Pets love the holidays. I mean, what’s not to love? Turkey at Thanksgiving, brisket at Hanukkah, ham at Christmas, pot roast at New Year’s and a seemingly never-ending stream of guests that generously – and covertly – sneak treats under the table.
It truly is the season of giving.
However, unless your houseguests are pet owners too, they may be unknowingly creating a toxic environment for your pet. Couple that with ongoing activities and constant distractions, we can easily overlook potential dangers to our four-legged family members.
Short of 24/7 supervision, your next best defense to ensure your pet’s safety is to take precautions that minimize or eliminate the risks. Being aware of these top eight dangers could save you a trip to the veterinary emergency room.
Lights and Candles
Twinkling, shiny and dangling holiday lights — so pretty… — can cause electrical shocks or burns when a pet chomps down on an electrical cord. Check your holiday lights from your pet’s perspective (get down on the floor) and look for signs of wear.
Candles should never be left unattended and should be placed well out of reach of a careless tail or a curious kitty to prevent house fires and burns.
Ornaments and Tinsel
Bright and colorful tree ornaments and tinsel are very attractive to pets, particularly cats. The shiny, dangling decoration reflects light and can move in the slightest draft — appearing to come alive to curious critters – but they are loaded with hazards:
- Some ornaments may be lethal depending upon the materials or chemicals used to create them.
- While not toxic, tinsel can twist and bunch inside your pet’s intestines, causing serious injury and requiring immediate veterinary care (sometimes surgery!).
- Traditional wire hooks can snag an ear or swishing tail and can lodge in your pet’s throat or intestines if swallowed.
Similarly, glass, aluminum and other fragile ornaments should be placed high out of reach. Broken pieces form sharp edges that create a choking hazard and may cut your pet’s mouth, throat and intestines.
Lilies, Christmas or otherwise, are just about the most deadly plant you can bring into the house, as far as your pets are concerned. This is especially true for cats – just a couple bites of lily will destroy the kidneys of a cat and send them into renal failure. Usually they die within 24 to 72 hours.
Holly, commonly found during the Christmas season, contains potentially toxic substances (including saponins, methylxanthines, and cyanogens) that can upset pet’s stomachs causing vomiting, diarrhea and depression. The spiny leaves can hurt too, causing dogs and cats to lip smack, drool, and head shake excessively from getting poked in the mouth and throat.
Most of us hang mistletoe high enough so it’s out of reach of our pets – nevertheless, mistletoe contains multiple substances that are toxic to both dogs and cats. These substances can cause significant vomiting and diarrhea, and if ingested in large amounts, collapse, hypotension, ataxia (walking drunk), seizures and death have also been reported.
Thankfully, American mistletoe is less toxic than the European varieties of it, but that doesn’t mean you should be any less cautious.
Poinsettias can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and sometimes vomiting. Though they have a bad rap, poinsettia plants are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs.
There is no antidote for poinsettia poisoning. That said, due to the low level of toxicity seen with poinsettia ingestion, medical treatment is rarely necessary unless clinical signs are severe.
However, if the plant has been treated with a pesticide (as many are), your pet could be at risk of becoming ill from ingesting the pesticide. The size of your pet and the amount of ingested plant material will be the determining factors for the severity of the poisoning. Young animals — puppies and kittens — are at the highest risk. Severe reactions to the plant or to the pesticide it has been treated with include seizures, coma, and in some cases, death.
The Christmas Tree
Many people are surprised to find out that the tree itself is actually mildly toxic. Tree needles also can obstruct or puncture the gastrointestinal tract.
On top of that, the preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents we add to the water to keep the tree alive indoors can wreck havoc. Be sure to cover or block access to the tree’s water to be safe.
And, or course, pets can be injured by falling trees, especially if you have a cat.
To a cat, a decorated tree is like a gigantic toy! And veteran cat owners can tell you, the odds of all your ornaments surviving the season are not in your favor – unless you take some precautions:
- Place ornaments that are sentimental or more expensive higher up on the tree with strong hooks so your cat won’t knock those ones off as easily.
- Consider placing the tree on an elevated stand if it’s short using a milk carton or box.
- Secure your tree using fishing line and some hooks placed in the wall or ceiling.
In all seriousness, some cats don’t care and will just sniff the tree and have nothing more to do with it. You may even have some great photo opportunities of your cat snoozing among a pile of gifts under the tree and looking unbearably cute.
No holiday post would be complete without mentioning chocolate.
How many times have you heard, “Chocolate is toxic to dogs”? About 4,560,235,642,346, right?
Well, it’s still true.
The ingredient in chocolate that causes the toxicity is theobromine. Theobromine causes the release of norepinephrine and epinephrine that cause an increase in the dog’s heart rate and can cause arrhythmias (their hearts skip a beat, and not in a good way).
The levels of theobromine vary depending on the type of chocolate – white chocolate has least while baking chocolate has the most – and there are factors like size and weight to consider when calculating toxicity (It’s all very scientific. To make it easy on yourself, check out PetMD’s Chocolate Toxicity Calculator and call your vet right away if you dog gets his paws on any cocoa-flavored treats).