Holiday Hazards: Protect Your Pets from House Guests, Decorations and Toxic Foods

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

The Holiday Season is upon us. People are busy this time of year shopping, cooking, entertaining guests, making travel plans and a myriad of other pressing activities. Many times our schedules drift to a panic state by all family members including the four-legged members of the household. There are some cautions that must be put in place to protect the family pets from illness and accidents during these hectic times.

House Guests

Crowded rooms, new faces, doors left open and food left on the kitchen counter can create danger for pets. Household guests can be stressful for pets during the holiday season. This is especially true if your house guests bring their own pets to your house for the holidays. Loud noises and the resultant anxiety of additional house guests can cause diarrhea and vomiting in many pets. It is usually a good idea to have a quiet room that can be closed off for your pets when you have guests in the house. The party atmosphere is simply too stressful for pets. Place a television or stereo in the room with soft music to tamper the noise from the revelers. Many times a chew toy that distributes a slow trail of “treats” will keep them occupied at least until they become accustomed to the noise and outside activity.
Open purses and suitcases of guests can be dangerous if they contain certain human medications, wrapped gifts or foods that could be toxic to dogs and cats. Remember, pets do not always have the same reaction to certain medications as humans.

Decorations

A decorated Christmas tree has all the makings for a tragedy if not placed properly with adequate support. Keep all doors and gates closed as needed, and be sure that all the animals are in their proper place at all times. Decorations and party favors can be especially dangerous for dogs and cats. Shards of glass from tree decorations can be swallowed and cause intestinal hemorrhaging and blockage. Cats are especially attracted to tinsel used to decorate the tree and can cause stomach or intestinal blockage if eaten in sufficient amounts. Packaging materials such as Styrofoam, string, ribbon and foil wrapping paper can cause intestinal blockage that many times leads to surgery as a last resort to remove it. Always keep lighted candles high on a shelf or table to prevent pets from knocking them over or burning themselves or starting a fire. Many pets will chew on electric cords if accessible to them. Sometimes chewing on the cords may cause electrical shock or even electrocution. Those batteries that come with toys and mechanical items can cause burns if chewed on by pets. Finally, always protect pets from the fireplace by placing a screen in front of the fire.
Many plants that are found inside the house during the holiday season can be toxic to pets. For instance, many types of lilies are highly toxic to cats. Licking themselves after skin contact while around certain lilies can be enough exposure to cause kidney problems in cats. Other plants that are common in our homes during the holiday season and can be toxic to pets are Christmas cactuses, holly and mistletoe. Mistletoe, if eaten in enough quantity, can cause low blood pressure and heart problems.

Toxic Foods

Most Holiday Season cooking creates a profound smell throughout the entire house. If they can smell food, most dogs and cats will eat it. Keep fatty foods and spicy foods away from pets, as well as bones and especially poultry bones. Fat trimmings from meat or skin, if eaten, can cause severe digestive problems for dogs and cats causing vomiting and diarrhea. If too much fat is eaten then pancreatitis can result, which usually means a trip to the emergency animal hospital. Bones can splinter and cause intestinal punctures or intestinal impaction leading to surgery to extract the bone masses. Sugar-free sweeteners, such as xylitol, are not tolerated by dogs and cats. All gum, candy, and baked goods that might contain xylitol should be placed in a closed container and be out of reach for the pets.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine that can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats if eaten in a large enough quantity. Excessive doses of these chemicals can cause arrhythmia in the heart and tremors or even seizures. Also, grapes and raisins either on the table or in cooked or baked foods can cause kidney problems. Other baked treats can contain alcohol or marijuana that is toxic to dogs, even in small doses. Uncooked baking products or dough contains yeast and will cause a drop in blood pressure causing hyperventilation and confusion. Cooks must be careful not to leave meat wrappers and foil within reach of the pets as they will detect the flavor of the cooked meat and swallow the string, paper or foil that the meat was wrapped in when it was cooked.

Be safe this holiday season, and be sure to check back for more tips on pet safety! In the meantime, you can follow me @DrBruceLittle on Twitter.