A recent poll* shows 64 percent of pet owners plan to buy their animals a holiday gift. But something you won’t want to get your pet is an emergency visit to the hospital! Here are some of the common dangers that your pet may be exposed to during the holiday season and how to avoid them.
Treats, treats, treats! As social animals, dogs may enjoy your holiday gatherings as much as you. Dogs especially love the cookies, alcohol and chocolate that may inadvertently make it to their mouths. Eating fatty foods that your dog is not used to can, at minimum, lead to vomiting or diarrhea (“Merry Christmas! I made you this big brown pile under the tree!”). At worse, it can lead to pancreatitis, coma or death. Bones should not be fed to pets, especially ham bones. These are exactly the right size to get lodged in intestines which is a surgical emergency.
Cats like to chew on plants—it’s in their nature. Poinsettias can give your cats an upset belly with some vomiting. Both mistletoe and holly (including the red berries) are also toxic. Mistletoe contains hazardous chemicals that can cause a variety of reactions, such as a slowed heartbeat, dilated pupils, and weakness– even death. The family Christmas tree, when chewed on, can irritate the mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling or vomiting. While we are on the subject of Christmas trees, consider the tree water. Preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents, such as aspirin, are commonly used in the tree water to keep the tree fresh. These may have harmful or deadly consequences for cats and dogs (and children) who drink the water! A covered tree water dish is the safest.
The holiday season offers a wide assortment of possible, what we in the veterinary world call, “GI Foreign Bodies”. This includes anything that shouldn’t be eaten (but is!) and which can lead to obstruction within the stomach or intestines. Some can even cause life-threatening perforation. Dogs like to eat ornaments and candy wrappers. With cats, tinsel strands or ribbons can be irresistible temptations. Many a cat owner has discovered evidence of their pet’s indiscretions following a trip to the litter box. Some pets may even elect to chew on light cords, which can shock them, burning their mouths.
Some things to consider when trying to prevent these mishaps from occurring: have your guests place food or drinks well out of the reach of your pets and ask them to not feed them treats, including alcohol. Remember, anything used to prepare or serve the holiday dinner is inviting to your pets. This includes skewers and strings used to close the turkey, and carving knives. Attempts to swallow these items bring predictably bad results. To help keep your cats happy and away from household plants, provide them with wheatgrass to chew on. With some of the plants and tinsel, it’s better to avoid even having these temptations around your pets. If your pet develops vomiting which persists for more than a few hours, come see us to ensure that it isn’t something serious.
-Tonya Sparks, DVM