Every year, Animal Medical phone lines light up with questions from conscientious animal lovers looking for advice on how to care for Santa’s reindeer. Here are some great tips from our Medical Director, Dr. Howard Gittelman.
Skip The Plate of Carrots
Carrots are certainly a tasty snack for reindeer, especially on a cold evening like we’re going to have tonight, but as a veterinarian, I’m more concerned about the overall caloric intake of these deer so that they can stay warm on their planet-long flight.
Deer have poly-lumen digestive systems designed to break down very dense, complex carbohydrates. The process is fascinating if you’d like to read more about it, but for the purpose of this article, know that deer are able to extract nutrition from tough branches and twigs using a system of four different stomach chambers, a mixture of symbiotic gut flora, and a process of regurgitation (chewing cud) that involves burping up partially digested food, mixing it with saliva, chewing it some more, and swallowing it again.
Since proper digestion in deer is so closely tied to proper gastric acid/base balance and the right kind of gut bacteria, it’s very important that you don’t disrupt things by introducing some easily digestible carbohydrates like corn that might upset the ideal.
Instead of putting out carrots, dash off to the nearest Tractor Supply and pick up a 50 lb. bag of deer feed. Check the label to ensure that corn is not the main ingredient. An adult reindeer can consume as much as 20 lbs. of food per day, but we’re not after a full blown meal here, just a snack. Figure on 2 pounds of feed for each of the Nine, with an extra portion for Rudolph to ensure he has enough power to keep his nose shiny and bright.
While we are on the topic, Rudolph’s nose is magical, so it automatically ‘nose’ when to turn on and turn off. And it’s extremely bright…indeed, if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows. The problem is, it goes a little kerflooey with any upper respiratory issues. One sneeze and that thing can go off like a lighthouse. Consequently, I usually set out one perfectly safe, over the counter, loratadine tab (generic Claritin),10mg, in case Rudolph is looking a little watery-eyed or sneeze prone. It will lower the risk of an allergy attack when he flies over any kind of hay country.
Something For Santa
Also along the lines of nutrition, I should say a little bit about what to feed Santa himself. Though my degree is in animal medicine, I know enough about nutrition to know that a plate of cookies and a glass of milk is not going to cut it for a man that has to drive a sleigh all night long. Feeding cookies and milk to a man that has to fly all over the world in 24 hours would be as irresponsible as sending your children off to school with a lunch bag of Halloween candy and a can of coke.
Instead, serve a meal calorically dense enough to supplant the calories he’s burning to stay warm at 30K feet. Human nutritional requirements living in cold climes are actually very similar to the kind of nutritional requirements that animals have. Read this article by the American Veterinary Medical Association if you are trying to nutritionally fortify a Santa or Samoyed for winter weather.
Landing Area for Deer
Though Santa often directs his deer to land upon rooftops, the pitch of most roofs makes this a less-than-ideal spot for deer to grip their hooves into. Each Christmas Eve, veterinarians the world over get calls from panicked homeowners needing a doctor to come over and wrap up a leg on Blitzen or Donner or Comet or Cupid or whomever overshot their mark and sprained an ankle. Instead, use a chainsaw to cut down the trees in your lawn to form a 20-to-30 foot landing strip. Then, throw out several trays of ice cubes and run over them with the car to form a kind of snowy powder. This is a much better substrate for the deer to dig their hooves into. It’s also less wear-and-tear on sleigh rails than raw earth.
Watch how the American Veterinary Medical Association’s president clears reindeer for takeoff!
It’s great that you want to turn your giving spirit towards the health and wellbeing of animals this Holiday season. Because of their year-round care by elves, Santa’s reindeer will likely alight upon your roof or lawn in tip-top condition and will require little-to-no care from you; however, in the odd event that they, or any of the animals in your life, need any kind of medical care, please reach out to us.