By Dr. Becker
Valentine’s Day isn’t just for human sweethearts, it’s a day when many pet owners love to dote on their pets, too.
In fact, pet owners are more likely to buy a Valentine’s gift for their pet than they are for their significant other, kids, friends or co-workers, according to the 2015 "Love Your Pet" survey conducted by pet-product producer VetIQ.1
And why not? Close to 83 percent of said pet owners also noted that they get the most unconditional love not from their spouse, kids or best friend — but from their pets.
In the U.S., the majority of pet owners also share a bed with their pets and get kisses and cuddles from their pets. Forty-seven percent even described their pet-owner relationship as “soul mates.”
A Pet-Centric Valentine’s Day
What does an ideal Valentine’s Day look like to your pet? A long walk in the woods, perhaps, followed by a massage or cuddles on the couch. Your kitty may enjoy some extra playtime, too, and both dogs and cats would certainly love a batch of homemade treats.
Other creative ideas include having a photo session with your pet or even hiring an artist to paint their portrait. If your pet enjoys baths, a Valentine’s Day suds-session will be much-appreciated, or for a longer-lasting keepsake, consider making a clay print of your pet’s paw (kits are available for this).
While you may love to get chocolates for Valentine’s Day, this is one treat that’s best saved for your human companions.
Most people are aware that chocolate is toxic for dogs, which is due to its content of caffeine and theobromine, which are naturally occurring stimulants. Cats can also be harmed by chocolate, although poisoning occurs most often in dogs.
If you’re baking a chocolate treat for your loved one, be especially vigilant, as baking chocolate (and dark chocolate, which contain higher levels of theobromine than milk chocolate) is especially toxic.
Dry cocoa powder is also very high in theobromine, so keep it away from your pets if you’re making a cup of hot cocoa. If you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate, you should get him to a veterinarian immediately. Other candy treats to keep safely out of the reach of your pets are those containing xylitol, a sugar substitute.
When dogs eat food containing xylitol (it’s found in sugar-free gum, breath mints, baked goods, sugar-free candies and more) it causes a rapid release of insulin into the bloodstream. This, in turn, can cause blood sugar to drop (hypoglycemia) within 10 to 60 minutes of eating the food.2
This hypoglycemia can be life threatening if not quickly treated, so if your dog eats xylitol, get him to an emergency animal hospital immediately.
Pet Safety Tips for Valentine’s Day
No one wants to spend Valentine’s Day at the emergency vet, so here are some proactive ways to keep your pets safe.
Be Careful With Flowers
Flower bouquets are popular Valentine’s Day gifts, but not all floral arrangements agree with pets. Lilies, for instance, are highly toxic to cats. This includes many varieties, including day lilies, Easter lilies, tiger lilies, Asiatic lilies and more.
Consuming small amounts of any part of this plant, including just two or three leaves or petals or even water from a vase of the flowers, can lead to death from kidney failure in cats. Even roses can be dangerous if your pet gets ahold of and ingests or steps on the thorny stem.
If your pet eats a plant that you suspect may be poisonous, don’t wait. It can be difficult to distinguish poisonous varieties from non-toxic plants, and waiting could be the difference between life and death for your pet. If you’re not sure whether the plant is poisonous, it’s best to seek veterinary attention just in case.
You can also consult the ASPCA’s database of toxic and non-toxic plants, which you can search to find out if the plant your pet consumed warrants a trip to the emergency vet.
Wipe Up Your Spilled Wine
Most pet owners wouldn’t purposely give their pets alcohol, but if you spill half a glass of wine or champagne, you might not think much of it when your pet tries to lick it up.
However, even small amounts of alcohol can lead to central nervous system depression, tremors, metabolic disturbances and coma, so wipe up any spilled alcohol immediately.
Candles and Pets Don’t Mix
Candles set the mood for Valentine’s night, but don’t leave any lit candles unattended. They can be easily knocked over by pets, posing a fire risk. Pets, especially cats and kittens, may also be burned if they try to play with a candle flame.
Not to mention, many candles are made with poor-quality ingredients that off-gas toxic fumes the whole family is exposed to.
Recycle Your Wrappings
Wrapping paper, bows and ribbons are enticing to many pets, so enticing they may try to consume them or get tangled while playing. Be sure to keep such wrappings away from your pet at all times, both before and after any gifts are opened.
Pets Do Not Make Good Gifts
A puppy or kitten may seem like the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, but resist the urge to give an animal as a gift. The recipient may not be prepared for the life-long commitment of pet ownership, which is why many animals given as gifts end up getting dropped off at animal shelters.
If you and your loved one are ready to add a pet to your family, an alternative idea is to give a coupon for a future date, promising to spend the day at your local animal shelter selecting the perfect companion to complete your family.