Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Question: Holiday Hazards?

Dr. Schaeberle,

I have a dog. I was wondering what are the holiday hazards to him & other pets?

Taylor, age 12


Dear Taylor,

As the holiday seasons approach us, our homes may become hazardous places for our pets. With a little preparation and thinking ahead, we can keep our pets safe, and make fewer trips to the emergency room this year.

Let’s start with plants. First of all, some good news… Poinsettias’ toxicity has been highly over-rated. Severe illness is rare if ingested. The worst indication would be mouth irritation and/or mild nausea or vomiting. However, ingestion of holiday plants like lilies, mistletoe, and holly can cause more serious vomiting and diarrhea, and in the most severe cases, kidney and heart disease. So, if you have these in your home, protect them well from your pet.

Other not uncommon hazards, especially for cats, are ribbon and tinsel. For some strange reason, cats like to eat these, and they can cause life-threatening intestinal problems.

Chocolate is another danger, especially for dogs. Most of us already know how toxic it can be to our pets, so keep those red and green M&M’s up high or in an un-chewable container.

One of the most common problems that walk through the door of our veterinary hospital is vomiting and/or diarrhea from a condition known as pancreatitis, caused by our pets being fed too many holiday leftovers, or getting into the garbage to feast on bones, fat, and other scraps. This can easily be avoided by not feeding our pets the leftovers and storing the garbage in tight containers.

In Winter, the outdoors has its own hazards for our pets. If you like to change your own antifreeze, make sure you thoroughly clean up all spills, and immediately properly dispose of old product. Consumption of antifreeze can cause very painful kidney failure, and most times, ends in death. Consider using Pet Friends anti-freeze. If ice melt is necessary, again consider one of the Pets Friends products that are available. This will help prevent unpleasant irritation to pets’ feet or stomach, if ingested.

To be prepared, keep this number in a convenient place: SPCA Animal Poison Control Center 1-888-426-4435.

With a little planning, we can help our pets stay safe, happy and healthy this holiday season, so we can all enjoy the time together.

Thomas Schaeberle, V.M.D.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Here's some more holiday information from Pet Poison Helpline, another animal poison control based out of Minneapolis!

    The holidays are stressful enough without having to worry about a potentially poisoned pet. Below is a list of holiday-related decorations, plants and food items that the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline recommend keeping away from pets.

    • Holiday Ornaments: When decorating for the season, consider your pets. Holiday decorations such as snow globes or bubble lights may contain poisonous chemicals. If your pet chews on them the liquid inside could be could be dangerous to their health. Methylene chloride, the chemical in bubble lights, can result in depression, aspiration pneumonia and irritation to the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract.

    • Tinsel: If you own a cat, forgo the tinsel. What looks like a shiny toy to your cat can prove deadly if ingested. Tinsel does not pose a poisoning risk but can cause severe damage to a cat’s intestinal tract if swallowed. Ultimately, cats run the risk of severe injury to, or rupture of their intestines and treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery.

    • Alcohol: Because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure. Additionally, foods such as desserts containing alcohol and unbaked dough that contains yeast should be kept away from pets as they may result in alcohol toxicity, vomiting, disorientation and stomach bloat.

    • Holiday Foods: With the holiday season comes a delightful variety of baked goods, chocolate confections and other rich, fattening foods. However, it is not wise (and in some cases is quite dangerous) to share these treats with your pets. Keep your pet on his or her regular diet over the holidays and do not let family and friends sneak in treats. Foods that can present problems:
    - Foods containing grapes, raisins and currents (such as fruit cakes) can result in kidney failure in dogs.
    - Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea but large amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.
    - Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener which is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
    - Leftover, fatty meat scraps can produce severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) leading to abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

    • Liquid Potpourri: Filling your house with the smell of nutmeg or pine for the holidays may seem inviting—but if you’re partial to heating your scented oils in a simmer pot, know that they can cause serious harm to your cat; even a few licks can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. Dogs aren’t as sensitive, but it’s still better to be safe than sorry—so scent your home with a non-toxic candle kept safely out of kitty’s reach.

    When it comes to the holidays, the best thing a pet owner can do is get educated on common household toxins and pet-proof your home accordingly. If you think your pet has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 with any questions or concerns.


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