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Holiday Pet Care Advice

Petkeeping Advice During the Holidays

Marc Morrone
Thursday, December 9, 2004; 3:00 PM

During this holiday season, don't forget about the comforts and joy of your pets! How can you avoid any mishaps with holiday decorations? What are good gifts to buy your cat or dog? What should you do if you have travel plans?

Petkeeping expert Marc Morrone was online Thursday, Dec. 9, at 3 p.m. ET to answer your holiday pet care questions.

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"Petkeeping with Marc Morrone" airs locally on WTTG (Fox 5), Saturdays at 7 a.m. ET.

In his second season, Morrone takes viewers on various animal excursions including a visit to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., for a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. Government's Beagle Brigade. Morrone has over 25 years of experience as the owner of Parrots of the World pet shop in Rockville Center, New York. His television experience began in 1994 and in 2003, he became host of his own nationally syndicated series produced by Martha Stewart Living Television Productions. From keeping pets safe during the extreme weather months to choosing the right grooming tools, Morrone answers viewer questions from pet owners in each episode.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Marc Morrone: Hello pet people! This is Marc Morrone. It seems that our mailbag over floweth with questions. I'll do my best to answer as many questions as I can so that the most amount of people can benefit from the answers.


Washington, D.C.: In the spirit of holiday unity, my neighbor and I decided that we wanted to have our dogs play together. Both are german shepherds, and both have been barking at each other from the opposite side of our fence for a year, so there is some hostility. Any advice on re-introducing them in a way that might lead to a lasting friendship? Thanks.

Marc Morrone: Best way to do it is for you and your friend to drive to a neutral area in separate cars, where neither dog has been before. Keep both dogs on a leash and allow them to sniff each other. In a perfect world, the only familiar thing for the dogs will be each other and they should put their imagined hostilities aside. But use common sense - if you think there is trouble, there most likely will be. And no one wants to be a ref between two German Shephards.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Marc,
Love your show! Thanks for chatting with us.
I would like to get my 1.5 yr old male tabby a buddy for Christmas. Problem is, we live in a studio, and I don't have a separate room in order to properly introduce a new cat or kitten. What would you suggest? Older cat? Kitten? Male or female? Since I can't keep them separated at all, would some plug in pheromones help the transition?

Marc Morrone: Easy answer. Pet shops sell cat condoes. They're collapsable cages, 4' tall, 2' wide, 3' long and come equipped with shelves and have plenty of room for a bed and litter box. Set it up in the studio and put the new kitten or cat in the cage, and allow it to live in there for 2 weeks or so, or however long you think it will take for them to get along. Be patient. Currently, we have a new cat in a cat condo in our bedroom for the last 5 months! And she still has not learned to get along with the other 8 housecats, but things are better now than they were a few months ago, so I hope a few months from now, all will be well.


Arlington, Va.: Marc, how do I keep my cat safe and un-freaked-out when my family visits? Cat is two years old, but only recently adopted, and hasn't experienced a lot of people over. Just give her a private place to escape to?

Marc Morrone: Yes, a spare bedroom is perfect for that kind of situation. We have a couple of cats at home that are very shy, and when company comes over, they go upstairs under a bed until everyone leaves. To make things easy for them, we have a litter box, food and water right next to the bed so that their physical needs are taken care of while they're in their forced hiding.


Lake Ridge, Va.: How can I get my dog to stop drinking out of the Christmas tree stand?

We are trying to housetrain him, and so we limit his water intake to certain periods throughout the day, and this extra available water is thwarting our efforts!

Marc Morrone: Get some chicken wire mesh, cut it to fit, and wrap it around the tree base and stand, securing it with nylon zip ties. On top of that, place the Christmas tree skirt - this is about the only way you can do this...it's impossible to teach a thirsty dog that one container of water is ok to drink from, while another is not.


Cat Question: What do you think is the maximum number of days I could leave my cat to be on his own? I have a dry food and water dispenser for him.

One day seems to work fine. I have not tried more than that yet, but I suspect 2 or 3 might work as well.

Marc Morrone: The longest I have personally done this is from a Friday night to a Sunday night. Don't trust automatic dispensers, as anything can happen. I would advise having at least 2 or 3 dispensers of food and water, just to be on the safe side.


Michigan: Hi,

I have a 4 month old, very active kitten, that I got a month ago. I have to go away for 3 days, and am not sure what to do with him. I'm worried he could get into trouble, or get really lonely, if I hire a cat sitter to check in on him. On the other hand, putting him in a kennel might be cruel, as he loves to run around. Also, I got him from the pound and I don't want him to think I'm putting him back there!; Any suggestions?

Thank you!;

Marc Morrone: Cats are always happiest in their own environment. I think the cat staying home with a cat sitter would be the best thing. Kitty-proof the house by looking at things from a cat's point of view - put away breakables and tape down toilet lids.


Silver Spring, Md.: I have two neutered male cats (ages 10 and 12), purebreds from catteries where they were socialized with humans and other cats, and kept strictly indoors. In fact, since childhood all of my cats have had this background. Now we have just introduced a third cat into the household. She's a young spayed female, apparently abandoned by her owners, She's friendly and purry with humans, but not with other cats. She hisses at my boys whenever they make eye contact, and occasionally lunges at one or the other; they never hiss or fight back, they just look bewildered. Is it just a matter of time, or is there some way to ease her acceptance of a multi-cat household?

Marc Morrone: If something bad was going to happen, it would have happened already. She is telling your cats, in cat language, that she does not feel comfortable in their presence, and they are respecting her wishes. However, time heals all wounds, and most likely, as time goes by, they will get along better. Most likely, the situation will never be any worse than it is now.


Washington, D.C.: What advice do you have for cat owners who wish to have their Christmas tree survive the holiday season without being toppled by their feline friends? We have two young cats (6 and 7 months) and knowing how curious they are (and how much they love to climb EVERYTHING), I cannot imagine they will be able to ignore the temptation of a live tree in the living room...
Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: A Christmas Surprise That Will Blow the Cat Away (Post, Nov. 18)

Marc Morrone: Go to the hardware store and buy some piano wire and molly hooks or whatever kind of fastener can fit into your walls and celing. Run a wire support from the tree to one wall and from the tree to the ceiling. This will keep the cats from knocking the tree down. When you first set the tree up, do not decorate it - allow the cats to jump on the tree, climb it and get the novelty out of their system. After a few days, you should be able to decorate, but do not tempt fate by using breakable heirloom ornaments. Never use tinsel around cats - it can be fatal if swallowed.


St. Mary's City, Md.: Hi Marc - need some advice. We live with 2 labs; one is very easy-going, the other is high strung and freaks over every little change in his routine. This weekend we're hosting a party for lots of folks. Our plan is to crate both dogs (they are used to being in their crates during the day). My question is should we move the crates to our (heated) garage or keep them in the same location in the house. I worry that our nervous lab will constantly bark during the party. What would be best for the dogs? Letting them roam thru the house during the party is not an option. Thanks.

Marc Morrone: The answer is, you really won't know until you try it. Animals are always full of surprises and even though the house is full of people, the dog may feel secure enough because he's in his crate. However, there's no point in stressing out your dog or your guests. If there's trouble, it's just as easy to move the dogs and crates into the garage during the party, as it is before the party. But I would at least give the dog a chance to learn that guests in the home are not necessarily a threat or something to worry about.


Bowie, Md.: I have a labrador who has developed a taste for candy canes. He can even sneak them off our Christmas tree without disturbing any of the other decorations, so we've stopped decorating the tree with candy canes. Is it harmful in any way to let him enjoy one now and then as a Christmas treat?

Marc Morrone: Well, candy canes are basically just sugar, and sugar is no better for dogs than it is for us. But I've known dogs that ate things much worse than candy canes and still lived to talk about it. Unless your dog has a health problem that I'm not aware of, I can't imagine how one or two candy canes during the holiday season could do any harm.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Help! My German Shepherd is now peeing daily on our live Christmas tree. We've had him as part of our family for about 4 years now. We adopted him when he was about 4 years old. He's never peed on the Christmas tree before. What's going on this year??? We take him out to pee in the early morning, late evenings plus he spends about two hours outside each day when no one is home. So he pees when someone is home, but no one is looking.

Marc Morrone: For whatever reason that only he knows, he visualizes this live, Christmas tree as a little bit of the outdoors that is in his house. And therfore feels the need to mark it as he would a tree outdoors. I can't say why he never did it before, but it is obvious that he is doing it now. Years ago, I had a dog named Barney who did the same thing. We did our best to keep him away from the tree, but you can't fight City Hall, and we ended up buying an artificial Christmas tree, which solved the problem.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi! I have two pugs and my husband and I were thinking of purchasing beds for them as gifts this holiday. Right now they use flat crate beds in their crates but don't have beds outside of the crate. We were thinking of the bed "nests" with walls so they can snuggle. Finally, my Q: does it take long for a dog to get acclamated to a new bed?

Have you had experience with that? Our pugs sleep on the floor and furniture during the day, and in bed with us at night, so will getting them used to the beds be harder (the beds will be for day use only)?

Marc Morrone: Our house is full of pet beds. However, we have some pets that sleep in our bed, some pets that sleep on the couch, some pets that sleep on the furniture, some that sleep in their beds, and some that sleep on the floor. What goes through a pets' mind in these situations is hard to fathom; however, since they are creatures of habit, most likely if you just put the new beds in the same place as the old beds, the dogs will take up residence there - I just wished this worked in my house all the time.


Manitou Springs, Colo.: I have a 5 month old puppy who will be staying at home with 4x/day petsitter while I'm away for the holidays. She is crate trained and totally housebroken (no accidents for a month!). In the hours between when the petsitter comes to play and take her out, should she stay in her crate the whole time, or be given access to the puppy-proofed parts of the house so she can walk around and play? I plan on having her crated at night to sleep at a minimum.

Marc Morrone: Let her loose in the puppy-proof area. Just get down on the floor and look at it from the dog's point of view to determine that it is truly puppy-proof.


Rockville, Md.: Okay, not exactly holiday related...we have a 2 yr. old Weimaraner and just got a puppy (now 4 months) about 2 weeks ago. The dogs will NOT sleep through the night and as a result my husband and I are extremely tired. They both start off in their crates but start making a major racket between 12:30-1 and then are up (making noise and causing all sorts of probs) until around 2:30. We can't just ignore them in their crates because we live in an apartment with thin walls. Any suggestions or guidance would be SO appreciated.

Also, since this will be the 1st Christmas for the puppy, any tips (and he doesn't seem to mind bitter apple). Thanks so much!

Marc Morrone: In the home I live in now, in such a situation, we close our bedroom door and let the dogs bark themselves out. In about 3 or 4 days, they've learned that no matter how much they bark, we will not come down. However for many years, my wife and I lived in an apt and experienced a similar situation. It was my job to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor in front of the dog crates for the first week or so to keep peace with the other tennants in the building. After a week of this, the dogs graciously allowed me to sleep in my own bed, since by that time they were used to the novelty of the situation.


Alexandria, Va.: We already have a 3 yr-old kitty and are planning on getting a miniature dacshund puppy early next year. My cat has done well at other people's houses with other cats, but an attempt two years ago to get her a buddy failed miserably. What can we do to make this transition as easy as possilbe for her?

Thank you

Marc Morrone: From a cat's point of view, no change in its lifestyle is easy, but they are more adaptable than we think. The key here is to keep the puppy in a training crate when you're not watching it, so that the cat does not feel overwhelmed by it. As the weeks go on, the cat will learn that the dog poses no threat, and will either learn to enjoy its company or just ignore it. Be sure the cat's nails are trimmed in the beginning to keep her from swatting at the puppy and perhaps hurting it.


Waldorf, Md.: Aside from Pointsettias and Tinsel, what other typical holiday items are lethal to cats and dogs?

Marc Morrone: Chocolate! Chocolate contains an ingredient, theobromine, which can be toxic to non-human mammals. The other problem with chocolate is that it's usually wrapped up in foil and left in candy bowles on counters or coffee tables. And when a dog encounters such a bonanza, it will usually swallow both the chocolate and the foil - obviously a bad combination. In this situation ruining your day as well as the dog's, as no one needs a trip to the vet emergency clinic in the middle of the night during holiday time.


Kitty companion: I'd like to get my nearly 3-year old spayed, female cat a companion but I'm selfishly afraid that it would change her relationship with me. Can you give me any advice or reassurance?

Marc Morrone: Nothing is sadder than a cat kept indoors in a house all the time who thinks that it is the only cat left on planet Earth. Cats, dogs, birds - all our pets - are social animals and do enjoy at least talking with another member of their own species from time to time. As the owner of extremely multiple pets, I can assure you that your cat will still love you as much as it does now and will be a happier animal and very much surprised when it finds out it's not the only cat left on the planet.


Houston, Tex.: I am a grad student living in Texas with a 9 month old Minature Schnauzer. Next week we will be traveling to Michigan for a month-long visit. How do I get him used to the snow? I've let his hair grow a little longer than normal, but will that be enough? He's used to regular walks, can I still take him in 20 degree weather?

Thanks for answering.

Marc Morrone: Realistically speaking, it shouldn't be an issue. Schnauzer's have a thick, wiry coat that can protect them in most temperature extremes. If you're in doubt, pet stores sell a billion different dog coats which will put your mind at ease as well as keeping your dog warmer. As a general rule, dogs adapt better to colder temperatures than they do warmer temperatures.


Washington, D.C.: My husband and I adopted a second dog this past summer. Our two get along great as a pair, at home. We're taking both of them with us for a 5-day Christmas trip, where they will be bunking with my mother-in-law's two dogs (and us). The first, older dog knows the other dogs, but this will be the first meeting for the new one. Any suggestions on how to keep the stress level down for all the humans and the four four-legged ones? He's a year old, and a very spirited JRT-beagle mix.

Marc Morrone: Tell your parents to beg, borrow or buy a training crate that the younger dog can stay in, in case things do not work out. Based on what you tell me, the 4 dogs are fairly well socialized, but always expect the unexpected. If there are problems - you can keep the dog confined there so as not to make your holiday any more stressful than it is already. I would rather take a chance on hurting a dog's feelings by keeping it confined to a crate, than being forced to break up a fight where someone might get physically hurt.


Arlington, Va.: My two kitties are four year old sisters and they have always gotten along wonderfully. Recently they have started hissing and chasing each other. They are aggressive to each other, but they don't seem to actually hurt each other. Why might this happen now and what can I do to prevent it?

Marc Morrone: The cat's mind is one of the most mysterious things on the planet. And just like human sisters can have a difference in opinion and not talk to each other for a while, the same thing here has happened to your cats. Since they're just calling each other names, and not actually hurting each other, it doesn't sound like a situation that you should involve yourself in. It is in my experience that most situations resolve itself as mysteriously as they started with no help from us.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Marc,

Love your show; but, gee it does come on early. I hope you can provide me w/ some guidance. I have a 7-1/2 year old female Westie and I would like to add a Westie (pup) to my household. Would you advise me to purchase a male or another female? My female is very well socialized with both people and other dogs; but, I'm afraid that she would be a little domineering and threatened by another female. What do you think? Thanks.

Marc Morrone: As a general rule, male-female neutered/spayed pairs do best. Although I do know many same-sex combinations that do well, I also know many same-sex that don't do well. So, if you have the choice, I would go for a male pup.


Washington, D.C.: I have two guinea pigs who share a cage, and will need to hire a petsitter to look in on them while I am gone for about 6 days over the holidays. Do you think having someone check in on them once a day is sufficient? Normally I tend to them at the very least twice a day (refilling hay, feeding fresh veggies, cleaning out dirty bedding, etc.), but then again I am probably a little overzealous with them. Petsitters are ridiculously expensive over the holidays, which is why I have to consider only one visit per day. Your opinion? Thanks!

Marc Morrone: My opinion is that once a day will be just fine. Just be sure that the sitter is familiar with handling guinea pigs so that they feel comfortable cleaning the cage everyday in addition to giving them food and water.


Boarding Question: Hi Mark,
First--thanks so much for doing the chat. As a pet owner who had 7 people in her tiny home for Turkey day--I can tell you--this whole thing really affects the pets!;!;

I have a wonderful dog that I got from a shelter 8 months ago. She has boarded once and needs to board again for 7 nites (same place). What do animals think when they go to board?? Does she think I am surrendering her to a shelter? She moved around alot before I took her in and I never want her to think that she is going back to a shelter. She was shaking last time I took her to the groomers (I swear--the groomer is great--no problem there). I think she is worried that she is not in her forever home. We can't bring her with us and my parents can not keep her while we are gone.

Marc Morrone: Unlike humans, animals live for the moment and do not have any hopes or aspirations. Loss is natural to animals. Wild animals lose their mates, offspring, even their habitat. In such a situation your dog will make the best of it and she has the added advantage of having come from a shelter and will be familiar with living in an institutional setting. Upon your return, she'll be very, very happy and it will never occur to her that she should be angry at you in any way, shape or form.


Marc Morrone: Thanks everyone for your questions. I wish I could have answered them all, but I do enjoy using my experiences in keeping pets to help make your lives with your pets a little bit easier and stress free for you, humans, and your animals. Happy holidays to all and I will see you on TV.


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