Ask Dr. Jenn: What are some things I need to be cautious of around the holidays?
With the holidays approaching, all the hustle and bustle, decorations everywhere, and generalized chaos, I worry about my pets. What are some things I need to be cautious of around this time of year?
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” for some of us, but not for our pets. The holidays create a lot of dangerous temptations for our pets that we may not realize. Here are just a few of potential dangers:
Thanksgiving leftovers – Ask any veterinarian and they will tell you that their least favorite day to work is the day after Thanksgiving. Soooo many dogs with gastrointestinal upset. Sometimes the family just wanted their dog to feel part of the celebration or maybe the dog felt left out and found the turkey carcass in the garbage. While the turkey and gravy may make us feel bloated and sleepy, the added fat and carbs for a dog that is used to a consistent diet of kibble often leads to vomiting and diarrhea. In more severe cases, dogs that are overly sensitive or ate a large amount of fat may develop pancreatitis – a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed, releasing digestive enzymes into the abdomen, resulting in severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most dogs will recover within a few days, but in severe cases, pancreatitis can be life threatening.
Chocolate toxicity – Chocolate is a favorite treat, especially around the holidays. Left over Halloween candy, special thanksgiving desserts, and Christmas goodies often contain chocolate. Dogs do not have the same ability to metabolize the theobromine and caffeine in chocolate as mild symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea or more severe symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, tremors, seizures, and in the most severe cases, death.
Holiday plants – Mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias are popular during the holidays. While they are very pretty, ingestion of the plants can cause gastrointestinal upset for dogs and cats. Mistletoe can have even more severe effects, including heart arrhythmias and death, especially if a large amount is consumed.
Christmas lights – Both dogs and cats can find the lights and the string irresistible. But just one bite through the cord can lead to burns in the mouth and electric shock.
Bows, ribbon, and tinsel – Nothing says “holiday” like a little extra sparkle on and under the tree. Some cats find that touch of sparkle to be an irresistible toy. It can be more than just annoying if your kitty is dismantling your presents. Cats are notorious for swallowing pieces of string. If a portion of the string gets wrapped around the tongue or wadded in the stomach, the rest tries to move through, causing the intestines to fold in on themselves and the string to cut through the intestines.
Salt ornaments – Salt ornaments are a popular homemade gift of elementary age children. These ornaments are priceless and belong on your tree. Just keep them out of reach of your pets. If ingested, the extremely high salt content can cause brain edema.
Christmas tree – Christmas trees are a staple in most homes, but they also pose a number of hazards to curious dogs and cats. As mentioned earlier, we need to make sure they are not chewing on the lights, tinsel, and homemade salt ornaments. Some cats love to climb on top of the tree and may cause it to topple over. If you have a live tree, make sure your “tree food” in the bottom of your tree stand is safe in case your pets decide to have a taste. Some commercially available tree foods contain preservatives that can be harmful to pets.
Visitors – the holidays are a time to get together with family and friends. The excitement of a houseful or people, or the opposite, pets being left home alone for long periods, can be very stressful for our four legged friends. If your pet doesn’t handle these situations well, talk to your veterinarian of ways to help your anxious friend during these times. Also keep in mind that not all pets will get along. Fights can break out between the pets suddenly with very little warning. Make sure your pet has a safe place to get away from the other animals, such as a kennel or a small room.
This list may seem a little scary, but with just a little planning and attention to your surroundings, you and your pets can have a wonderful and safe holiday together.