Pet-Proof Your Holidays

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Nov 20, 2009 11:49 AM
Dana Chaulk photo.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be stressful and sometimes dangerous for pets. Canada's veterinarians would like to remind pet owners that it's important to keep a close eye on their animals during this busy time of year.

"Encounters with strangers, bright Christmas lights, potentially toxic chocolate treats and fatty table scraps are just a few holiday dangers a pet may encounter," says Dr. Julie de Moissac, President-Elect of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). "Many common Christmas plants are also hazardous to pets. It's important to be prepared. Know which items are harmful and keep your pets away."

The CVMA offers the following tips for pet owners and their animals to enjoy a safe and happy holiday season:

Holiday Food & Drink

• Many pets are adept at finding food on counter tops and tables, so keep your dinner out of reach. Ask guests not to feed the pet table scraps. Avoid feeding sharp poultry bones to cats and dogs. A turkey bone can splinter and become lodged in the throat or farther down the digestive system. Ingestion of Xylitol, a low-calorie artificial sweetener found in commercially baked goods, can lead to liver injury or even liver failure. Chocolate can also be toxic to animals. All foods containing chocolate should be safely stored in areas inaccessible to pets.

• Alcohol is a dangerous substance for pets. Dogs in particular may be attracted to alcoholic beverages, so keep drinks and bottles out of reach at all times. Signs of alcohol intoxication in pets may include vomiting, wobbly gait, depression, disorientation and/or hypothermia. If alcohol ingestion is suspected, bring your pet to see a veterinarian immediately.

Christmas Trees

• Christmas trees, with their prickly pine needles, wire hooks, shiny ribbons, and small ingestible ornaments are particularly hazardous. Christmas tree water can also be harmful to pets. Chewing on Christmas light cords could shock, burn or electrocute a pet. Tinsel, which is sparkly and especially attractive to pets, can cause blockages in their intestines, leading to an emergency trip to the veterinarian's office.

Hazardous Plants

• Holly: This ornamental plant is a common Christmas fixture and ingestion is most commonly associated with signs of digestive upset and nervous system depression. They have some of the same toxic components as chocolate (caffeine, theobromine).

• Mistletoe: The American mistletoe produces quite severe irritation of the digestive tract, as well as whole body symptoms including low heart rate and temperature, difficulty breathing, unsteadiness, excess thirst and sometimes seizures, coma and even death.

• Poinsettia: These are members of the spurge family. The ingestion of the leaves generally results in mild to moderate digestive upsets. Signs include excess saliva, vomiting and diarrhea.

Don't Delay a Trip to the Vet

If you suspect your pet has chewed or eaten something unusual, call your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait until the end of a weekend, or overnight, for regular office hours. Some toxins can damage internal organs and may cause significant (and perhaps irreversible) injury in a short time frame.