Protect Your Pets from the Hazards of the Holidays
By Dr. Bruce Little
Each year about this time our thoughts turn to the holidays and the precautions that should be taken to protect our pets from harm. Whether entertaining family for Thanksgiving dinner, sharing the family events of Hanukkah, entertaining family and other guests at Christmas, gathering for the festivities of Kwanzaa or celebrating with libations and fireworks for New Year’s Eve the well-being of our family pets must be taken into consideration. The Holiday Season is that time of year where families and friends come together to honor the religious traditions of their faith, exchange gifts, feast and entertain. These celebrations can, and usually do, create opportunities for our pets to meet possible distress, injury, and sometimes death if measures are not put into place beforehand to mitigate these opportunities.
Thanksgiving means family dinners and parties to celebrate the blessings that we have. There are cautions that must be taken, however, when protecting the pets that make up an important part of our families. While preparing meals during these hectic Holiday Season days, be sure to take the pets into consideration. It is impossible to eliminate the wonderful smells that emanate from the kitchen during these festive times. Sometimes pets, especially dogs, become overzealous in eating the family’s food and drink, and that can be detrimental to their health. Fat trimmings, skin and bones from the meat should be kept far out of reach of the family pets. Fat, whether cooked or raw, can cause pancreatitis while bone splinters can get lodged in your pet’s mouth, throat or intestines causing a digestive tract blockage. Poultry bones are brittle and can be especially dangerous or even fatal to animals. Strings used to hold meat together during the cooking process will contain the odors of the meat, but can have a critical effect on the digestive health of your pet. If swallowed, these string products can cause blockage in the digestive tract and many times can only be relieved with surgical intervention. Caffeine in large quantities in coffee grounds or drinks can make dogs disorientated and sometimes cause seizure-like symptoms. Materials such as xylitol that is used as artificial or “sugar free” sweeteners in baked goods, chewing gum and other products is highly toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in higher doses can cause heart beat abnormalities, tremors, and possibly seizures. The darker the chocolate the more toxic the contents may be. Baker’s chocolate is ten times more toxic to dogs than lighter chocolates found in most candies. Milk and other dairy products are not well tolerated by many cats and are particularly difficult for dogs to break-down and digest. Dairy products can also predispose pets to food allergies. It is never good to allow dogs or cats to access marijuana products, either raw or in baked foods. With the recent legalization of medical marijuana in more than half of the states and recreational marijuana in seven or eight states, the incidence of marijuana toxicity in dogs has increased as much as 65% in some of those localities. Baked products that contain raisins, currants, and grapes even in small doses can result in kidney failure in dogs. Small quantities of alcohol consumed by pets can cause vomiting, incoordination, confusion, and seizures in pets if given in enough quantity. 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. You must protect against your pet gaining access to garbage in the kitchen or when turned outside where they can raid the garbage cans that may contain the scraps and leftovers of the family meal. Any garbage can contain toxic bacteria such as Salmonella or coliform bacteria that can cause digestive distress, vomiting and diarrhea.
The Holiday Season causes disruption in the daily routine of the entire household including the family pets. Crowded rooms, new faces, doors left open and food left on the kitchen counter or table can create a danger for the pets. People are busy shopping, making travel plans, planning menus and entertainment for guests, and many other activities related to the season. Children are home from school for an extended period, guests from out of town arrive and the normal home surroundings are changed to a festive mood with decorations, music, plants, fragrances, and people. This unusual activity influences the pets in the household, as many times they are relegated to a secondary role with less personal contact and attention than they are normally accustomed to. Household guests can be stressful to pets during the Holiday Season. This is especially true if the guests have a pet of their own that they bring along for the duration of the stay. The pets who live there all year feel like their territory is being infringed upon. The anxiety created in pets when house guests arrive can cause digestive upset in both dogs and cats leading to vomiting and diarrhea. It is a good idea in most cases to provide a quiet, closed off room for the pets with a television or stereo playing to calm their anxiety and let them relax. A synthetic hormone product called Felway can be sprayed on cats to help relieve their anxiety. You might also provide your pets with a long-lasting, treat-dispensing toy to keep them entertained during the height of the holiday festivities. You can buy these produces at most pet supply stores. For pets with severe anxiety levels during the intrusion of house guests, it may be necessary to consult your veterinarian about anti-anxiety or tranquillizing drugs. This procedure can be used if fireworks are part of the New Year’s Eve celebration as well. Check on your pets periodically to ensure they cannot escape through a door left open unintentionally or by chewing through the wall. Make sure all pets have a permanent microchip in place and are registered on one of the microchip company data bases that are available, so in case they do escape and become lost, they can be picked up and a very welcome call will be placed to your telephone. Your local veterinarian can advise you on microchips and the data base registration process. It is also wise to place a collar containing your contact information on the pet so neighbors and passersby can return the pet if it does escape the chaos of the house at this time of year.
A decorated Christmas tree provides many opportunities for a dog or cat to get into trouble during the Holiday Season. Be sure the tree is supported properly so the pets, should they decide to investigate by pulling on a decoration or limb, do not pull the tree over. If using a live-cut Christmas tree that has been placed in a stand that contains water and fertilizer or preservatives, be sure to place a cover over the base so the pets cannot drink the water. 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 be eaten, especially if it has a taste or smell of the food contained inside causing intestinal blockage that many times ends up with surgery as the last resort to remove it. Always keep lighted candles out of reach so the pets cannot knock them over or get burned, and electric cords taped to the floor so the pets cannot chew on them. Those small batteries that sometimes come with mechanical toys can cause burns if chewed on by pets. Protect the pets from the fireplace by placing a screen in front of the flames.
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 that can be toxic to pets are Christmas cactus, holly and mistletoe. Mistletoe if eaten in enough quantity can cause low blood pressure and heart problems.
One of the materials most hazardous to pets in the wintertime Holiday Season is new or used antifreeze that is used to keep the radiator of cars from freezing and, sometimes placed on sidewalks and driveways to melt snow and ice. Imported snow globes may contain antifreeze and can be extremely dangerous to pets should they ingest even a small amount of it. Antifreeze products have a sweet odor and taste good to dogs, so they will drink it causing severe damage to their kidneys creating an immediate emergency. Antifreeze is usually stored in garages or basements and that might be the location some people place their dogs during the festivities of the Holiday Season to keep them from being underfoot. Make sure they do not have access to antifreeze in those locations where they normally do not frequent.
It is best to keep these reminders in an accessible location and review them during these hectic times of the Holiday Season. A little bit of caution on the part of the human family members might just be the savior of the four-legged family members. If you think your pet has been exposed to any of these unwanted materials, you should contact your local veterinarian immediately. Keep those telephone numbers in a convenient location to find them easily. Or you can contact the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA Poison Control Unit. Both services are open 24 hours per day, and charge a service fee for their information.
Pet Poison Helpline: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com Telephone: 1-855-289-0358ASPCA Poison Control Center: http://www.aspca.org/apce Telephone: 1-888-426-4435