by: Jennifer Oldfield
The month of December is a busy one. We are all preparing for whatever the holiday season means to us; parties, family get togethers, celebrating Christmas or Hannakuh, eating and being merry. It is super important in all the hustle and bustle to be aware of the hazards this time of year brings to our pets. If your pet gets into any of these items or anything else this holiday season you are concerned about, please contact your veterinarian for information on how you should proceed with your pet’s care. In certain circumstances, time will be of the essence in ensuring a positive outcome.
Here are a list of the top 5 hazards to be on the watch for:
5) Tree Water and Melting Salt Crystals
If you plan to purchase a real tree, be sure to have measures in place to prevent your pet from drinking the water. The water may contain fertilizers or other additives that can cause stomach upset, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Also stagnant water is the perfect place for bacteria to grow, which if ingested, could also cause stomach upset, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Read all labels carefully before adding anything to your tree’s water.
Melting salt crystals aka ice melts and salt rock, are often used on icy surfaces. These products contain sodium chloride or calcium chloride which can be harmful to paws and is toxic if ingested. Pet safe ice melt products are available, so use these if you need to. To help protect your dog either wash their feet once you are home from your walk or have them wear booties to protect them from this hazard.
4) Lighting and Candles
It is important to ensure pets are not chewing on any electrical cords, be sure to regularly check them for fraying or utilize special cord tubes to put cords in to prevent pets from getting at them. Unplug any holiday lights when you are not home to reduce the risk.
Keep lit candles out of reach of pets and small children and be sure to monitor them whenever they are lit. Candles, oil warmers, and fireplaces are very enjoyable especially at this time of year, however they pose potential dangers to your pets, and are also fire hazards when not properly monitored. Take preventative measures by keeping items out of reach and having a protective fire screen in place over the fireplace.
3) Plant Toxicity
There are several plants that are highly toxic to pets and some that aren’t toxic but can cause a lot of tummy upset including vomiting and diarrhea. The ones to pay particular attention to during the holiday season are:
Lilies – any variety are extremely toxic to cats. The ingestion of any part of this plant can be lethal.
Holly – when ingested can cause nausea, intense vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea for both dogs and cats.
Mistletoe – can cause cardiovascular issues, stomach upset, difficulty breathing, erratic behavior, hallucinations, collapse, and depression.
Pine needles – can cause oral irritation, vomiting, lethargy, and posterior weakness.
Poinsettia – although not toxic can cause vomiting and irritation of the mouth and stomach.
You may want to consider the non-real versions of these holiday favourites to be on the safest side.
2) Tinsel, Ornaments, and Decorations
The shiny tinsel strands are particularly enticing to cats. Although non-toxic, if ingested this can become an immediate medical emergency as the tinsel could twist inside the intestines causing many problems. Avoid decorating with tinsel at all if you have a cat. Ornaments on the tree often resemble a pet’s favourite toy (balls!) and especially with cats, the shinier, the more exciting they are. Keep fragile decorations hung on higher branches out of reach to minimize the risk of lacerations, choking hazards, ingestion and possible obstruction. The same should be done with any decorations that could be considered a great toy to a pet but is really a potential hazard – place these on higher surfaces out of reach.
1) Diet and Food Hazards
It is best to continue your pet’s regular diet as much as possible to avoid stomach upset. Too much of a good thing, is often not a good thing. Instruct guests to resist giving pets unapproved treats. Keep garbage can lids on tight and unattended plates and drinks out of reach.
Alcohol, coffee (especially beans or grounds), nutmeg, foods containing the artificial sweetener xylitol, yeast, nuts, apple seeds and stems, apricots, cherries, peaches, plum pits and stems, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic (and others of the allium family), can range from potentially toxic to fatal for pets. Chocolate contains various levels of caffeine, fat, methylxanthines, and theobromine. Toxicity levels depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. Generally, the darker the chocolate, the higher levels of theobromine it contains. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning will appear in 1 to 4 hours after ingestion and may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, muscle spasms, seizures, coma, increased thirst, and even death from abnormal heart rate. Remember that cocoa is a powdered form of chocolate and is among the most toxic.
We also can’t overlook that one relative – you know that sweet aunt or uncle who means well but doesn’t understand your pets are not being neglected by not sharing in the holiday feast. Explain to these relatives that bones, fat trimmings, etc. can become a serious health problem for pets. Caution them that bones can cause choking, dental fractures, and obstruction. Bones can also splinter off into small, razor-sharp fragments causing potential perforation and laceration of your pet’s digestive system. Fat trimmings and fatty foods can cause not only the obvious weight gain but also stomach upset and pancreatitis (a condition that needs to be medically treated often requiring hospitalization). All of these situations require a vet visit that could include as little as some medication or special diet to help that upset tummy to as much as an emergency surgery to remove and possibly repair the damage from perforation, laceration, and/or obstruction.
Solutions for sympathetic relatives include safe treats in moderation (have a jar of these at the ready) or a play session. However, keep in mind not all pets like the immense amount of attention, especially if half the guest list consists of small children that may or may not behave appropriately towards animals. Depending on the personality, temperament, and stress level of your dog or cat, you may want to consider whether or not they would be more comfortable in a quiet room away from the hustle and bustle of company or even at a trusted kennel. Ultimately, you know and love your pets more than anyone and it is up to you to make the decision everyone will be happy with.
We hope these holiday hazard tips will assist you in making this season a stress free and enjoyable time for both two-legged and four-legged family and friends.