The holidays can be a stressful time for all of us, but don’t forget your four-legged family members during this season, as there are some serious hazards that can be dangerous or even life threatening. As a small-animal veterinarian in New Orleans, I see a number of heart-breaking cases every holiday season, which easily could have been avoided by a few simple precautions. A visit to the animal emergency room is never fun.
Be Aware of Food Faux Pas
It is often tempting during the holidays to share some of our abundance of food with those who have big, brown, begging eyes, but please think twice before giving human food to your pets. Even a few bites of fatty, spicy or rich foods can cause gastro-intestinal upset that can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, or an even more serious complication, pancreatitis.
Bones are another no-no. Cooked poultry bones are especially hazardous, as they can splinter and puncture intestines. Keep all pets on their regular food throughout the year. Even if we don’t give forbidden foods to them, remember that many dogs and cats will often go treasure hunting in the trashcan. So cover, secure or hide your trash cans to avoid dumpster-diving problems.
Other foods to avoid giving your pets during the holidays include: nuts, bread dough, alcohol (even a small amount can make them sick), onions, grapes and raisins. Many people are aware that chocolate can be very poisonous to dogs and cats. The toxic ingredient in chocolate is theobromine, which is contained in much higher quantities in unsweetened bakers chocolate and dark chocolate. The smaller the pet is, the higher the risk of toxicity. Chocolate will frequently cause vomiting and diarrhea, but higher doses can cause hyperactivity, tremors, high blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, seizures, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. Call your veterinarian immediately if your pet ingests chocolate or any abnormal foods.
Decorations Are Not Chew Toys
Don’t forget that pets also like to chew things we would consider inedible. The Christmas tree and holiday decorations are a significant danger this time of year. Pretty, sparkly tinsel is entertaining for cats and kittens but, if ingested, it will lead to bunching and twisting of the intestines, which can be fatal without surgery. The same goes for any ribbons or string.
Dogs will frequently eat ornaments, which can cause a blockage. Christmas tree lights are another hazard because, if chewed on, they can cause mouth burns or even electrocution. Keep all smaller, breakable decorations higher up on the tree. Wrapping cords in tubing, spraying with bitter tasting deterrents, such as Bitter Apple Spray, and using a grounded three-pronged extension cord can decrease these risks.
Greens Are Good for You, Not Your Pet
Many other items normally around the house this time of year will be tempting to our pets. Kitties love to chew on plants, and holiday plants such as mistletoe, holly, Christmas tree pine needles, Christmas rose and Amaryllis bulbs can be toxic. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not nearly as poisonous as we used to think, but chewing on the leaves can irritate the mouth and stomach of pets. Even the water at the base of the Christmas tree can be a hazard.
For a list of which plants are toxic to your pet, visit http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccah/health_information/plants_pets.cfm
For any accidental poisoning, the ASPCA runs an Animal Poison Control Center. Call (888) 426-4435 if any suspected poisoning has occurred, or visit their website.
Pets Should Not Be Party Animals
Don’t forget that the stresses we associate with the holiday can be transmitted to our animals. Having guests, parties, dog sitters and traveling can cause anxiety for them. Be sure to stick to their routine, and give them a safe, quiet place in the house when guests are over. Also, with people coming and going frequently, many pets will escape through an open door and become lost. Shelters receive a high rate of lost animals during the holidays; therefore, please keep I.D. tags on all of your pets. Microchips are also highly recommended, as collars can fall off. Keep a close eye on your pets, and make sure your guests understand the rules. The last thing you want is to lose your beloved friend during the holidays.
Leave Puppies and Kittens Off Your Gift List
Finally, I feel very strongly that giving puppies and kittens as Christmas gifts is a very bad idea. All of the excitement of the holidays can lead to the little animal getting lost in the shuffle and it is harder to get into the routine of caring for a pet during this busy time. If you want to give someone the gift of a pet, how about giving a collar or toys and other accessories, with a promise to help them find a pet after the holidays?
Our pets are incredibly important to many of us; they are part of our families and deserve to have the best care we can give them. While the holiday season brings good food, great fun, and much excitement to our lives, it’s imperative we keep the wellbeing of our pets in mind. I hope you and your pets have a safe and happy holiday season.