Don’t let your pet get on the naughty list right before Santa arrives!
The Holiday Feast
For many of us, celebrating the holidays and eating good food are synonymous. Just like at Thanksgiving, many of the foods that we enjoy at Christmas and the other winter holidays can be problematic for our pets.
Chocolate is a common gift this time of year, and it’s present in many baked goodies as well. Did you know though that chocolate can be toxic for cats and dogs (the linked article goes into “why” and which chocolates are the most dangerous). Here are some tips to make sure you don’t end up in the animal emergency room with a pet suffering from chocolate poisoning.
Though the traditional fruitcake (a.k.a. “doorstop”) has mostly gone out of fashion, there are a number of other popular holiday deserts that contain currants and raisins, including various cookies and cakes, like yummy Stollen, Panettone, and Christmas Puddings. While these dried fruits can add a little sweet chewiness to your desserts, they can also be highly toxic to your dog’s kidneys. Not all dogs are affected by the toxin and we don’t yet know what the exact toxin is. However, in the dogs that are affected, the result can be devastating, permanent, expensive, and a potentially fatal case of acute renal (kidney) failure. And note that grapes can also cause this same problem in dogs.
It’s important to keep all nuts out of your pet’s mouth (as any nut can be a choking hazard or even cause pancreatitis or an intestinal obstruction), but one type of nut in particular can carry additional dangers for your dogs.
Allium veggies are the species of plant that include onion, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives. Whether cooked or uncooked these popular veggies can be toxic to your dog or cat.
In small quantities these vegetables aren’t likely to cause too big a problem for your cats and dogs, but in larger quantities, or if your pet already has a low red blood cell count (anemia) or dysfunctional red blood cells, ingestion of onions or garlic can prove both debilitating and expensive. Natural compounds in these popular seasonings can cause destruction of your pet’s red blood cells in a process called hemolytic anemia. Given all of the important functions that red blood cells serve in the body, it’s definitely not a thing you want your pets to suffer from. Your pet may show initial symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, but as the problem progresses they’ll typically exhibit rapid, shallow breathing, a fast pulse rate, weakness, and either pale white or yellowish gums. Hemolytic anemia is a serious medical emergency.
While you’d never feed your pet alcohol, certain desserts contain alcohol, and it doesn’t take much for someone to leave their drink on a coffee table and within reach for a dog (or a cat for that matter).
Similar to the effects it can have on people, alcohol can cause several problems in your dogs and cats. It can lead to both metabolic and neurological problems in your pets that can result in vomiting, breathing problems, coma, and even death. So be sure to keep the wine glasses, cocktails and alcohol-soaked desserts off the low-lying tables.
Xylitol is an increasingly common sugar-replacement sweetener that’s in hundreds of products, including some brands of peanut butter. It’s an “all natural” sugar substitute that’s fine for people, but is extremely poisonous to dogs and poisons thousands of dogs each year. There has been an increase in awareness about xylitol — both in peanut butter and in the more than 700 other products xylitol is found in — and we have been able to influence some companies to change their labeling and warning practices.
Usually the biggest culprit of xylitol poisoning in dogs is from sugar-free gums and mints. Around the holidays though, and with more and more people trying to eat less sugar, many people are baking with xylitol! So watch where you put your sugar-free or low-carb baked goods, and make sure your counters are clear if you’ve got a counter-surfing dog!
Because it’s such a strong stimulator of insulin release in dogs, it takes just a small amount of xylitol (0.1g/kg) eaten by a dog to cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar (“hypoglycemia”). This will typically initially show as vomiting, weakness, and a lack of coordination. As hypoglycemia progresses you can see seizures, coma, and even death. Xylitol can cause an extremely dangerous drop in your dog’s blood sugar in as little as 30 minutes!
At slightly higher doses (but still relatively small), xylitol can also cause devastating liver failure in some dogs. It’s truly nasty stuff for dogs, so please read labels and learn more about the dangers of xylitol to dogs.
Plants & Flowers
Flowers and plants are common host gifts. Whether you’re the one giving flowers or the one receiving them, it’s important to know that many commonly given plants and flowers can cause problems for cats and dogs, as such poisonings can range in severity from mild digestive upset to organ failure.
Ironically, poinsettias, one of the more-well-known-about holiday plant hazards for pets, aren’t actually that hazardous to pets. Due to the low level of toxicity seen with poinsettia ingestion, medical intervention is rarely needed unless signs are severe.
Although not nearly as popular as poinsettias around the holidays, cyclamen is often found in homes this time of year. And not many people know about the dangers of the cyclamen.
Seeing as how they are readily available at supermarkets and garden stores (and rather inexpensive), cyclamen can be a common holiday decoration or hostess/host gift.
The toxins of the cyclamen can cause a wide range of problems for the pets that ingest them, ranging from excessive salivation and digestive upset to seizures and heart rhythm abnormalities. In small ingestion, most pets will suffer only mild digestive upset. However, in cases of large ingestion, this toxicity can prove fatal.
Although lilies don’t exactly ‘scream’ Christmas, flowers do! Lilies are amongst the most common types of flowers found in bouquets at all times of the year, including Christmas, and lilies are extremely toxic to cats. Lily toxicity is something everybody should be aware of, regardless of whether or not they have cats.
Considered a popular and beautiful holiday decoration, boughs of holly are a Christmas staple for many. While the leaves and branches aren’t typically too big of a problem, the berries can be poisonous to cats and dogs.
Before you pucker up to kiss your sweetheart, be sure that bunch of mistletoe is well secured to the door jam. Though a strategically-placed sprig of mistletoe may get you that Christmas “snog” you’ve been dreaming about all year, it may also land your dog or cat in the hospital if it falls to the ground or they find another way to get their paws on it.
Even when eaten in small quantities, mistletoe can cause excessive drooling and digestive upset.
But even bigger problems are in store for your pet if they ingest a larger quantity of this common Christmas decoration. In these situations your pet may experience heart and/or neurologic problems, which could include abnormal heart rate and rhythm, decreased blood pressure, and a staggered walk. If left untreated, these signs can progress to collapse, seizures, coma, and even death.
Although fake trees are becoming increasingly popular, many people still get live trees and these can be hazardous to both dogs and cats.
You can limit their access by placing an obstruction in their path. The Christmas Tree Defender works GREAT at preventing cats from climbing up a tree from the bottom! It can be used on other potted plants as well.
From cuts on paws from broken ornaments to gastrointestinal obstruction from decorations that get ingested, ornaments and other Christmas tree decorations pose a wide array of hazards to your pets.
Cats are probably most at risk of sustaining injuries with their propensity to bat down and play with things that dangle in front of them. This isn’t to say that dogs aren’t at risk of injury or illness.
Some simple steps include keeping your cat out of your tree, picking up fallen ornaments and cleaning up broken pieces, and never leave your pet unsupervised around your tree and the ornaments.
Light Strands & Electrical Cords
Before you assume that your pet doesn’t have an affinity for anything shocking, keep in mind that it’s the one time of year that we have more exposed cables and light strands adorning our home. It’s natural for both dogs and cats to chew, so don’t assume that their normal behavior will be consistent with the holidays.
Pets that chew on electric cords can sustain burns on their tongues and elsewhere in their mouth. These pets may also develop a buildup of fluid within their lungs, as a result of the electrical shock. This fluid buildup within the lungs that results from a cause other than heart failure, is known as non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, which can lead to breathing problems, and can be fatal, too.
Signs that your pet may have suffered an electrical shock include abnormal behavior, hiding, excessive drooling, refusal to eat or drink, random or abnormal urination/defecation near electrical cord, or evidence of chewed electrical cord.
Tips to prevent your pet from experiencing electric shock:
Just like tinsel, ribbons and bows that adorn wrapped gifts and lay around with your wrapping supplies are typically quite enticing for cats. Something about these wrapping accessories just seems to trigger a cat’s inner hunter. Unfortunately, a common result of this ‘hunt’ is an intestinal obstruction that can sicken or kill your cat.
Treatment for linear foreign body obstruction should always involve surgery. Not just to remove the offending material, but to evaluate the gut for damage and tissue that is beyond repair.
If something is protruding from your pet’s butt, read this to find out what to do! If you pull at what’s sticking out you can cause further damage to your pet’s digestive tract, including perforation of their bowel, with the result of bacteria and intestinal contents leaking into the abdominal cavity causing a painful and life-threatening inflammation and infection within the abdominal cavity called septic peritonitis.
Potpourri (liquid or dry) can create or help to mimic wonderful holiday smells. While these oily liquids and dry concoctions can fill a house with a sensory overload of wonderful aromas without all the ‘hassle’ of baking cookies, lighting a fire, or cutting down a pine tree, they also pose a very real, and potentially very significant hazard to your pets.
Cats: Liquid potpourris typically contain two substances that can be toxic — essential oils and cationic detergents. While the essential oil component of the liquid potpourris can cause problems for your pets, typically it’s the cationic detergents that cause the bigger problems.
Now you might not think that your dog would eat a battery, but given the frequency with which these types of cases are seen in pet emergency rooms and general practices around the country, it appears as though, for some reason, quite a few dogs just seem to love chewing on and swallowing these things!
AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt and other “traditional” battery types can result in injuries such as oral burns and/or digestive upset or obstruction — which are very serious in their own right — but it’s the disc or “button”-type batteries that can pose an additional serious danger when swallowed — esophageal burns and perforations.
Learn more about button and other battery ingestion in dogs, including what to do and not to do if your dog swallows a battery, as well as view a time lapse video showing how button batteries can quickly burn a hole in the esophagus!
Plan a Pet-Safe Holiday Gathering