The holidays are a time for celebration, spending time with family, and reflecting on the good things that occurred during the year. The holidays can be hazardous for your pet though, so to make sure your holidays are cheerful, you should take some precautions. Decorations are commonly ingested by pets, especially dogs, so try to put them out of reach. Hang garland or other ornaments high enough the dogs can’t jump to grab them. A trick to keep dogs away from the tree is to place the tree in a child’s playpen or dog’s exercise pen. Do not underestimate your dog’s desire to eat items besides food. Dogs will eat anything. Dogs will eat plastic, fabric, glass, or metal and these foreign bodies can obstruct the intestine. If not surgically removed, the pet usually dies.
Tinsel is the most dangerous decoration as it actually cuts through the intestine when ingested and is hard to diagnose on radiographs (x-rays). Pets can easily die from eating this linear foreign body unless surgery is performed. Cats are the pet most likely to do this as they are prone to eating stringy items. Symptoms of foreign body ingestion are vomiting, lethargy, poor to no appetite, and poor water consumption. Many people with cats refuse to use tinsel in their home.
These holiday decorations often require power, so there may be extension cords or electric cords more accessible to the pets. Cats and dogs have been known to chew on these cords. This can cause symptoms ranging from burns to the tongue and lips to death from pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs causing difficulty breathing). A tip to help avoid this problem is to hide the cords in hard plastic PVC pipes where possible. Also you can paint a bitter tasting substance on the cords such as bitter apple to try to dissuade them from chewing on these dangerous wires.
Holiday time usually involves family dinners with rich food and relatives who may not understand that feeding the dog table food can cause severe problems. Veterinarians see many cases of pancreatitis in dogs around the holidays from eating meat or other fatty foods. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can be mild to severe. Symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, a painful abdomen, lethargy and a lack of appetite. The treatment for pancreatitis is hospitalization with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
Certain plants associated with the holidays can be toxic to pets. Poinsettias can cause irritation of the mouth and stomach to cats and dogs, but in general, their toxicity is over stated. Of more toxicity are holly and especially mistletoe in both dogs and cats. Holly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. Mistletoe is very toxic, causing vomiting and diarrhea, cardiovascular collapse, trouble breathing, low heart rate, and low blood pressure.
A great resource for inquiries of what is toxic, the degree of toxicity, and proper treatment, is the ASPCA Animal Poison Center. Veterinarians with specialties in toxicology are on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions. Their phone number is 1-888-426-4435. There is no state or federal funding for this poison control center so there is a $60 charge payable by credit card. They also have a web site with good information: http://www.aspca.com. There are lists of poisonous plants, common human medications that cause toxicities when ingested by pets, and other important information.
Pets may drink water used for watering the Christmas tree. Many people use additives in the water to keep the tree fresh. These, in general, are of low toxicity, but the composition may vary according to the manufacturer. The label should be inspected before use to check on the potential injury to pets. These easy precautions can help prevent sick pets and ensure your family has a happy holiday season.