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Pet Education

Holiday Safety Tips for Pets

Happy Holidays to you and yours! Along with the excitement and merriment of the holidays come possible dangers for your pet. The following guidelines will help you make your home a safe haven for your pet this holiday season.

Plants and Holiday Decorations

Although beautiful, the hazards of holiday decorations are numerous. Be a responsible pet owner and take certain precautions to prevent unnecessary holiday mishaps.

  • Many holiday plants are poisonous. Holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, many forms of lilies…these are just a few of the more common poisonous plants. Some plants may cause vomiting and diarrhea, while others can cause organ failure and death. Ask your veterinarian if you have specific questions, but a good rule of thumb, is keep pets away from all holiday plants or opt for imitation plants!

  • Although a holiday tree is not poisonous, it still poses a hazard. It is important to prevent your pet from chewing on a live or artificial tree as the needles are sharp and can irritate the mouth and digestive tract if eaten. The needles are also indigestible and could be painful for your pet to pass. If it is difficult to keep your pet away from the tree, place a pet barrier or child's playpen around the tree to prevent the ingestion of needles as well as your pet from drinking the tree water. Also avoid using any artificial snow sprays or scents on your tree.

  • Prevent ingestion of tree water. Use a tree skirt as well as the barricade discussed above to prevent access to this water. It often contains preservatives which are sugar based and very inviting to pets as well as other toxic chemicals (fertilizers, insecticides and flame retardants) that were used on the tree.

  • Do not decorate the tree with food! Many a holiday tree has been pulled down in a pets attempt to eat the decorations made of popcorn, candy canes and gingerbread. This can damage the tree and decorations, as well as cause your pet stomach upset and possibly obstruction, necessitating surgery.

  • Secure your holiday tree to the wall. Or the ceiling…or be creative! In the event your pet does jump on the tree or tries to pull something off the tree, the tree will remain upright and not injure your pet by falling.

  • Avoid glass ornaments on the tree. Pets will often play with ornaments and as glass breaks easily, severe cuts and injuries to the mouth, esophagus and paw pads may occur. If glass ornaments are a must, then place them high on the tree where your pet cannot reach them.

  • Keep holiday lights high on the tree. Some lights can overheat and burn pets. Other inquisitive pets can pull the lights off the tree and become entangled in the wires. Chewing on wires can cause problems ranging from burned mouths to death by electrocution. Make sure to place ALL wires out of reach.

  • No tinsel or angel hair! These items are particularly attractive to cats. When it is eaten, it can cause blockages which often require surgery to remove.

  • Decorate packages sparingly. Although ribbons and string make your holiday packages look festive, they pose significant dangers to pets. These items can be ingested and cause intestinal obstruction which requires surgery to remove. Do not place ribbons or decorations around your pet's neck or on their collars. Although it may look great, they are at risk of choking or strangling.

  • Burn Hazards. Keep candles and potpourri pots up high where your pet will not reach them. Cats often seek the heat and light from candles even up high, so avoid candles altogether in cat households.

Holiday Fare

Many holiday foods can be dangerous for your pet. No need to forego your favorite holiday goodies, just be careful what your pet is given….or tries to steal! Feed your pet a high quality natural pet food before any festivities. This excellent nutrition helps your pet feel more satiated and they are not as likely to beg or steal food from partygoers. As a safeguard, inform all friends and family that your pets are not to be fed any of the holiday fare. Special notes must be made about the following food hazards:

  • Avoid chocolate. Especially dark or baking chocolate, but all chocolate should be avoided. There are toxins present in chocolate which can cause problems ranging from mild stomach upset to seizures and death. Keep all chocolate out of pet's reach.

  • Avoid alcohol. Many pets are attracted to the sweet drinks made during the holiday, especially those containing egg nog. Clean up all glasses and don't leave bottles on the counter without tops. Pets can die after a single bout of alcohol consumption.

  • Avoid rich fatty foods. These foods can cause your pet mild stomach irritation to a severe condition known as pancreatitis, which often requires hospitalization and can be fatal.

  • Uncooked dough. Dough can expand and produce gas in the stomach which can cause bloat, severe pain and possible rupture of the digestive system. If you are leaving dough out to rise, keep your pet out of that room.

  • Fruits and nuts. Avoid grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts as they can cause problems ranging from digestive upset to organ failure and death.

  • Wrappers, aluminum foil, etc. Pets have an excellent sense of smell and will sniff out wrappers or packages that contain traces of food. Wrappers are often unable to pass and will cause obstructions that require surgery to remove. Keep your countertops clean and take your trash out frequently (into a securely locked area).

Pet Gifts

Some well-intentioned gift-givers may not recognize that toys with small parts or certain rawhide chews or treats are dangerous or unhealthy for pets.

  • Examine all holiday gifts to make sure they are safe. Avoid giving your pet small toys or toys with small parts that could be chewed off. Avoid toys with squeakers or rattles inside because some pets will tear these toys apart and eat the center, possibly causing intestinal obstruction.

  • Avoid non-nutritious treats. Read the label for ingredients before giving your pet a new treat. Many commercially available treats are poorly nutritious and filled with or coated with carbohydrates, sugars (e.g. corn syrup, molasses, fructose, etc), artificial colorings or flavorings and do nothing to satisfy hunger. Be wary of very colorful treats or bones with a sticky gooey coating…they are probably loaded with "empty" ingredients to make them desirable to your pet, but have very little nutritional value. In fact, they are likely to contribute to the problem of pet obesity.

  • Choose high quality all natural pet treats to insure optimum health for your pet during this busy season.

  • Do NOT give a pet as a gift. Although this seems like the perfect festive gift, it should be avoided. The holidays are not ideal for introducing a new pet into a family. New pets require a stable environment and plenty of extra attention and time to bond with their new family. The bustle and travel associated with the holidays does not provide the sort of environment a new pet needs to succeed with a new family. If a new pet is part of the family plan, give a variety of pet toys or books on pet care.

The holidays are both a wonderful and a stressful time. The constant stream of visitors, parties and travelling can take a toll on both you and your pet. Make sure to spend quality time alone with your pet every day. This will allow you to observe your pet for any unusual behavior or symptoms, as well as to enjoy the tranquility the season can bring. Happy Holidays!

Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist who has practiced at the Animal Medical Center in New York City and other leading institutions. She is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Donna has written and lectured extensively on topics including nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney failure and respiratory disease. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets, her TV appearances with Ellen DeGeneres and her widely-quoted pet health advice in print and on radio.  Dr. Donna performs medical, nutrition and weight loss consultations for dogs and cats through her web-based veterinary consulting service, www.SpectorDVM.com.
 
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