Keeping your pets safe during the holidays

  By: Dr. Kim Lambert, DVM, MSc
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  December 23, 2015

Putting up the Christmas tree at our house is always a big event that our whole family enjoys, including our cat, Abigail. From her perspective, she is getting exciting new toys to enrich her environment - sparkly tinsel and ribbon, hanging ornaments to bat around, and a new place to climb or hide under. For me, it is a reminder of how best to keep her safe during the holidays. For example:

  • I remind the kids to hang only "safe" ornaments near the bottom of the tree.
  • We abandoned tinsel long ago after one of my feline patients had a very unfortunate experience after eating tinsel. It made its way through her bowels only to get stuck on the way out! I have also seen this with ribbon when it is used to decorate presents - if it is eaten, it can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and even intestinal blockage.
  • I also do not hang "edible" ornaments made out of marshmallows, popcorns, berries, or cookie dough. One year, a dog came into the veterinary clinic after enjoying a yummy snowman ornament made from miniature marshmallows and a large number of stick pins! For his family, the holidays were spent helping him recover from surgery to remove the pins from his stomach!

As many people are aware, chocolate is toxic to dogs, and ingestion of chocolate is often accidental and preventable. By keeping chocolate safely stored away at all times and making sure chocolate is put away after being offered to guests, dogs will not be tempted to eat it when nobody is looking. If you are giving chocolate as a gift, never put it under the Christmas tree where Fido can reach it easily.

Poinsettias are also toxic to pets, so preventing access to these plants is important. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control website, if chewed, the sap from poinsettias can irritate the mouth and stomach and can cause vomiting. For more information about pet toxins, visit

Our family's solution to the Christmas tree dilemma with our cat is to have it in a room in our house where the door can be closed to prevent access when we are not there to supervise Abigail. Awareness of holiday hazards and prevention are keys to ensuring you and your furry loved ones have a safe and happy holiday season!

If your pet does happen to accidentally get into trouble, you can call the Pet Poison Helpline for advice and information at (800) 213-6680. They are available 24 hours a day to help you!

The B4 U GET A PET team wishes you and your family a very happy and safe holiday season!

 Abigail under our Christmas tree; don't worry, she's being supervised :).


Things to consider before getting a pet over the holiday season

  By: Jason Coe, DVM, PhD
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  December 3, 2015

The holidays are such a warm, fun, exciting time of year. The music, the decorations, the parties… Having some extra time to spend with family and loved ones… What a perfect time to get a pet! Right?

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on some of the things people should consider before getting a dog or getting a cat at this time of year! With proper consideration and preparation, the holiday season can be an appropriate time to get a pet, just like any other time of year. BUT I would strongly advise against giving a pet as a surprise gift (meaning, you haven't discussed the idea with the gift receiver!) or making an impulse pet acquisition for yourself. I know I might be sounding a bit like Mr. Scrooge (bah humbug!), but hear me out!

Research has shown that getting a pet as a gift can have a negative influence on the human-pet relationship. In particular, in one study, half of the animals given up by their owners were given as gifts. Therefore, be cautioned about getting a cat or getting a dog as a gift for someone at this time of year. If you do, it will be important to ensure you talk to the person ahead of time and ensure they have all the information they need before getting a pet.

If you've ever owned a pet, you know that they are a big commitment and need lots of TLC (tender-loving care!). It's important to understand what is involved before getting a dog or getting a cat. Here are some things to consider, specifically during the holidays:

  1. Your lifestyle: take time to research and think about the needs of this new pet and how this will fit into your current lifestyle, particularly now, at holiday time. If you are already a pet owner, we suggest thinking about how much time you will be able to devote to both your new pet and your current pet(s).

  2. Your availability: it's important to spend a fair amount of time with your new pet to help you create a positive, close relationship. What are your commitments over the holidays? How much time will you be able to spend with your new pet? If getting a puppy or kitten, will you have enough time during the holidays to ensure they are properly socialized? If you have more than one pet, it is important that you spend individual time with each animal to nurture your relationship with each pet.

  3. Type of pet: consider the differences in behaviours and needs of different types of pets. For example, a dog requires walks, whereas a cat requires a litter box that is cleaned frequently. It's important to understand these differences to help you pick a pet that is suitable for you and your lifestyle.

  4. Your current pet: Understanding the health, activity level, and personality of your current pet(s) and the new pet you are thinking of bringing home will allow you to foresee any problems and help accommodate them. For example, a slower, older dog may not get along with a high energy puppy that wants to play all day.

  5. Your new pet: If you are already a pet owner, choosing a new pet that feels comfortable around other animals, specifically around the type of species of your current pet(s), is important.

  6. Cost of pet ownership: There are many costs associated with pet ownership. Does adding these additional costs to your holiday expenses work for your budget? To learn more about these costs and to make an approximate budget for yourself, check out our "budgeting for your dog" and "budgeting for your cat" pages.

Research has shown that the success of a human-pet relationship is influenced by:

  • whether an owner's expectations can be met by the pet
    • Owner expectations for ownership can relate to the time and effort needed in caring for a pet (e.g., play sessions, grooming, veterinary visits), the role of the pet in the household, and the cost of owning a pet.
  • whether the needs and lifestyle of the owner and personality of the pet match

Therefore, before getting a dog or getting a cat during the holidays or at any time of year, it is beneficial to think about your schedule, your household members, living situation, and the type of personality you would like your new pet to have. To help you with this, check out our "identify your expectations" dog and cat pages!

Getting a cat or getting a dog during the holidays can be a good thing; you might have extra time off work and/or extra time with the family for socializing your pet. It's just really important to know what is involved in pet ownership ahead of time to avoid those Boxing Day returns.


Adkins, B.L. (2008). Factors associated with the relinquishment of domestic canines to animal shelters. Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 69(2).
Patronek, G.J., Glickman, L.T., Beck, A.M., McCabe, G.P., and Ecker, C. (1996). Risk factors for relinquishment of dogs to an animal shelter. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 209(3): 572-581.

Salman, M.D., New, J.G., Scarlett, J.M., Kris, P.H., Ruch-Gallie, R., and Hetts, S. (1998). Human and animal factors related to the relinquishment of dogs and cats in 12 selected animal shelters in the United States. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, J(3): 207-226.

Weng, H.Y., Kass, P.H., Hart, L.A., and Chomel, B.B. (2006). Risk factors for unsuccessful dog ownership: an epidemiologic study in Taiwan. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 77(1-2): 82-95. 

Why are there so many black cats available?

  By: Rachel O'Connor, BSc, MSc
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada 

  Oct. 30, 2015

 In the spirit of Halloween, we have decided to touch on a topic that is close to my heart: black cats! Specifically, I would like to discuss the fact that black cats tend to be less popular than cats of other coat colours.

I have heard from animal shelter workers that black cats are often less likely to be adopted than cats with other coat colours. I decided to do a bit of my own investigation to see if any scientific studies have been conducted on this topic and whether their results support these experiences.

The research I found showed that both “teen” and adult black cats tend to stay the longest in shelters, compared to cats with light-coloured coats and those with medium-coloured coats.

Another study involving PetFinder, "an online, searchable database of animals who need homes," showed that black cats receive the least number of clicks per day and tend to be available for the longest amount of time.

Now I’m sure you’re asking yourself (I know I am!)… What is it against black cats?

The truth is… we’re not sure! Research has shown that there is no clear connection between cat fur colour and their personality. Also, it’s important to note that people’s opinions about the personalities of black cats is no different than their opinions on cats with other fur colours. This suggests that factors other than personality might play a role in the lower adoption rate of black cats. A few explanations that have been thrown around include superstitions relating to black cats (one being that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck) and some people’s views that black cats are “plain” looking.

On these notes, I have a few take home messages:

  • EVERY cat is different. A cat's fur colour does not predict its personality; every individual cat has a unique personality!
  • It is important to choose a pet that has a personality that matches your expectations and lifestyle, rather than choosing purely based on looks. I repeat … Get a pet based on your expectations, not the pet's looks! Research has shown that pet behaviour has a huge influence on an owner's satisfaction with their pet. Those who are less satisfied with their pet's behaviour form a weaker attachment to their pet. This weaker attachment makes these owners more prone to giving up their pet. On the other hand, when a pet's behaviour matches an owner's expectations of that pet, it can help to create a strong, successful human-animal relationship.

I'm happy to say that shelters also agree that black cats receive a bad rap for no reason. Shelters are working hard to correct the lower adoption rate and public perception of black cats. In recent years, shelters have offered promotions specifically focusing on the adoption of black cats, in an attempt to increase their adoption rates. Some examples include:

  • Waiving adoption fees for black cats around the time of “Black Friday”
  • Having Halloween-related promotions, such as offering cats with black or orange fur for a reduced price.

 Shelters have also made light-hearted lists regarding why you should adopt a black cat. Some reasons listed include:

  1. Black is slimming

  2. Black fur is invisible on black clothing

  3. Black cats absorb heat, making them good cuddlers!

  4. Black cats never look dirty

  5. Black goes with everything

  6. Black fur makes a cat's eyes pop

  7. In many cultures, black cats are considered lucky.

Therefore, before ending this blog post, I would like to reiterate two points:

EVERY cat is unique. When getting a cat choose one whose personality matches your expectations and lifestyle.

And now, because I am a proud fur mama and like to talk about my cat (far too much!), I will leave off with a picture of Milo; my beautiful, sweet, loving, BLACK cat!



The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2012). Thinking adoption? You can't go wrong with basic black. Retrieved from

Brown, W.P. and Morgan, K.T. (2015). Age, breed designation, coat colour, and coat pattern influenced the length of stay of cats at a no-kill shelter. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 18, 169-180.

Buzzfeed. (2012). 10 Reasons to love a black cat. Retrieved from

Curb, L.A., Abramson, C.I., Grice, J.W., and Kennison, S.M. (2013). The relationship between personality match and pet satisfaction among dog owners. Anthroözos, 26(3), 395-404.

Lepper, M., Kass, P.H., and Hart, L.A. (2002). Prediction of adoption versus euthanasia among dogs and cats in a California animal shelter. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5(1), 29-42.

Serpell, J.A. (1996). Evidence for an association between pet behaviour and owner attachment levels. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47, 49-60.

The Canadian Press. (2012). Busting black cat myths: shelters say most fears unfounded. Retrieved from

Woodward, L.E. and Bauer, A.L. (2007). People and their pets: a relational perspective on interpersonal complementarity and attachment in companion animal owners. Society and Animals, 15, 169-189.

My experiences with senior pets

  By: Kristen Janke, Second-year-student Veterinarian
        Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  November 18, 2015

When one of the team members of B4 U Get a Pet asked me to write a piece all about adopting senior pets, she knew she had me cornered. It's no secret that I'm a sucker for senior pets - mostly because I make darn sure that everyone around me knows it. So, the combination of my love for senior pets and the fact that November is ASPCA's Adopt a Senior Pet Month… I was sold!

I worked at a humane society a couple years ago and I guess it's not surprising that I adopted a pet (who could resist?); I left with a 15 year-old Siamese cat who normally wouldn't even have made the adoption roster due to his age. When I first met Murmel, he had been at the Humane Society for about a month. He was craving attention, and came to me chatting, purring, and drooling with happiness, and I knew I was seeing him for who he really was. He was thin and scraggly, but I hardly noticed; he was coming home with me and I'd fix that.

Murmel was the poster-cat for elderly animals who can live a good life if given the chance. I didn't have high hopes for how long we'd have him, given his poor condition and age, but I figured he could at least enjoy his golden years with me, however long that may be. We never guessed that with proper care he'd put on weight and keep on truckin' for another 2 full years!

Murmel and I immediately shared the strongest kind of bond you can with an animal. I've experienced a distinct aura of appreciation around senior pets when you take them home. He settled in as if he owned the place from day one. He was a well-adjusted, happy old cat who deserved comfort. When he eventually succumbed to cancer, I felt genuinely lucky to have had him in my life and was struck by how the brevity of our time together had not in any way diminished the quality of that time. It was Murmel who made me appreciate why we call those years 'golden'. 

Since Murmel, I have continued to adopt senior pets, including Ray, a 10-year old Siamese - the perfect companion for my 10-year old dog, Bug (also adopted as an adult).

So why do I seek out the senior fur-folks?

  1. It's downright fulfilling to give a senior pet a new life. I've painted a pretty picture of what it's like to adopt a senior pet, but it's as true as can be if you're prepared.

  2. I know what I want in a pet, and the best way to get that is to meet an adult animal - what you see is what you get!
  3. I'm also busy, and don't have an excess of time (or patience) to devote to the level of training a young animal needs. Instead of starting with a 'clean slate', most senior animals will come to you pre-trained to some extent. Your job is to get to know them, their habits and shortfalls (there are usually a few), and work on correcting the things that will help them fit into your new lives together. I love kittens and puppies as much as the next person… But let's be honest… It's a demanding stage of life, and not for everyone!

I'm not going to say there aren't challenges to getting senior pets because that would be a lie! Here are a few things to consider:

  • As adults, they may have some behavioural quirks that you'll want to address - but we all know you actually can teach an old dog new tricks, so you'll handle it.
  • The greatest challenge is health. The American Animal Hospital Association has suggested senior care guidelines for dogs and cats. With age comes a greater chance for disease, and you're often in the dark about the pet's past. So be prepared for an investment into senior healthcare. Specifically, it's important to:
    • Bring your pet into the veterinarian for routine senior check-ups. Getting your pet's blood and urine checked will help the vet know what your pet's 'normal' levels are. If there's a change from these 'normal' levels, the vet will know that something is up.
    • Talk to your veterinarian about your pet's diet. As pets age, their nutritional needs change.
    • Exercise! It's normal to see gradual changes in your pet's physical activity. However, regular activity and walks are still important for mental stimulation and keeping your pet's joints healthy.
    • Watch for and report any changes in your pet's drinking, eating, and bathroom habits, as well as any behavioural changes, to your veterinarian. Changes in these four areas could mean something medical is going on.

But never forget the bigger picture: the comfort and care you're providing will be repaid with a certain companionship that only a senior pet can give.

To wrap it up, what I hope is that, next time you're getting a dog or getting a cat, you'll think twice before heading straight to the puppies and kittens. If you know what you want in a pet, value calm and tranquility, want to provide a good life to a deserving animal, and have the means to do so - this might just be right for you. I think that you'll find that, like a good wine, pets only get better with age; so let's give them the chance they deserve!

Murmel cuddles! 
                    Murmel cuddles!

Davenport, J. (2005). Senior pets. Veterinary Nursing Journal, 20(6), 31-32.

Epstein, M., Kuehn, N., Landsberg, G., Lascelles, D., Marks, S., Schaedler, J., and Tuzio, H. (2005). AAHA senior care guidelines for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 41, 81-91.

Getting a pet is an EXCITING time; LEARNING about having a pet is an important first step!

  By: Rachel O'Connor, BSc, MSc  
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  Oct. 20, 2015

Bringing a pet into your home can be a wonderful experience! My pets have made me smile and laugh. They have allowed me to make new friends with other pet owners. Having pets has given me a feeling of comfort and security. They keep me active, especially on days when I feel like doing nothing! Playing with my pets also makes me feel like a child again. My pets are part of my family!

Over the past four years, I have been part of a research team at the University of Guelph that has been investigating ways to address pet homelessness. Through this work, I have learned a lot about the different roles pets can play in people’s lives. Most people that get a pet are happy with their animal; this is GREAT NEWS! But, there are also a number of things that can make people unhappy with their pet. Therefore, as I’m sure you will agree, it is important to get things started on the right foot!

Unfortunately, each year, around the world, millions of pets are left homeless, either on the street or in an animal shelter. Animals become homeless for a variety of reasons, including both owner reasons (e.g., allergies, moving) and animal reasons (e.g., problem behaviors). Our research team was particularly interested in why a person gives up their pet and what role the person’s expectations of their pet plays in this decision.

We, a team of researchers and animal lovers, started to ask ourselves; how can we help to make people’s relationships with their pet more successful right from the start?

Through our research, pet-owner education became the obvious answer. Providing education and advice to people interested in getting a pet was shown to help create realistic expectations for ownership. In turn, having realistic expectations helps to build successful relationships between people and their pets.

We started with a “Google” search to see what information was available for people getting a pet. We hit many crossroads. There was SO much information out there, in a bunch of different places. Often, the information was hidden within a site, or it contradicted other information we found. I personally found it confusing and frustrating to try to find answers to common questions. It was tough to determine which resources were reliable, backed by evidence or experts, and which resources were just someone’s opinions.

This is where we got the idea to build our website, ‘B4 U GET A PET’. We decided to take the things we were learning through our research, combine them with other reliable information, and build this website for people who are thinking about getting a pet. Our goal is to build a reliable resource that will help you, and other people like you, build an enjoyable, lasting relationship with your new pet.

We hope you find what you are looking for, whether you are anticipating your first pet or your tenth, an adult cat or dog, or a puppy or kitten.

So, before getting a pet, check out!