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Holiday Pet Hazards

December 9, 2014

The holidays are a busy time, and while we’re getting ready to celebrate with loved ones it’s important to remember that this time of year can hide some hazards for our pets.  A little foresight can help prevent problems so everyone in the family can enjoy the holidays!

Christmas trees should be secured to prevent them from falling.  If you have a real tree, prevent your pet from drinking the tree water to avoid stomach upset from fertilizers or bacteria growing in the stagnant water.  While the needles are not toxic, they can be very irritating to the digestive tract due to the oils they contain and their sharp tips, so keep stray needles vacuumed up.

Be careful of what kind of tree ornaments and decorations you use. Tinsel can be very dangerous, particularly to cats. It is very common for cats to start batting at a piece of tinsel, then nibble and eat it once they have “caught” it. Even a single strand of tinsel can cause a dangerous intestinal blockage in a cat or small dog, requiring surgery. Garland is usually safer because the pieces of tinsel that make it up are very short and don’t get stuck as easily, but if your cat or dog is a little too interested in the garland it is best to skip it. Keep fragile ornaments high on the tree where they can’t be batted off by a playful cat or a wagging tail and shatter on the floor. Keep wires from lights covered if possible, as pets can trip over them or receive a dangerous electric shock from chewing on them.

Holiday plants aside from the tree may also cause problems. Poinsettias have a bad reputation, but they are actually only mildly toxic and generally only cause mild digestive upset. More concerning are arrangements that contain lilies. Lilies can rapidly cause serious kidney damage. Even a bite or two is enough to cause kidney failure in cats, so it is best to avoid lilies altogether. Be cautious of Japanese Yew in wreathes, centerpieces, and other arrangements. Its use is becoming more common and it contains a very dangerous toxin that affects the heart. Holly and mistletoe can be both mechanically irritating (due to their spiky leaves) and contain toxins that can cause neurologic signs. While different varieties contain different levels of toxins, it is best to just keep them out of reach of pets.

A few bites of cooked lean meats or vegetables are not the end of the world, but many of our holiday treats can be problematic for our pets.  Baked goods may contain chocolate, cocoa, or artificial sweeteners such as xylitol that are very dangerous for pets.  Grapes, raisins, and currants contain a poorly-understood toxin that can cause kidney damage. Onions can damage red blood cells; because of their small size and ability to get up on the table, cats helping themselves to onion based chip dips are often exposed this way. And poultry skins or other fatty foods can trigger a serious condition called pancreatitis. Cooked bones can splinter and cause serious damage to the digestive tract. And don’t forget to keep your wine, beer, and cocktails out of reach; many pets love the taste of alcohol and since they are smaller than us they can ingest dangerous amounts relatively quickly!

If your pets are stressed by holiday guests, consider setting up a “safe room” where they can get away from it all with all of the resources they need (food, water, litter box, bed, and hiding place).  Many cats will appreciate a simple hiding place and to be left alone, while many dogs benefit from also having something to occupy their time such as a puzzle toy, chew, or stuffed Kong. If your pet likes to mingle, still keep a close eye on him/her; even the friendliest pet can get tired and overwhelmed and may need a break from the hubbub in the safe room.

An ounce of prevention can make the holidays a fun time for everyone in the family, whether they have two or four legs. As much as we love our clients and patients, we would like you to relax and enjoy one another’s company in the comfort of your own home instead of spending your time in our lobby because of an emergency!

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