‘Tis also the peak season for calls to the Pet Poison Helpline.
Pet health problems during this time of year are most often related to the ingestion of foreign objects, poisonous substances, and people foods that are toxic to dogs and cats.
The last thing you need this time of year is a sick or injured pet. The holidays are hectic and stressful enough without the trauma of a pet accident or poisoning.
During the winter holiday season, the list of potential safety hazards for your dog or cat is a long one, and includes dangers you might not even think of.
The combination of a bored dog or curious feline, a house full of holiday decorations and foods, and a busy, preoccupied family can spell disaster for your beloved pet.
The Top Four Holiday Dangers for Your Pet
I’m sure by now you’re aware chocolate is dangerous to your pet. The chemical in chocolate (and cocoa), which is toxic to dogs and cats, is theobromine, a caffeine-like compound.
The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, so be especially careful when using baker’s and semi-sweet chocolate. Espresso beans dipped in chocolate can be a double dose of poison since they contain both caffeine and theobromine.
Milk chocolate poses less danger due to lower amounts of theobromine, but your pet will probably experience gastrointestinal problems (vomiting, diarrhea) if it ingests milk chocolate, no matter the source.
Chocolate poisoning symptoms can include:
- Irregular heartbeat
Your pet can also develop pancreatitis due to the high fat content in chocolate.
If you have cats, you probably know shiny ribbons and tinsel can present almost irresistible temptation.
When a cat ingests a stringy object like ribbon, tinsel or yarn, the item can wrap around the base of its tongue or anchor in the stomach. As your cat’s intestines move, this stringy substance can gradually slice its way through tissue and cause severe damage -- even rupturing the intestine.
If this happens to your cat, the treatment will involve expensive abdominal surgery and no guarantee of survival. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so I recommend you limit your holiday decorations to items of little interest to pets, and those that will be least harmful if ingested.
If you know your cat has ingested ribbon, tinsel or other stringy object, get it to the veterinary hospital immediately for an examination.
If you notice string hanging from your pet’s mouth or anus, do not pull on it! If the item is lodged in the stomach or intestine, you can make the problem worse by pulling. Get your pet to your veterinarian right away.
Your dog or cat is apt to sample a new plant coming into the house for the holidays. These little taste tests would seem innocent enough, but the reality is there are a few varieties of plants that can be highly toxic to your pet.
All lilies of the Lilium species are absolutely deadly to cats. If your cat samples just a leaf or petal, or even the pollen from one of these flowers, complete kidney failure can result within a very short period of time.
If you suspect your cat has eaten a part of a lily plant, get to your vet hospital right away for evaluation.
If your dog nibbles on lilies it won’t be deadly, but expect some stomach distress and vomiting.
Traditional holiday plants like holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are actually not as deadly for pets as you’ve been led to believe. However, they do pose a risk of discomfort and distress if ingested, so I don’t recommend them for homes with pets.
These plants can cause skin irritation and intestinal symptoms if your dog or cat eats them, but serious poisoning is very unlikely.
- Liquid Potpourri
The wonderful scent of warm potpourri is sure to attract the attention of your pet. Unfortunately, these heated oils pose significant health risks.
Your dog or cat might be burned or develop a serious skin irritation from these substances. If your pet comes in contact with liquid potpourri, be sure to wash the fur thoroughly to remove all traces of oily residue.
Liquid potpourri contains components called cationic detergents, which are especially dangerous to your cat. If ingested, these detergents can result in severe burns to the mouth, esophagus and stomach.
My recommendation is to avoid liquid potpourri altogether in order to eliminate the risk to your dog or cat. Plug-in air fresheners and reed diffusers are safer ways to scent your home during the holidays.
More Pet Holiday Hazards to Avoid
Fire and burns
Keep holiday candles out of the reach of your pets, and secure electrical cords to holiday decorations, as both cats and dogs have been known to chew through them.
Be sure to keep foods fresh from the oven or stovetop, especially meat drippings, soups, gravies and other fragrant hot liquids, away from the edges of your stove and countertops to prevent a scalding accident.
Grapes and raisins are often featured in holiday recipes, and both can lead to kidney failure for your dog. It is thought cats are also at risk, however, your cat isn’t likely to try to eat either of these fruits.
The artificial sweetener xylitol, which is often found in gum, mints and other candies, and baked goods, is also toxic to your dog. It can cause internal hemorrhaging and liver failure.
Uncooked baking dough containing yeast, if ingested by your dog or cat, can “rise,” causing serious discomfort as well as potential rupture of your pet’s stomach or bowel.
Ham, turkey and fish bones can splinter as your pet chews them, causing them to stick in the throat or tear the tissues of your dog’s or cat’s intestines.
The kitchen garbage can
Especially around the holidays, your kitchen garbage can is apt to seem like a smorgasbord to your dog or cat. Paper and string soaked in meat or other food juices is one hazard. Raw meat infected with bacteria or parasites is another. And those leftover bones I just discussed yet another.
Make sure your garbage can has a secure fitting lid and keep it in a location not accessible to your pets.
Be extremely vigilant about keeping your pets away from antifreeze leaks or drips in your garage and driveway. Just one lick could mean death from kidney failure for your dog or cat. If your pet ingests antifreeze, you have only a matter of hours to save its life. Immediate treatment by a veterinarian is necessary.
Lack of supervision
Dogs, in particular, must be supervised just like children. Make sure your dog is well exercised, kept away from potential safety hazards around the house, and has its own dog toys and treats.
With common sense and a bit of extra vigilance, you can keep your four-legged family members safe and healthy during even the busiest holiday season.