The holiday season is time for friends and family. Many holiday gatherings are not complete unless our four legged companions are counted as well. With new people and places, the chance for your pet to be exposed to a toxic substance also increases. This short guide is to help inform you of some common household hazards that your pet may be exposed to around the holiday season.
Food is abundant around the table when we gather for the holidays. There are some important ingredients and foods that you should be aware of before setting the table for dinner. Alcoholic beverages can be quite toxic to dogs and cats, especially small dog breeds like Chihuahuas. Puppies and kittens are also common culprits because they are curious and fearless. A few sips of wine can cause severe lethargy, a very upset stomach, and even death. Tasty treats made with large amounts of sugar, fat, or salt can cause major stomach upset and even lead to pancreatitis (vomiting, diarrhea, and hospitalization at the veterinarian). It is very important to make sure your guests know that it is NOT appropriate to feed your pet table scraps and random food! Chocolate is readily available at the end of the year. Chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, high body temperature, and even death. Milk chocolate is generally mild and will only cause an upset stomach. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate is highly toxic and even a small amount can be fatal.
Decorating a Christmas tree is an annual tradition for many families. It is important that you “pet proof” your tree to ensure that they are out of harms way. The “fertilizer” that is mixed into the water that a Christmas tree drinks is not suitable for dogs and cats. The tree stand should be designed in a way to prevent your pets from drinking the water. These compounds can cause stomach irritation and toxicities if enough is consumed. Electric cords that plug into the wall should be hidden. Cats are particularly inquisitive and can easily be electrocuted with a quick sampling of the wire. Ribbons and tinsel are pretty on a Christmas tree but can easily become caught in your pets (especially cats) intestinal tract and cause an obstruction. The following plants can cause stomach irritation and nausea: holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias. Any flower arrangements with lilies should not be in your home because even a small amount ingested by a cat can cause kidney failure. Poinsettia plants have been commonly viewed as highly toxic to dogs and cats. Accidental ingestion of a few leaves generally will cause an upset stomach and some vomiting in dogs in cats. If your dog or cat is guilty of sampling your plants, it may be a good idea to skip this festive addition for the season.
Finally, cold weather brings on the use of antifreeze. Antifreeze is HIGHLY toxic to dogs and cats and can cause liver and/or kidney failure. Less than a teaspoon is fatal to cats and only four teaspoons is needed to kill a ten pound dog. Antifreeze has a sweet taste to dogs and cats, which is why ingestion is relatively common.
Take time to plan your holiday season with your friends, loved ones, AND your pets!
Dr. Jay E. Hreiz, Ebenezer Animal Hospital