Q: My kids are big fans, and they have a question this Christmas season. Can all reindeer fly?
A: Only Santa’s reindeer can fly. However, even ordinary reindeer have characteristics that make them special.
Also known as caribou, reindeer are the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light. This makes it easy for them to find lichen to eat and avoid predators by spotting their urine and fur deposits.
Moreover, while only the males of most deer species grow antlers, both male and female reindeer sport the fancy headgear. In fact, reindeer antlers are larger and heavier than those adorning other deer species.
Mature males shed their antlers in November and early December, while females and young males drop theirs during the spring. Since Christmas paintings depict Santa’s reindeer with antlers, his sleigh is likely pulled by females and young males.
Before Santa’s reindeer fly around the world, they are examined by a veterinarian who confirms they are healthy, their vaccinations are current, and they haven’t been exposed to contagious diseases. Santa doesn’t want his reindeer to spread illness around the world.
The veterinarian fills out an official health certificate for each reindeer.
A similar health certificate is required before any animal—including a dog or cat—travels from one state or country to another. So, if you plan to travel with your pets this holiday season, have your veterinarian examine them and issue health certificates.
Your children can track the Christmas Eve journey of Santa’s reindeer at NORADSanta.org.
Q: This holiday season, I plan to make treats for my dog friends. Do you have a favorite recipe?
A: What a delicious idea! Fortunately, the internet is full of recipes for homemade dog treats. I’m sure you’ll find something scrumptious there.
Examine each recipe closely because some contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
For example, some dog biscuit recipes call for garlic powder or onion salt. In dogs, garlic and onion destroy the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. The condition, called hemolytic anemia, can be fatal.
If the recipe requires meat baby food, check the label to be sure it contains no garlic or onion.
Another popular ingredient in homemade dog treats is peanut butter. Some brands contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that’s toxic to dogs. It causes liver failure, and it drops blood sugar so low that dogs can lose coordination, develop seizures, and die.
You may see recipes for “chocolate” treats for dogs. These should use carob chips or powder, not chocolate, which is toxic to dogs.
In addition, do not make treats using raisins or grapes, as they can cause kidney failure in dogs. Avoid macadamia nuts and walnuts, too.
Don’t feed raw-meat treats since they can cause vomiting and diarrhea in pets and their people.
Because treats do not constitute complete and balanced nutrition, they should comprise less than 10 percent of caloric intake for healthy dogs, under 5 percent for overweight dogs.
I applaud your efforts. Your homemade dog treats will surely help your canine friends enjoy the holidays!