November and December are two of the most festive months of the year, but they can also be very dangerous for our furry friends. Two of the greatest dangers are lost pets and pet poisoning. Veterinary experts offer advice on how to keep your dogs and cats safe during the winter holidays.
“During the holidays, we see a lot of emergencies,” said Dr. J. Darrell Phillips, hospital administrator of Animal Emergency and Referral Center in Flowood, an affiliate of Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Pets are curious, and during the holidays we have all kinds of unusual things around the house. I tell people to think of it like they are going to baby-proof a house. You are going to do the same kind of thing for your pet during the holidays -- and the rest of the year.”
In 2011, Veterinary Pet Insurance Company reports that policyholders spent more than $22.8 million on medical conditions commonly associated with the holidays. . The most expensive condition is ingestion of a foreign body that has to be removed surgically, costing an average of $2,328 per pet. Enteritis (diarrhea) and gastritis (vomiting), two of the most common pet conditions, cost an average of $279 and $105 per animal, respectively.
"Our data shows that most pet holiday accidents or injuries are related to pets eating people food or other holiday objects, such as tinsel, holiday houseplants, ornaments and ribbon," said Dr. McConnell, DVM, MBA, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI. "Whether it's holiday food or decorations, pets have a knack for ingesting foreign objects, and it's important for pet owners to keep unsafe items out of reach."
“We see a lot of gastrointestinal upset in pets where they have just eaten too much,” adds Dr. Phillips. “But a lot of things are toxic to our pets, like chocolate, grapes, raisins and some nuts. And those things can cause serious injury and sometimes death.”
Keep in mind that the garbage can, especially if it is overflowing with holiday trash, is one of the greatest risks for your pet. During times when you may not be as vigilant as you normally are, a dog or cat can begin foraging through the trash and find foods and objects they shouldn’t ingest.
Most pet owners are aware that chocolate is one of the most dangerous foods for a pet. Methylaxanthine, a component of chocolate, may cause potentially life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and central nervous system dysfunction. Other potential symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors and seizures. Chocolate poisoning occurs most commonly in dogs, although other species of animals are also susceptible.
Other foods to keep away from pets include onions, garlic and scallions which can damage a dog’s red blood cells. Fatty foods, such as roasts, gravy, nuts and egg nog can inflame the pancreas, leading to pancreatitis.
Be sure to keep your pet on his regular eating and watering schedule. When a pet becomes thirsty, he may try to drink from the Christmas tree water bowl. If this water is treated with chemicals meant to extend the freshness of your live tree, it could be toxic to your pet. Stagnant water may harbor harmful bacteria. Remember also to anchor your tree to the ceiling to keep it from accidentally falling on pets (or children.)
Other decorations to be mindful of include tinsel and thin wrapping-paper ribbon, especially harmful to cats. Curiosity, in this case, may truly harm the cat, as these objects could cause their intestines to bunch up, and cuts into the intestinal wall so cats cannot pass food normally. These require surgery to remove. Holiday lights are also quite tempting to animals. Periodically check for cords for any signs of bite marks, loose or frayed wires, or evidence of short circuits.
Tape down or cover cords to help avoid shocks, burns or other serious injuries. Unplug lights when you are not home.
Other dangerous holiday decorations include glass ornaments, snow globes (contain antifreeze), bubbling lights, snow sprays, and Styrofoam. Be sure also to keep lit candles on high shelves and blow them out if they will be unattended.
Some holiday plants are toxic to pets, including Christmas rose, holly, amaryllis lilies, red azaleas, philodendron, and dieffenbachia. “Poinsettias are probably overrated as being toxic to pets, but it’s still worth being careful about,” says veterinarian Dr. Hohenhaus. “Mistletoe has some toxins, but it’s normally hung up high, so it’s not as big an issue.”
After the presents are opened, be sure to put away anything a pet might think is his own chew-toy. Small plastic pieces and rubber balls are common causes of choking and intestinal blockage.
If you suspect that your pet has eaten something toxic, call your veterinarian and/or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center's 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-888-4-ANI-HELP.
Pets, like people, are also prone to holiday stress. For a dog or cat this could trigger an illness and intestinal upset. Or they could bolt from the home to find a “safe place” to hide. Be sure they are wearing a current ID just in case of escape. Take time during the holiday “down-times” to spend time with your pet to ensure they do not feel left out of the fun festivities.
There is no holiday for the responsibility of taking care of your pet.
Veterinary Pet Insurance
Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.