage at all, Dr. Weldy says. If you can't feel your bird's keelbone because it's covered by a layer of fat, talk to your veterinarian about ways to help him get back to a healthy weight. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

A new kind

of movie dog

-- A dog-friendly movie house in Plano, Texas, is to bark for. The unique theater, K9 Cinemas, is open six days a week to people and their dogs. For $15, people and their dogs can lounge on leather couches and drink free wine (for the humans) on Friday and Saturday nights when movies are shown. On weekdays, K9 Cinemas serves as a co-working space where people can work in the company of their dogs. A courtyard is available where pets can relieve themselves during intermission, and of course owners are expected to pick up after them. The only drawback? “The dogs bark when a dog on the screen barks,” said theater owner Eric Lankford in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

-- Could your dog talk to you one day? Speech pathologist Christina Hunger created a device, based on one used with humans who are nonverbal, that just might enable that. Her Voice Output Communication Aid has allowed her to teach her blue heeler-Catahoula mix, Stella, to communicate such desires as “look” or “come eat” or “play.” To learn more, visit Hunger’s website at hungerforwords.com or see hunger4words on Instagram.

-- Watch out for the Yule Cat if you’re in Iceland over the holidays -- that is, unless you’re wearing new clothes. The giant feline is said to lie in wait for and eat people who have not received new clothes before Christmas Eve. Is the Yule Cat real or simply a ploy by retailers to encourage gifts of clothing? The story is said to be an old tradition, begun by farmers to give their workers an incentive to finish processing shorn wool before the holiday. Diligent employees received new clothes, but slackers were threatened with the monstrous cat. Just in case, be sure you have some new togs in case your tabby decides to import the tradition. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.