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.