Holidays and Pet Safety

The following is an aritcle I wrote for Opal last year, and since the holidays are fast approaching, I thought I would reprint it here for those who may be interested.

'Tis the season to be jolly! Time for gathering with friends and family, eating big meals, putting up holiday decorations, and having a good time all around. However, as much fun as we humans have around this time of year, the holidays bring many hidden dangers for our beloved pets. No one wants to spend (insert holiday of your choice here) at the animal emergency clinic, so in order to insure your pet has a happy, safe holiday season, keep the following tips in mind:

Food related dangers
Health problems related to food is a common occurrence during the holidays. While it may be hard to resist a begging dog or cat, do not feed your pet scraps from the table! Bones from a steak or turkey can get stuck in your pet’s throat and cause them to choke. Bones can also splinter into many sharp fragments, causing cuts in the mouth and severely damaging the digestive system.
Foods that are high in fat (gravy, drippings from turkey, butter, gristle from steak, etc.) can trigger a condition known as pancreatitis. The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin and digestive enzymes. Normally, the enzymes are inactive until they reach the small intestine. Pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes become activated within the pancreas, causing the pancreas to digest itself! Symptoms of pancreatitis are sudden and severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, depression, and diarrhea. This is a problem which must be addressed by a veterinarian, trying to wait and see what happens is not a good idea. If pancreatitis is treated in a timely manner, most animals will improve in 24-48 hours, but if left untreated, your pet may need to be hospitalized for days or even require surgery.
Chocolate is another food that is dangerous for your pet. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which causes a condition called chocolate toxicosis. If your pet eats enough chocolate, it could die within hours! Factors to take into consideration are the size of the pet and the type of chocolate ingested. Baking style chocolate contains a higher level of theobromine than does milk chocolate. Four to sixteen ounces of milk chocolate can be bad for a small dog, while a larger dog may be able to eat up to 2 pounds. However, a mere half ounce of unsweetened chocolate can kill a small dog, 4 ounces for a large dog. Signs of chocolate toxicosis include hyperactivity, heavy breathing, seizures, loss of bladder control, and in severe cases, coma. More common signs include vomiting and diarrhea.
The best way to avoid all these food related dangers is to refrain from giving table scraps and to never leave food out unattended. It only takes a moment for a dog or cat to jump up on the table or clean out a candy dish. Advise any guests you have over that your pet is not allowed to have people food. When disposing of leftovers, wrap them up and throw them away immediately. Don’t leave the garbage in the house, as pets are notorious for getting into the trash and chewing though garbage bags.

With so many people coming and going through your front door, parties provide an excellent opportunity for your pet to escape. Even if your pet would not normally go out the front door, during a party your pet may become excited or fearful. Your pet may also be accidentally stepped on, or may cause one of your guests to trip and fall. For the safety of your pets and guests alike, it is best to keep pets confined to a bedroom. If you have a particularly excitable or high strung pet, ask your veterinarian to prescribe a light sedative.
Everyone likes a pretty Christmas tree. Cats and dogs included. Animals particularly enjoy chewing on electrical cords. Electrical shock can cause burns in the mouth, lips, or feet pads, cardiac arrhythmia (variations from the normal rhythm), and dyspnea (difficult breathing) due to fluid build up in the lungs. If your pet chews through an electrical cord and gets shocked, it needs immediate treatment.
Dangling ornaments and tinsel are absolutely irresistible to cats. Delicate ornaments may get batted off the tree and break, which can then cut the cat. Small ornaments can be swallowed with disastrous results. Tinsel is also often ingested. If you should happen to see tinsel coming out of your cat’s rear end, by all means, DO NOT try to pull it out! You cannot tell how long that piece of tinsel is, there could still be a good deal of it inside your cat, wrapped around his intestines. Pulling on the part coming out can cause major damage. Hopefully, your cat will pass the tinsel in it’s stool. If not, a trip to the vet is in order. Besides causing a blockage, tinsel or string can act as a saw on the intestines causing perforations and peritonitis (inflammation of the membrane lining the walls of the abdominal and pelvic cavities).
Besides having an affinity with tinsel, cats also love to eat plants. If you are using live plants as part of your holiday decorations, make sure your cats do not have access to them. For further information on which plants and flowers are dangerous to your pet, call Poison Control.

With a little common sense and caution on your part, your pets should be able to enjoy years of holiday happiness with you. My menagerie and I wish you a safe and joyous holiday season.

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.–Coleridge

I would just like to add that I am a veterinary technician, not a vet, and any advice I offer here is just that-advice. Always seek the opinions of a veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the health of your pet.

This goes for every thread in which I offer advice!

Thanks, Michelle, for the reminders. So many things to think about in the Christmas rush!

Enid is a large, determined and completely unreasonable cat, so I’ve been afraid to attempt a Christmas tree since I’ve had her. I had no idea that cats would eat tinsel and, um, extrude it. Ouch!