The holidays are here! And while this is a joyous time of year, we need to be aware that there can be added dangers for our pets this time of year. Here is a list of some common things that can pose a threat to our four-legged friends around the holidays.
- Chocolate– Most people are aware that chocolate is toxic to pets. Dogs are most susceptible since they are known to eat just about anything. The toxins in chocolate are theobromine and caffeine. The darker and richer the chocolate (Baker’s chocolate), the higher the risk of poisoning. Milk chocolate is the least toxic. The toxins in chocolate stimulate the central nervous system, increase urine output and cause a rapid heartbeat. The animal may vomit and have diarrhea, may become very thirsty, become restless and hyperactive. This may progress to a lack of coordination, tremors and seizures. In some cases coma and death are the outcome.
- Xylitol– Xylitol is a sugar substitute found in sugarless gum, candies and baked goods. It is highly toxic to pets. It causes a rapid decrease in blood sugar and signs usually seen are vomiting, weakness, ataxia (lack of coordination), depression, seizures, coma and liver dysfunction and/or liver failure.
- Grapes and raisins– This is most common in dogs but has been reported in cats as well. Dogs develop vomiting and/or diarrhea. You may also notice loss of appetite, weakness, abdominal pain, excessive thirst and dehydration and tremors. Kidney failure usually develops and usually ends in death.
- Fatty meat scraps and other fatty foods– while dogs may love these scraps, they aren’t used to eating them all the time, and they can sure cause problems. Human food is a lot richer than dog food. It is not uncommon for dogs who get table scraps to not want to eat dog food. Most veterinary clinics see a rise in the cases of gastroenteritis and pancreatitis after the holidays. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, which is a gland that secretes enzymes into the intestines for the digestion of foods. It also manufactures insulin. Pancreatitis is often seen in an animal who has gotten into the trash, or eaten a large amount of fatty table scraps. Signs you often see are an animal with a very painful abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and sometimes death. One case in particular I remember seeing a few days after Christmas was a very sick labrador retriever who had gotten in the trash and eaten scraps of all kinds but also tin foil and the skin from a country ham. The dog died from a case of acute necrotizing pancreatitis, also called hemorrhagic pancreatitis.
- Macadamia Nuts– these nuts are toxic to dogs. Dogs may vomit and show weakness, become depressed, and uncoordinated. You may also see a fever and tremors.
- Holly– the berries and leaves of this plant can be moderately to very toxic. Signs usually seen are vomiting and diarrhea, depression, and abdominal pain.
- Mistletoe- all parts of this plant are highly toxic, especially the berries. Signs seen are vomiting, profuse diarrhea, difficulty in breathing, dilated pupils, shock and death from cardiovascular collapse.
- Poinsettia– The poinsettia plant is not as toxic as once thought. But the milky sap can be very irritating. The sap irritates the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach and you usually will see drooling, vomiting, but not death.
- Lilies– Most varieties of lilies are toxic to cats and can cause them to go into kidney failure.
Alcoholic beverages– There is nothing funny or entertaining in feeding a dog alcohol. Most people are aware of alcohol poisoning in humans. It can happen in animals too, and it doesn’t take much in a small cat or dog. The animal experiences a dangerous drop in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature. You may see vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia, drooling, depression and tremors. The animal may have seizures and respiratory failure and coma.
Bones– Bones can be very dangerous when animals ingest them, especially poultry bones which can splinter easily. They can cause gastrointestinal tears, obstructions, punctures, and inflammation. Signs usually seen are vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and death.
Batteries– Be very careful about leaving batteries for all those Christmas toys and electronics lying around under the Christmas tree. Puppies are known to like to play with batteries. Chewing on batteries can cause acid burns in the mouth as well as physical damage from the jagged metal from the battery. Button batteries can cause esophageal obstruction as well as ulcers in the esophagus. Small batteries can also pose a choking hazard. Signs of an obstruction include vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and unsuccessful attempts to defecate. The tongue, mucous membranes of the mouth, stomach, and esophagus may get burns.
- Tinsel/Garland and ribbon- Cats and kittens love to play with shiny objects. If chewed on and swallowed, these objects can become lodged in the intestines where they cause the intestines to bunch up, which causes intestinal obstruction, making surgery a necessity. I would recommend not having any icicle type tinsel in the house if you have pets, particularly cats and kittens.
- Electrical cords- young animals, especially puppies and kittens will chew on electrical cords and can suffer electrocution. Always hide or cover your cords. You can also try spraying the cord with a bitter-tasting pet repellant (like bitter apple). I might also mention that certain exotic pets, especially rabbits and other rodents, and ferrets love to chew on cords.
- Glass ornaments– I have a cat who loves to walk by the Christmas tree and swat at any low-hanging ornaments within his reach. One year he knocked some glass ornaments off the tree and batted them through the living room to the dining room where they hit the leg of the dining room table and shattered. While he wasn’t hurt, it could have been a disaster waiting to happen. Shards of glass can injure paws and worse yet, if ingested can slice the G.I. tissues. Keep glass ornaments out of reach of pets.
- Angel hair– Angel hair is spun glass. It can be very irritating to the eyes and skin and can produce an intestinal obstruction if ingested.
- Christmas tree– the ingestion of pine needles can upset the digestive tract and cause vomiting and diarrhea. Keep dead pine needles swept up. Also some cats like to climb the Christmas tree and can knock it over. If pets are around, don’t add preservatives or fertilizers to the Christmas tree water as this seems to be a favorite place to drink for a lot of dogs and cats. Also make sure that the water doesn’t become stagnant, as it often will.
Have a safe and happy Christmas holiday and remember to watch out for the four-legged members of the family!