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Holiday Hazards for Pets

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The holiday season brings excitement and commotion associated with shopping, final exams, travel, and other seasonal preparations. In all the activities of the season our beloved pets may be exposed to hazards less commonly found other times of the year. As homes fill with holiday spirit, pets may be intrigued by the new sights, smells and tastes. The following are some of the most common health concerns for your pet during the holidays. If you have specific questions regarding any pet health concern please contact our clinic

Christmas Trees - These create a whole realm of dangers for your pet. Poorly secured trees can fall on rambunctious pets as they run around or try to climb them. Pine needles can cause GI irritation and perforation.  Water, Water...Even though they have their own water bowel, there is something enticing about a novel source of water; whether it's the toilet bowl or the Christmas tree stand. Some Christmas trees may contain additives and preservatives, which leech into the water and can be toxic if ingested. If you add chemicals to the water meant to keep your tree fresh longer, be sure to read the label to make sure it is safe for pets. Potpourri makes your house smell festive but may be another attraction for pets to drink. Make sure that potpourri pots are covered or otherwise inaccessible to pets.

Ribbons, wrapping paper, ornaments, tinsel, gifts and other pretty things may be appealing "chew toys" that may make your pet sick. There is something about those shiny strands of Christmas tree decor, which drives kitties wild. Although the sight of your cat pawing at the tree may be cute, the ingestion of tinsel can be deadly. Eating tinsel or other string-like items such as ribbon (often called linear foreign bodies)  can cause serious damage to the intestine. Sharp or breakable ornaments should be kept well out of the way of curious mouths and paws. Decorative lights are another attraction for pets to chew on. Both indoor and outdoor lights should be carefully examined to ensure safety for your household pets. Electrical shock may occur from defective cords as well as from pets chewing on cords. Check cords for any signs of bite marks, loose or frayed wires, proximity to the tree's water supply or evidence of short circuits. Use grounded "3-prong" extension cords and strictly follow manufacturer's guidelines for light usage.

Holiday Plants - Many plants can be poisonous to your pet. The holidays add a few more to that list and include mistletoe, poinsettia, lilies and holly (the berries are especially toxic).

poinsetta.jpg-Poinsettias fill homes with color during the holidays. Poinsettias have received bad publicity in the past whereas in fact, poinsettias are not very toxic to pets. They do contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth and cause severe gastric distress.

-Mistletoe can be very toxic to animals and you should seek veterinary consultation immediately if your pet has potentially ingested any part of the plant. Mistletoe can cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, difficult breathing, shock and death within hours of ingestion.

-There are many species of Holly (genus Ilex) Berries and leaves can be a problem although signs of poisonings are generally mild, and include vomiting, belly pain, and diarrhea.

Holly and mistletoe are extremely poisonous when eaten.
The best approach is to keep ALL plants out of your pet’s reach. 

Sweets - Holiday candy can cause GI problems and become toxic once ingested. Do not place wrapped boxes of chocolate under the tree- dogs can sniff them out. Also be sure to keep the candy dishes covered so playful paws aren't tempted to fish them out.

Chocolate –What would the holidays be without boxes of chocolate and warm cocoa in front of the fire? However, chocolate can be toxic or even fatal to dogs and cats and is one of the most common causes of toxic reaction. Chocolate may be mistakenly given to pets as treats and may be irresistible to the curious canine. Chocolate poisoning occurs most frequently in dogs but other species are also susceptible. Theobromine is the toxic compound found in chocolate. Signs which may appear within 1 to 4 hours of eating chocolate include:

  • Vomiting, Increased thirst, Diarrhea, Weakness, Difficulty keeping balance, Hyperexcitability, Muscle spasms, seizures, coma, or Death  

The toxicity of chocolate depends on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. As with any poisoning, call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital immediately if you suspect your pet may have ingested chocolate. Have the product label information available when you call your veterinarian. There are national and regional poison control hotlines for animals. In general, the treatment of poisonings is most effective if begun soon after eating the poison, before large amounts are absorbed into the blood stream.

Overindulgence- Well-intentioned family and friends may share holiday foods with pets causing the pet to develop a stomach upset or worse, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) which can be caused by eating fatty foods. To control excessive food intake by your pets and meet your guests' desires to feed the pets, dole out the treats your pets would normally receive and let your guests "treat" the pets. If you want to get festive, mix some of your pet's regular food with water to make a "dough" and roll out and cut into festive shapes, then bake until crunchy. Click here for more Healthy Home Made Treat ideas.

Stress and company- Extra attention from visiting relatives and friends may be relished by some pets while others seek solitude in their favorite hiding spot. With everyone coming and going, watch out for open doors and sneaky pets. Make sure your pets have updated collars and tags on in case of escape.  Microchipping your pet will also help if your pet escapes. All pets should have at least two forms of id on them at all times. Ask guests to keep an eye out for pets under foot and remind them that sometimes your normally friendly dog or cat may be less than willing to deal with enthusiastic children and rooms full of unfamiliar people. Provide a special quiet place with a blanket and fresh water for your pets to retreat to when the festivities get too stressful. Some pets may respond to all the hullabaloo with a change in behavior including bad behaviors like eliminating in the house. Try to spend a little extra "quality time" with your pet to assure them they have not been forgotten.

 If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.