Our night shifts in our veterinary ERs are all but silent nights during the holiday season. With so many new things brought into homes at this time of year, we see a huge increase in foreign bodies, toxin ingestions, and even electrocutions.
From a staff emergency veterinarian, here are some tips to keep your pet safe and happy over the holiday season.
One of the best things about the holidays is all the food! But certain human foods can be toxic or even fatal to our pets.
Chocolate: Chocolate is toxic to dogs because it contains substances known as methylxanthines, specifically caffeine and theobromine. Depending on your dog’s weight, even small amounts of chocolate can be very bad for your dog. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to dogs. Though milk chocolate can cause poisoning in large amounts as well.
Fatty foods: Pets can also become ill from eating fatty foods (like meat drippings, turkey skin, ham, or large amounts of cheese or butter) or getting into kitchen garbage. Pancreatitis is a big concern around the holidays.
Other dangerous snacks: Holiday recipes may call for ingredients like grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts which are all toxic to dogs. Also beware of xylitol, found in sugar-free candy & gum, that is deadly to pets.
Common holiday plants can also be toxic or hazardous for pets. If you have a mischievous pet, choose an artificial plant!
Holly: Ingesting holly berries and/or leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The spiny leaves can also cause damage to your pet’s mouth.
Mistletoe: Ingesting mistletoe can cause severe toxicity and can even lead to the death of your pet. Different varieties of mistletoe have different levels of toxicity. Symptoms of toxicity include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, collapse, loss of balance, and seizures.
Lilies: Lilies, particularly stargazer, Easter, and Asiatic varieties, are deadly to cats. Biting petals or leaves, ingesting pollen, or even drinking water out of a vase with cut lilies has potential to cause irreversible kidney failure and death. Immediate veterinary care is imperative if your cat has encountered lilies.
Poinsettia: Poinsettias are not as toxic as frequently thought, though they can cause irritation and ulceration to your pet’s mouth if chewed, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting if eaten. If your pet ingests these plants it is best to call a veterinarian. Prompt treatment is important to minimize clinical symptoms of toxicity and unnecessary death.
If you think your pet has ingested any of these foods or plants, call a veterinarian or emergency clinic! Prompt treatment is the best way to prevent or manage toxicity.
Decorations Gone Wrong
Fir Trees: Beware of climbing cats that may topple trees and injure themselves or other pets and children. It is also best to keep pets from drinking the water the tree stands in, since this water is often contaminated with fertilizer sprayed on the trees during the growing period. Pine needles can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.
String lights: Even if your pet isn’t a cord chewer, they may find the branches or string lights intriguing and end up chewing a cable. This can result in oral burns, fluid in the lungs, or even fatal electrocution. Be sure to monitor pets when the tree is plugged in, and unplug it when you’re not around.
Ornaments: Ornaments are a common foreign body in dogs around the holidays, as they’re round and bouncy like a toy ball. Keep ornaments up on high branches only.
Tinsel: Tinsel is another common holiday foreign body we see (we’re looking at you, cats). Avoid this decoration if you have a mischievous feline.
Wrapping Paper: Avoid metallic wrapping paper or bows as these can contain low levels of heavy metals, which are toxic to our pets if they chew or ingest them while “helping out” opening the presents.
Candles: Ensure candles are placed out of the way of climbing cats or large dogs, as they can potentially be knocked over and cause injury or fires. Keep candles off of surfaces that your cat frequents, as your cat’s tail could catch on fire or whiskers could singe.
Stressed Out Pets
We sometimes forget that what is fun for us can cause significant stress for pets, particularly cats and already anxious dogs. If you are throwing a party or expecting lots of visitors, make sure your pet has a safe quiet room where s/he can easily escape and relax.
Stress-related diarrhea is a very common case during the holiday season as well with visitors and new things around. Know when to remove your pet from a stressful environment or board them at a kennel.
And finally, if visitors are bringing their pets into your home (or vice versa), separation when feeding, appropriate introductions, and using their crates can help avoid aggressive interactions or stress.
Written by: Staff Veterinarian