ANIMAL BYTES: Keeping Pets Safe During the Holidays

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By STEPHANIE OBA, DVM
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on December 23, 2010)

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Wow, it’s December already! It’s time to get ready for festivities of the holiday season. This is also a time for giving, but there are some things that you should not share with your pets. A little prevention and planning will make your holidays happier.

What are the most common holiday hazards?

We see many curious pets get into trouble. Cats and dogs like to put things into their mouths. This is the way they explore the world. However, there are many things that we have out during the holidays that can be dangerous to them.

Ribbon and any other string-like objects can cause obstructions in your pet’s intestine. Keep wrappings out of reach. Many times surgery is needed to correct the problem, and it can be fatal when untreated.

Christmas trees are pretty, but they can be the center of problems. With a live tree, make sure your pet doesn’t drink from the water well. The standing water contains bacteria that may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. If there are additives to the water, they can poison your pet.

Many cats love to climb the Christmas tree — always a difficult task to prevent. You may have to block their access to the room. Often, adding an obstacle by the tree is enough.

Even dogs, especially puppies, will want to chew on the tree. Again, a barrier around the tree should suffice. Electric cords for all the holiday lighting should also be kept away from curious pets. Just as any other electric cord in your house, it can cause electrocution if chewed on.

Are there any holiday plants that can be dangerous if ingested?

Mistletoe can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, neurological disorders, and even death. The effects can take several hours to be visible. If you suspect that your pet ate this, call your vet immediately.

Holly is another common decorative plant that can cause problems. Usually intestinal upset is the result. Poinsettias have a reputation of being deadly. However, research has not been able to prove this. Pets do experience upset stomachs and severe inflammation of the throat and mouth. While not necessarily deadly, it can be very uncomfortable.

Christmas tree pine needles can puncture their intestines. Monitor the area around the holiday tree frequently.

What about holiday foods?

Sweets and baked goods that come with the holidays can be dangerous to pets. Chocolate remains the number one culprit, causing pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, and seizures. Dark chocolate is the worst, as it contains the most toxins, theobromine and caffeine. White chocolate is the least dangerous and milk chocolate is in between. If you suspect that your pet ate chocolate, call your vet immediately.

Discourage any well-meaning guest from spoiling your pet with a hand out from their plate. Chicken and other soft bones can splinter and cause perforations in your pet’s intestinal tract. The harder bones can fracture teeth or get lodged in the throat, stomach, or intestinal tract. Feeding fatty or rich foods can cause pancreatitis as well.

Are there any other things to consider?

The excitement of guests can be stressful on some pets. Watch out for sneaky pets that dart out of open doors. Make sure your pet has an updated ID tag on its collar.

Remind guests that the excitement and stress may be overwhelming for your pet and that a normally friendly dog might not be willing to deal with enthusiastic children or unfamiliar people. Consider providing a quiet room with a blanket and water for your pet to retreat to if needed.

Too often a pet is given as the gift. I strongly advise against this. A pet is a commitment that can last more than 10 years. The potential pet owner really needs to do some research and meet their future companion before making adoption plans.

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Stephanie Oba is a contributing writer and physician for animals in  Alhambra. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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