Holiday Pet Dangers

It’s that time of year: the halls are decked, the roast is on the table, the sweets are in stockings, guests are arriving. These festive elements can pose dangers — some hidden and some in plain sight — for our pets. Take some precautions and your furry family members will have a happy holiday season, minus trips to the emergency vet.

Shiny, colorful adornments are a staple of the holiday home and can also be hazardous to animals. Pet owners need to be aware of what can potentially cause problems. Christmas trees, for one, can tip over if pets climb on them or try to play with the lights and ornaments.

Consider tying your tree to the ceiling or a door frame using fishing line to secure it. Also, do not add anything to the tree water and in general, you should keep your pets away from it as it may contain fertilizers or bacteria that could give your pet nausea or diarrhea if they drink it.

Ornaments can be hazardous — if broken, they can cause injuries to your pet’s mouth and digestive tract, and ingested ornaments can cause intestinal blockage or toxicity. Tinsel and other holiday decorations also can be tempting for pets to eat. Consuming them can cause severe vomiting, dehydration and intestinal blockages, sometimes requiring surgery.

Any wire can deliver burns or a potentially lethal electrical shock and anything with batteries should be kept out of reach. A punctured battery can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus. Unplug decorations while you’re not home in case your pet is tempted to chew electrical cords.

Flowers and festive plants can result in an emergency veterinary visit if your pet gets hold of them. Amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar and holly are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets who decide to eat them and can cause pets to suffer nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. Many varieties of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous but can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and sometimes vomiting if a large quantity has been consumed.

Lighted candles should never be left unattended. Pets may burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over. Be sure to use appropriate candle holders, placed on a stable surface. And if you leave the room, put the candle out.

Tasty holiday meals and other goodies are delicious to humans — and pets. Unfortunately, our pets’ digestive systems are built very differently and the foods we love can make animals very sick. At the top of the list of foods to keep from your pet is chocolate.

“Baking chocolate or the good chocolate your friends give you that you put under the tree has theobromine,” said Dr. Ashton Kane, a veterinarian at Westside Animal Hospital in Keene.

Theobromine is a chemical in chocolate that when your pet ingests it in large amounts (depending on their size) can produce muscle tremors, seizures, irregular heartbeat, internal bleeding or heart attack. The onset of theobromine poisoning is usually marked by severe hyperactivity, but Dr. Kane said don’t wait until you see signs in your pet.

“Contact your vet right away and get (your pet) to vomit right away,” she said. “Your pet may have to be hospitalized depending on the amount (ingested). You can call (Animal) Poison Control and they’ll give you more detailed information.”

Other sweets and baked goods also should be kept out of reach. Not only are they often too rich for pets, but an artificial sweetener called xylitol, often found in baked goods, candy and chewing gum, has been linked to liver failure and death in dogs.

“Little dogs (especially) get into trouble even if they only ingest a little amount of xylitol,” said Kane.

Stay away from feeding your pet table scraps, which can be very difficult to digest. Any type of rich, fatty meat fed to your pet during the holiday season can cause a life-threatening condition know as pancreatitis. The same goes for onions, raisins and grapes — which pets can’t digest well.

“Most dogs are on a restrictive menu most of the time and all of a sudden you give them fatty meats — it’s going to cause problems,” said Kane.

Cooked meat bones should be on the list of do-not-feed items.

“Ham bones (for instance) are so processed — pets can really chew and eat them,” said Kane. “They cause horrible constipation.”

Other food and beverage items to keep away from pets are yeast dough, which can cause painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating in pets, and alcoholic beverages, which if ingested could cause your pet to become weak, ill and even go into a coma, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure.

If you want to keep your pet busy while you’re cooking and eating the holiday meal, give them chew toys that are basically indestructible, like a rubber Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter or yogurt or other chew treats designed to be safely digestible. Also make sure all of your medications are locked behind secure doors and be sure to tell your guests to keep their meds zipped up and packed away, too.

Keeping your pets happy while you are hosting parties and visitors during the holiday season can be achieved with a few simple adjustments. Pets that are nervous around visitors should be put it in another room or a crate with fresh water and a favorite toy, away from the commotion so they can retreat when they want.

Make sure your pet has proper identification with your current contact information — ideally a microchip with up-to-date registered information. That way, if they do sneak out, they’re more likely to be returned to you.

Clear the party food from your table, counters and serving areas when guests are done eating — and make sure the trash gets put where your pet can’t reach it.

It’s always a good idea to be prepared. Always keep your veterinarian’s clinic phone number, the emergency veterinarian’s phone number and the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline number (888-426-4435) handy in case of emergencies. If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately.

Above all, Kane recommends business as usual for your pets during the holidays.

“Make sure they get regular exercise. Try to keep their routine as much as possible,” she said.