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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Hazards

We're less than two weeks away from Christmas, which makes it an appropriate time to talk about the potentially harmful things that pets can be exposed to during this season. Though most people don't willingly set out to harm their dogs and cats, there are some dangers to be aware of and to try to avoid.

Tinsel--Cats are at the biggest risk with this traditional Christmas decoration. If they swallow a strand, there is a risk of it becoming entangled inside the small intestine. It can bunch up and draw together like the string in a curtain, and eventually begin to saw through the intestine. Obviously, this is a life-threatening problem, requiring emergency surgery. I recommend that anyone with cats in their home simply avoid using tinsel.

Chocolate--Holiday candies are often made of this ingredient, and it can be potentially toxic. The main ingredient of concern is theobromine, which is related to caffeine. Toxicity is entirely dependent on the type of chocolate and the size of the pet. Baker's unsweetened chocolate is the worst, and milk chocolate isn't as bad as dark. Small pets require less chocolate to cause problems than larger ones. A lab could eat a whole Hershey's bar and likely not even have much diarrhea, while a chihuahua would be in a very serious situation. Be careful with your treats and Christmas cookies.

Poinsettia--I've included this common holiday plant because there is a wide-spread belief that it's very poisonous. However, this is mostly untrue. The sap of the plant can be irritating, causing discomfort in the mouth and vomiting if enough is eaten. However, it is not truly dangerous, and usually doesn't require any treatment.

Holly--Holly berries, on the other hand, can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes leading to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Though not deadly, they can cause some serious gastrointestinal upset.

Home Cooking--Family usually comes over for the holidays, bringing food or joining meals. Pets sometimes are given scraps and leftovers, especially bones from the ham or turkeys. I've already blogged on the dangers of people-food, so I'll just remind everyone that these things are bad for your pets. Bones can cause GI obstruction and irritation. Scraps, even in small amounts, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis. Simply avoid the temptation of giving these to your dogs and cats.

Electrical Cords--Both dogs and cats like to chew on things, and electrical cords are a favorite choice. With all of the extra lights we hang up around Christmas, this means extra cords. Watch them for tooth marks to warn you if your pets are chewing on them. Getting to the wires can cause severe electrical burns and damage.

Christmas Trees--Watch your cats for climbing in them, and watch all pets for knocking ornaments off. Trees can fall over, so make sure they are stable and well secured to prevent damage and injuries. Pieces of ornaments can cause damage or obstructions if ingested, and broken ornaments (especially glass ones) can be dangerous to step on.

With a few precaution, your pets can have a safe and fun holiday just like the rest of the family.