FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 20, 2013) -- Things can get hectic during the holidays with visiting Family, travel plans and adjusting to the weather, but officials at the Fort Rucker Veterinary Clinic and the Fort Rucker Stray Facility offer tips on keeping pets safe and happy during these hairy times.

There are a lot of hazards that pets are exposed to during the holidays and keeping pets safe is a continuous duty during the winter months, said Capt. Janas Gray, Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility officer in charge.

"Keeping pets safe should be a top priority in any pet owner's life and we just want to make sure Families are doing everything they can to keep their four-legged Family members safe during the holidays," she said.

Winter poses special risks to all pets. Give your pet a safer, healthier cold-weather season by following these tips.

Keep indoor pets in a warm, dry area free of drafts. Elevate your pet's bed off the floor.

Provide outdoor dogs and cats with a dry, warm, insulated shelter out of the wind. Bring your pet inside if the wind chill or other weather conditions become severe.

Feed your pet extra calories when temperatures drop.

Cats and kittens often nap on warm car engines. Knock on the hood or honk the car, and then wait a few moments before starting the car.

Pets like the smell and taste of antifreeze, and a small amount can easily kill them. Thoroughly clean up spills at once. Tightly close containers and store them where pets cannot get to them.

Groom your dog regularly. Your dog needs a well-groomed coat to keep him properly insulated. Short- or coarse-haired dogs may get extra cold, so consider a sweater or coat.

Don't leave your dog alone in a car. It gets too cold and carbon monoxide from an engine left running is dangerous.

"Dogs cannot talk to us when they are sick, so as a responsible dog owner it is important to pay special attention to your dog's wellbeing during the winter season," said Gray.

She reminds pet owners that pets can just as likely get dehydrated in the winter as in the summer, and, though Alabama winters are mild, frostbite is still a hazard.

"To prevent frostbite on ears, tails and paws, don't leave your dog outdoors for too long. Be very careful of supplemental heat sources, also. Fireplaces and portable heaters can severely burn your dog," she said.

She also said that, like people, dogs seem to be more susceptible to illnesses in the winter and to take pets to a veterinarian if any suspicious symptoms arise.

"Don't use over-the-counter medications on your dog without consulting a veterinarian," she added.

Other holiday hazards that pose a threat to pets during the festive season include: holly, tinsel, mistletoe, poinsettia, Christmas rose, philodendron, dieffenbachia, holiday lights on lower tree branches, electrical cords, glass or edible ornaments, live and artificial Christmas tree needles, alcohol and chocolate.

In addition to these hazards that pets have to put up with, many people think that a new puppy or kitten is the best way to surprise a loved one, but animals and authorities feel otherwise.

"Pets don't always make for the perfect gift for the holidays, and the stressful nature of the season can be too much for puppies, kittens or adult rescues to handle," said Donna Isom, animal health aide at the Stray and Adoption Facility, adding that the added stress of a new pet during the season can also sometimes be too much for people, as well.

"New puppies and dogs require extra attention and a stable environment, which the holiday season doesn't permit. Also, a puppy is not a toy or gift that can be returned," she said.

Animals being adopted need extra time and one-on-one attention from new owners to work on house-training, getting introduced to other Family pets and just overall adjusting to a new environment, she continued.

Isom also advises that getting a pet as a gift for a Family member, even if they indicate they want a pet, may not be a good decision.

"Never gift someone with an animal as a surprise. An animal is a huge time, attention, money and health care investment that can last years. The decision to have an animal is a personal choice, and not to be made quickly or on a whim," she said.

For those determined to get a pet for the holidays, the animal health aide offers tips to care for the addition.

"Make sure you are able to spend focused time on helping the animal adapt to its new surroundings. Be sure you have all necessary supplies and are able to spend time outside with house-training. Take into account that if you are traveling for the holidays you need a plan for taking care of your new pet," she said.

If people plan on traveling with pets, Isom said to make sure to bring all necessary supplies from home --crates, food bowls, litter boxes, leashes and medications.

"Also, make sure you have an escape-proof area if dogs will be off the leash," she added. "Make sure you have your animal microchipped in case they do get lost, and keep your microchip information updated when you move or change phone numbers."

If visiting Family plans to bring pets into your home, Isom reminds that Dobermans, wolf-hybrids, Chow-Chows, Rottweiler's and Pit-Bulls are currently prohibited on Fort Rucker.

A lot of pets are exposed to unfamiliar Family members during the holidays, so she advises to never force an animal reluctant to be petted to make contact.

"Let pets go at their own pace, especially with the smaller breed dogs that are often leery of small children's sudden moves and loud gestures," she said.

If pet owners have concerns or questions regarding care of pets during the winter season and holidays, contact the Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility at 255-9061.