by Dr. Lonnie King
We all look forward to the holiday season which abounds with family visits, celebrations, parties, wonderful food and good cheer. However, the holiday season can also carry some serious hazards for our pets. Nothing can spoil holiday cheer like an emergency with a beloved family pet. Here are a few tips to keep your pet safe and healthy this holiday.
Food: (Don’t) Let Them Eat Cake!
Keep people food away from pets. If you want to share holiday treats with your pet, make or buy treats formulated just for them. There are a few foods that are especially hazardous for pets, and include: chocolate, grapes/raisins, alcohol, poultry bones, onions, garlic, raw bread or yeast dough and candy or sweets containing artificial sweeteners. Xylitol is an especially dangerous and toxic sweetener that may be found in some types of gum, candy and baked goods. Turkey meat and turkey skin are off limits because they may cause pancreatitis. This is also true for table scraps including gravy, meat fat, stuffing or pork products. All of these should be kept away from your pet.
There are a few plants that are toxic for pets and may make an appearance during the holidays in our homes. Poinsettias, lilies, amaryllis and mistletoe can be dangerous to cats and dogs. In addition, potpouri mixes, cedar, holly and balsam may also be hazardous for pets. If you plan to use any of these decorative plants or products, be sure that they are kept out of the reach of your pet.
Avoid Choking Hazards
Be certain that your pet does not have access to choking hazards, such as candy wrappers, turkey bones, ribbons, wrapping paper, ornaments, toothpicks, very small toys and tinsel. You should consider not using tinsel to decorate a tree if you have a cat. Turkey carcasses or anything used to wrap or tie the meat such as strings, bags or packaging material present special dangers and they must also be kept away from pets. Not only can these items become choking hazards, but if swallowed, they can lodge in the stomach or intestine and require emergency surgery. Always put the trash away and store it where pets do not have access to it.
Be Cautious of Electrical Cords
Many holiday decorations are a fun way to get into the holiday spirit and many use electricity. If chewed, live electrical cords can cause burns around a pet’s mouth and can result in breathing difficulties and even seizures. To avoid this hazard, unplug lights and decorations when not in use and secure them out of the reach of pets.
Christmas trees can tip over if pets climb on them or try to play with lights or ornaments. If possible, try to secure your tree to a door frame or ceiling. For live trees that require water, additives to the water can offer additional hazards. Thus, do not add sugar, aspirin or other preservatives to the water since pets can be attracted to this water source and ingesting these products may present an additional hazard.
House Parties and Visitors: Reducing Stress and Anxiety
We look forward to holiday guests and hosting parties; however, for some pets, the noise and excitement can be upsetting. They can become nervous and anxious at these gatherings. All pets should have access to a comfortable and quiet place inside if they should want to retreat and get away from the commotion and disruption of their routine. A crate with a favorite toy in a separate room might be a good option and be available as a pet getaway. If you know that your pet is likely to get upset by parties or houseguests, talk with your veterinarian about other preemptive options for this common problem. Guests mean that more people will be coming into and going out of your home, and open doors can be a tempting invitation for a pet to escape and become lost. Therefore, you need to take care during these times to make sure your visitors are aware of your pet and make sure that your pet has proper and current identification information. Of course, microchipping your pet is a good idea regardless of the season.
Other Potential Hazards
Special holiday displays or candles are attractive to pets as well as people. Never leave a pet alone in a room or area with a lit candle. Pinecones, needles and other similar decorations may cause gastrointestinal problems when pets chew on them or swallow them and thus should not be available to your pet. It is a good idea to clear food from your table, counters and serving areas when you are done using them. Again, make certain that your trash is in a place where a pet cannot reach it.
We want our pets to enjoy the holidays with us, and taking these precautions can help ensure this season is fun and joyous. However, planning ahead, just in case, is a good idea. It is helpful to know in advance how to reach a 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic. Talk with your local veterinarian ahead of time and have phone numbers posted and available. There is also an ASPCA Poison Control Hotline that you can access at 1-888-426-4435 should you need immediate consultation about a potential emergency (there may be a fee for this service). Any emergency is stressful and knowing exactly what to do in such instances is extremely helpful.
These tips are offered not to take away the joy from a wonderful time of the year, but, rather, they are reminders about how to keep our pets happy and healthy this holiday season. After all, they are family members, too, and need our care and supervision.
Dr. Lonnie King – Board member of the ORHS
With our summer temperatures rising above 90 degrees and high humidity, summertime livin’ isn’t always easy. This is especially true when it comes to protecting our pets from the dangers of hot weather. Just remember when it is too hot for us, it is too hot for our pets as well.
Obviously, our dogs and cats have very different physiology than people. First, pets have fur and their coats, in some cases, add an extra burden when they are attempting to cool down. Both dogs and cats sweat through their paws but cannot sweat from their skin like we do, and this sweating is only marginally helpful to them for cooling down. Pets primarily cool down by panting. This allows their saliva to be exposed to the air and to evaporate from their tongues and mouth which helps cool them down. Dog’s blood vessels can dilatate around their head and face which allows more blood to flow from their internal organs closer to the external environment around the face which helps to reduce their temperature. Panting also facilitates the air to circulate through a pet’s body and thus further help reduce its temperature. Cats will commonly lick their coats and groom themselves more in the summer to add saliva to their fur which promotes more evaporation and cooling.
When dogs and cats get overheated and cannot cool down effectively, they may suffer a heat stroke or hyperthermia which can be a serious and life-threatening condition. Certain breeds of dogs and cats that have flat faces like bulldogs, pugs, boxers, shih tzus and Persian cats are especially susceptible to overheating and potential heat strokes because they have restricted and short airways. Pets that are older, obese or have existing heart or respiratory conditions are also at higher risk for these medical conditions in extreme heat.
How Can You Help?
Here are 8 tips for you to follow during our hot summer weather.
What Are the Signs of Heat Stroke and What Should You Do?
Heat stroke or hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature rises significantly above normal levels. A normal dog temperature range is from 100.5 – 102.5 and a normal cat temperature range is from 99.5 – 102.5. It is a myth that one can tell the health or temperature of a pet by checking its nose; the only way to accurately determine a pet’s temperature is by using a thermometer. Taking the pet’s rectal temperature using a human digital thermometer works well. Pets exhibiting signs of heat stroke will have a body temperature of 104 degrees or even much higher. If suffering from a heat stroke a dog or cat will pant heavily and excessively (remember some panting is normal). They may experience increased heart and respiratory rates, drool and salivate profusely, experience weakness or be non-responsive, they may vomit, collapse or have a seizure.
If you believe that your pet is having a heat stroke, get the pet into an air-conditioned home, run cool water (Not Cold!) over the pet especially over its head, neck and chest and then wrap it in a cool, water-soaked towel and then take the pet directly to the veterinarian as this can be a life-threatening condition that will require emergency and expert care. It is helpful to call ahead and let the veterinarian know that you are coming with an emergency so that the veterinary clinic be well prepared when you arrive.