---- — Be careful how you deck your halls! The holiday season is generally a time of family togetherness in which even our pets participate. Our thoughts generally are far from thoughts of injury; however, we must be aware of some important seasonal hazards in order to insure a happy holiday season.
Ribbons and tinsel
These stringlike decorations are of special interest to playful cats and kittens that see these materials as toys (or prey) to be chased, pounced upon, chewed or swallowed. While chasing and pouncing pose no health threats, chewing and swallowing do, as these strings or “linear foreign bodies” can catch in the GI tract, leading to bunching of intestine as the body tries in vain to move the string or ribbon through. This is a life-threatening condition requiring surgery for correction. It is best to find a different material to decorate a tree because it is almost impossible to keep a curious kitten out of a tree. Avoid using string as a toy.
Electric light cords
These are also tempting to cats that like to play with string, as well as to puppies that are teething and interested in chewing. If a pet bites through an electrical cord, it could result in a severe burn to the tongue, which causes the pet’s lungs to fill with fluid, causing respiratory distress. This is also an emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.
When the snow starts flying this season, be aware that traditional rock salt can be harmful to your pet’s foot pads. The salt causes painful skin irritation between the toes and on the pads. Use a pet-safe type of rock salt or use sand or cat litter to prevent slips. If there is more than a foot of snow outdoors, do not let outdoor cats or small dogs outside unattended. They can get lost in the snowdrifts. Keep your pets away from the snowblowers when they are in use.
Many people do not realize that chocolate can be a poison. Unsweetened baking chocolate carries a much higher dose of the toxin theobromine than does milk chocolate, but even normal milk chocolate can be dangerous; a small dog sharing candy can wind up in big trouble. Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning include hyperexcitability, nervousness, vomiting, diarrhea and death.
Consuming this festive-looking plant can be irritating to the mouth and stomach of the dog or cat that chews on or eats it. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettia is not specifically toxic.
The fact that there are several types of mistletoe makes it difficult to predict the clinical signs of poisoning. Some types of mistletoe produce only stomach upset, while others may lead to liver failure or seizure. Consider mistletoe to be a hazardous substance and keep it inaccessible to pets and children.
Keep pets out of the kitchen during the hustle and bustle of the season. The last thing you want is for someone you love to get underfoot and get burned from spillage. Pet birds have been known to fly into pots of water or soup on the stove, resulting in severe burns. Birds are also vulnerable to the chemicals from super-heated Teflon pans.
We all like to include our pets in holiday meals along with the rest of the family, but try to keep in mind that sudden rich diet changes are likely to upset a pet’s stomach. Vomiting and diarrhea are not uncommon. If leftovers are of an especially fatty nature, the pancreas may become inflamed and overloaded. This condition is serious and may require hospitalization. Avoid feeding turkey skin or fat cut from steak. Onions can be poisonous to dogs, causing damage to their red blood cells. Low-calorie gum sweetened with xylitol is very poisonous for pets. Very small quantities of xylitol will cause liver failure. Birds can be poisoned with avocado and chocolate.
If you run into any problems over the holidays or have questions about something your pet has ingested, do not hesitate to call your veterinarian as soon as you witness it. Your veterinarian can determine if it is poisonous or dangerous and has a number of methods for helping animals that have ingested inappropriate items. If the item is determined to be dangerous, the method used to neutralize or remove the item will be decided based on what your pet ingested to save your pet with the least amount of discomfort and invasiveness for your pet.
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem (www.creaturehealth.com). She is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Email your pet questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”