The holidays are a time of festive celebration when we gather with friends and family. But as we prepare our homes for guests, it’s important to be mindful of potential dangers to cats and dogs lurking in food, decorations and plants.
Guidelines for Guests
Guests can be stressful for humans, so imagine how our pets feel when their routine is disrupted by new additions to the house. It’s important to lay some ground rules to keep everyone safe, especially if your visitors are not pet owners themselves.
• Ensure exterior doors and gates are closed quickly and that you’re aware of your animal’s whereabouts at all times. In case of emergencies, your pets can be more easily reunited with you if they are microchipped and information is kept current.
• Give anxious pets a room of their own away from all the noise and chaos. Stress can lead to stomach upset, diarrhea and unwanted behaviors, such as barking or destruction. Consider leaving a restless pet with a long-lasting, treat-dispensing toy. Exercise anxious dogs with a brisk walk several times a day to decrease their energy level.
• Encourage guests to keep their purses and luggage away from curious pets, especially if they contain human medications, gifts or tempting foods that could be toxic.
While many of us tend to overindulge during the holidays, it’s important to keep rich foods away from animals to avoid stomach upset. Eating fatty food may lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of your pet’s pancreas). Patients with moderate to severe pancreatitis have abdominal pain, vomiting, and weakness which require intensive medical support and hospitalization.
Pet owners are also often surprised to learn that the many festive foods can be toxic to our pets. If any of these items are in your home, keep them behind closed doors:
• Sugar-free baked goods and chewing gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can cause seizures from low blood sugar, or sudden liver failure.
• Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in higher doses causes heart beat abnormalities, tremors, and/or seizures. In general, the darker and higher quality the chocolate, the more toxic it is.
• Small quantities of alcohol can cause vomiting, seizures and difficulty breathing.
• Holiday foods such as fruit cake can contain raisins and currants. Raisins even in small doses can result in kidney failure.
• Turkey bones can splinter and puncture internal organs of both dogs and cats.
• Used aluminum foil and the string used to wrap up roasted meat can be appealing to pets, but can cause intestinal blockages, often requiring abdominal surgery.
The holidays wouldn’t be the same without festive decorations, but it’s important to consider your pets when choosing the trimmings.
• Contrary to legend, poinsettias are actually relatively harmless, but holly, mistletoe, and Amaryllis bulbs are all toxic to pets.
• Many types of lilies are highly toxic to cats. Even minimal exposure from licking a leaf, flower, or pollen or from drinking water from the vase can cause severe kidney failure.
• Tinsel and ribbons are pretty, but if swallowed, emergency surgery is needed to repair the damage they do to the intestinal tract.
• Sweet-smelling liquid potpourri can cause severe chemical burns to the mouth and tongue, fever, difficulty breathing and tremors. Keep simmer pots and lit holiday candles out of reach.
• Imported snow globes may contain antifreeze, which is extremely dangerous. Ingesting even a very small amount can be deadly to a dog or cat if not treated within a few hours of ingestion.
• Ensure your Christmas tree is properly secured, and that glass and other fragile ornaments are kept off low-lying branches. Do not add fertilizer or other chemicals to the water in live trees to keep pets safe as they explore this fascinating decoration.
• Additional lights and electrical cords can be appealing to pets, so be sure they are unplugged when you’re not home to avoid electrical shock should a curious pet begin chewing on a cord.
It’s important to remain extra vigilant throughout the holidays to keep your pets safe. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect that your pet has ingested something potentially harmful.