Nothing can put a damper on your holiday celebration faster than a disaster with the family pet. It may be the season of cheer for humans, but the holiday season can be a treacherous time for your pets. The food and decorations that make the holidays so much fun for us can be dangerous for your pet. But there are a few precautions people can take to make sure our precious pets have happy and safe holidays.
At the Garden City Park Animal Hospital, Dr. Gary Dattner, DVM has seen drunken dogs, stressed-out cats and even pets who have eaten entire bottles of Tylenol. It's a dangerous scenario. "Around the holidays people have more headaches, and animals like the candy coating on pain medicine. But even one tablet of Tylenol could kill a cat," says Dr. Dattner.
Holiday foods can be a problem for your pet. Never make sudden changes in your pet's diet. Giving more treats than usual can upset the stomach of a dog or a cat. If your pet vomits three times, take him or her to your veterinarian. Even the best-behaved pet can be tempted by the remains of a holiday meal. Rich, fatty foods, like gravy or grease, can cause problems ranging from diarrhea to seizures and death. Alcohol can cause serious intoxications in pets, and many pets are attracted to it. Every year hundreds of dogs die after a single bout of alcohol consumption. Pets are often attracted by the sweet taste of drinks, especially eggnog. Chocolate, coffee, and tea all contain dangerous components called xanthines, which cause nervous system or urinary system damage and heart muscle stimulation. Chocolate, with theobromine, is especially a problem because pets love its flavor. Remember that pets have an exceptional sense of smell - juices on plastic or aluminum foil left on countertops are very tempting. If ingested, they can cause choking or intestinal obstruction. Gravy soaked strings from roasts and putry are also enticing. Ingestion can cause "linear string foreign body" in the intestines, a surgical emergency . To be safe, put away food immediately and pet-proof your garbage. Garbage contains all kinds of other hazards for your pet such as plastic wrap and bags, 6-pack beverage holders, fat trimmings, bones, and pieces of ribbon or tinsel. Feed your pet(s) before a party so they will not be so apt to beg or steal food.
Decorating trees with food is asking for problems. Candy canes and gingerbread people can be as enticing to your pet as they are to children. Dr. Dattner shared a tale of one diabetic dog who ran into some problems with regulating her disease because she was stealing candy canes off of the tree. Popcorn, raisin, or cranberry garlands are beautiful, but can cause an obstruction when eaten, requiring surgery.
Christmas trees and their decorations can create hazards for pets. Place Christmas trees in a stable stand, and attach it securely to a window or wall. Tree needles can be toxic and cause stomach irritation. Be sure your pet isn't chewing on branches or eating fallen needles. Some cats seem to be allergic to Christmas trees or the mold that grows on them. Any signs of breathing difficulties should be considered an emergency. Contact your veterinarian immediately. Because tree preservatives are often sugar-based (and inviting to pets) and because the water stands so long, the water in the tree stand often harbors potentially harmful bacteria. Be very careful if you put additives in the water for the Christmas tree. Some pets like to drink any water available, and additives can be poisonous. Consider using an artificial Christmas tree.
Don't use tinsel or ribbon. Cats are irresistibly attracted to tinsel, and have what seems to be a unique ability to swallow long pieces of tinsel, ribbon, string or yarn. But, it can bind and cut their intestines requiring major surgery. Angel hair, flocking and artificial snow are also mildly toxic. Try decorating with something less likely to cause a problem.
Don't put ornaments, particularly glass balls, on the lowest branches of the tree. Dogs will often play with glass ornaments as if they were balls and serious oral lacerations can result. Cats may knock them off, which could cause cuts on paw pads and a trip to the emergency clinic. Sharp ornament hooks can get imbedded in pet's mouths. Place ornaments that are shiny, or could be swallowed or broken high up on your tree. Larger, less intriguing ornaments can go near the bottom. Potpourri contains oils that can be toxic to pets if eaten. We may not think of eating it, but some curious pets may. Candles can cause burns and fires. Never leave lighted candles unattended or within reach of your pet.
Chewing on electrical cords, used for tree lights, can cause problems ranging from burned mouths, to electrical shock to death by electrocution. Unplug decorative lights when you're not there, use Pet-Proof Extension Cords, or spray cords with a product such as Bitter Apple.
Many of the plants we have in our homes during the holidays can be poisonous to pets. The most common culprits: Holly, Mistletoe ,Hibiscus and Poinsettias. If ingested, they can be potentially fatal to both dogs and cats. So when you brighten up your home, place plants well out of your pet's reach, or use imitation holiday plants.
During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, give dogs and cats a place to hide. Dogs can get sick from being over stimulated by guests, and can even bite if they're overstressed. Cats can become ill, sometimes requiring treatment for stress. A quiet room, away from the commotion, with water, food (and litter box) available will help fearful pets be more comfortable. Be sure to inform your guests not to feed the dog. Advise them of any problem behaviors concerning your pets, such as sneaking out the door,and stealing food from the table.
Don't give pets as presents. New pets may not be the best holiday gifts. Give a gift certificate so the person can choose his or her own pet. Thinking about getting a new pet for your own family? Remember that it's difficult for a pet to meet a new family at any time, and the holidays are already stressful enough . Pets need routine and a time to bond with you, so wait until after the holidays. With its noise, commotion and special hazards, the holiday season is anything but routine.
For more information on Holiday safety for your pets, or any other pet related question, Dr. Dattner can be reached at (516) 742-3377.