Holidays can be hazardous for your pets
November 27, 2015
The holidays are a time of excitement and fun as family and friends gather for season's greetings, meals and gifts. Unfortunately, it can also be a time of stress for many family pets when their daily routines change, holiday decorations alter the home, visitors arrive and unfamiliar activities occur. Added to this is the fact that some holiday decorations, ornaments, plants and foods can be health hazards for pets. Understanding some of the common holiday risks and taking steps to avoid problems can help to ensure pet safety and happiness during this busy time.
When decorating your home, take steps that ensure pet safety by preventing access to electrical cords, ribbons, strings, tinsel and small ornaments. Chewing a plugged-in electrical cord could result in electrical burns, shock or even death; ingesting parts of an electrical cord, ribbons, tinsel or ornaments could result in stomach or intestinal problems. Once ingested, the problem may be minor, resulting in irritation and limited vomiting followed by a rapid recovery — or the problem could be major, requiring surgery to remove the ingested object. In addition to potential digestive tract injury, some ornaments contain toxic materials.
Toxicity can also occur from ingestion of certain holiday-season plants. These plants include the poinsettia, lilies, holly and mistletoe. Poinsettia is now considered to be only mildly toxic; therefore, it is much less of a concern than other common holiday season plants. One or two bites of lily, often used in holiday bouquets, can result in kidney failure in cats. Some authorities even feel that the water in the flower vase containing lilies can be toxic. Christmas and English holly have spiny leaves that can upset the digestive tract and they contain potentially toxic compounds. The Japanese Yew, used for wreaths, contains a toxic compound that can cause dizziness, abnormal heart rate, coma and even death.
While not a holiday-season plant, pet exposure to marijuana has also increased. Dogs and cats can be intoxicated through ingestion of marijuana, marijuana-containing products or by secondhand smoke. Signs of intoxication are generally seen within three hours and can include an unsteady gait, severe depression, coma, low heart rate, hyperactivity and seizures. The effects on pets are not fully understood, but they appear to be more sensitive to the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana's active ingredient. Since emergency room visits for intoxicated pets have been rising, caution should be used to prevent accidental exposure or ingestion.
Keep in mind that some holiday foods can cause a simple digestive upset because the pet is not used to them. Other foods are not safe for pets. Avoid chocolate and cocoa. They contain a chemical that is considered to be highly toxic to dogs and cats. Sugarless gums and candies that contain the sweetener xylitol should be avoided. Xylitol can cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
Fatty leftovers may increase the potential for developing pancreatitis leading to abdominal pain, vomitin, and diarrhea. Undercooked foods or foods that have been allowed to sit for extended periods may provide the opportunity for bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli to grow. These organisms have the potential to cause food poisoning or bacterial contamination resulting in severe intestinal problems and illness.
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According to Colorado State University Extension, when the room temperature is less than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, food should not be left out for more than two hours and cooked leftovers should be used within four days. Onions and garlic pose a danger. Cats are more sensitive than dogs, and depending on the amount ingested and the sensitivity of the individual, damage to red blood cells can occur along with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It is best to be cautious and keep your pets on their regular foods even though it is tempting to give them treats.
Ice-melt products can cause contact skin irritation and digestive upset when small amounts are ingested. Ingesting larger amounts may lead to salt poisoning, vomiting and seizures.
It is important to recognize that this season can be stressful to pets. Take time to maintain their normal routines. Spend as much time with them as possible. Consider using stress-relieving products like Rescue Remedy for dogs and cats or products containing appeasing pheromones like Feliway for cats or Adaptil for dogs.
Have an enjoyable holiday season. Spend quality time with your pets and make your holidays pet safe. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.