Many of us are looking forward to celebrating Holi tomorrow after having had to adhere to pandemic protocols last two years. And while we enjoy the festivities of Holi, do our pets enjoy in a similar way?
Pandemic puppies have had a significant lack of socialization during their formative years. They may still be unaccustomed to loud noises and large groups. None of these pets have been exposed to the full range of what Holi has looked like in the last two years. The festival may likely get overwhelming for these pets, since things are returning to normal. Signs of anxiety, such as wanting to hide, yawning too much, or drooling, may surface. If that happens, provide a quiet, safe spot for your pup where they can rest undisturbed.
The most obvious thing to remember is to be cautious around the Holi bonfire. It is preferable if your pet is not a part of this tradition. Asthmatic cats should be kept indoors with windows closed, as the smoke from the bonfire could cause an asthma attack. Same goes for pugs and other brachycephalic breeds, which may experience irritation in their eyes or throats as a result of this smoke. The irritation usually results in a watery discharge from their eyes. Hence, it is safer to keep these pets away from bonfires.
Vibrant colours, both dry and wet, that are such a big feature of this festival should never be used on your pet. The lead in the colours can enter your pet’s bloodstream and cause lead poisoning. Hysteria, vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal discomfort are all symptoms of lead poisoning. I recall treating a 10-year-old Spitz, who suffered from lead poisoning because a Tikka of red powder colour was applied to his forehead every day for a month. In fact, avoid using colours on community animals (stray dogs and cats taken care of by a society/ community / building) too.
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Even non-toxic and herbal coloured powders might cause respiratory problems. It can escalate the cough in asthmatic pets, and cause irritate in young pups. For cats, it can be hazardous as they may consume the colours while grooming themselves. It becomes all the more important to be cautious with colour around your pets during Holi as most clinics are closed on this day. Finding veterinary care, therefore, is also far more difficult.
Colours used during Holi can also cause allergies and secondary bacterial and fungal infections. We frequently have to deal with skin problems in pets and community animals following Holi.
Now, the food served during Holi are definitely not pet-friendly. Never give your pet bhaang or thandai even if it’s a small amount. Bhaang can cause hallucinations and dizziness in pets, similar to an anesthetic. It can also cause more serious difficulties, such as vomiting, and it has the potential to kill a tiny dog if consumed in excess. Milk and spices in thandai can causes problems for a pet's digestive tract. Most dry fruits found in food and sweets during this time are not easily digested by pets and can lead to pancreatitis. In fact, raisins and chocolates are toxic to pets.
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Last but not least, protest your pets from water balloons, which many children and fond of hurling. Breees like Pugs and Shih Tzus, which have protruding eyes, may go blind or develop corneal ulcers if a water balloon is thrown at their faces. Some vets, I know have encountered abusive behaviour towards animals during holi. Stray animals are often targeted on purpose and visit the clinic with injuries post Holi. It is not only traumatic for a dog, but it can also exacerbate their anxiety. When water and colours are left on a pet's fur, the moisture might cause a fungal illness.
Overall, we can make the festival safe for our pets by keeping them indoors, ensuring they get their walks in before the festivities begin, and shielding them from the colours and food. If they do get some colour on their skin, bathe them with a gentle pet shampoo immediately.
While we enjoy the celebration, we should remember to think about the community and stray animals. Make sure that while you're celebrating, you're not harming the four-legged fur babies around you, and let's all make a personal effort to do so. Together, let’s have a very happy and safe Holi.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.