Keeping Your Pet Safe and Healthy Around The Holidays


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Christmas cat

Cats may enjoy Christmas ornaments but be sure they don’t swallow anything. Image by Weissbier.

As the holidays approach pet owners should begin thinking about celebration-proofing their pets, particularly the young, the curious, and the perpetually hungry.

Novel items around the house and the tendency to include pets in dietary overindulgence can result in more time (and money) spent in the vet’s office than on celebrating. Here are some things that may help keep your pet healthy and happy during this season.

Food Everywhere Spells Temptation For Pets, Too

As the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas super party stretch begins, remember that overindulgence poses a serious health risk for pets. Veterinary clinics keep busy at this time of year treating digestive upsets ranging from mild cases of diarrhea and/or vomiting to pancreatitis – an inflamed pancreas.

You can often safely treat mild diarrhea at home with advice from your veterinarian. Anything more serious, such as severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting, needs professional attention to prevent dehydration and other complications – and to determine whether there is a more significant problem occurring.

For example, the symptoms of pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening, are similar to those of other digestive illnesses- vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, depression and lethargy.

For sensible treat management, try substituting vegetables such as crudités for rich foods. You might be surprised at how eager pets are for any ‘people food,’ not just the things that we humans tend to prize. And keeping your dog or cat’s weight under control during the holidays just got easier.

Chocolate, an Enticement for Everyone; A Deadly Poison for Dogs

Of all the foods that a dog might get into over the holidays, chocolate is probably the most dangerous. The theobromine found in chocolate is a cardiac muscle and central nervous system stimulant, as well as a smooth muscle relaxant. This combination can result in vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia (loss of coordination), hyperactivity and, in severe cases, hyperthermia, seizures and coma.

There is no specific treatment for theobromine poisoning but supportive care can help. Supportive care can range from inducing vomiting to get rid of the chocolate or using activated charcoal to absorb the theobromine, to intravenous fluids, muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, depending on the situation. If your pet gets into some chocolate, call your vet right away.

Tinsel, Wrapping Paper, Plants, And Other Temptations

With so many new things around the house, this a time to try to stay one step ahead of canine and feline explorers, and prevent them from getting into trouble. Animals tend to view ornaments dangling off the Christmas tree as toys but, if your pet swallows the pretty ornament, he or she can end up with intestinal problems and possibly the need for surgery.

Consider putting ornaments and tinsel above the animals’ reach, keeping your pets away from the tree by gating off the area, or even putting it, and all the presents, in a playpen. This will also prevent access to the water in the Christmas tree stand, which can be dangerous if it contains chemicals to keep the tree fresh.

The holidays can be a time of discovery but be sure your pets are safe. Image by US Government

Don’t forget that the holiday light electrical cords may tempt some dogs to chew on them. If it’s not possible to keep your pets completely separated from your tree, consider putting some bitter-tasting substance- cayenne pepper mixed with vegetable oil or one of the commercial products such as Bitter Apple- on those cords, but be aware that some dogs like these flavors, so using them doesn’t guarantee the dog won’t chew.

Poinsettias, holly and mistletoe are part of the holidays and often listed as pet poisons. The good news for poinsettia-lovers is that this plant has gotten a bad rap. It is not particularly toxic. If, however, your pet bites into it they may develop mouth irritation from the milky sap.

Holly can be mildly toxic, causing vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea if the pet eats the leaves or berries. So try to keep these two plants away from your pets – but unless they have eaten a large quantity, neither holly nor poinsettia are of major concern.

It is the last plant on the list, mistletoe, which has a justly-deserved reputation. Mistletoe is very toxic and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, shock and even death. Keep it well clear of your animals and if there is any chance your pet has ingested mistletoe- get veterinary help right away.

Make Sure Your Pet Has An Escape When Needed

With all the activity around the house, it’s easy to forget that your pet may need a break. Set up a room or a corner of a room far from the busiest part of the house to help him escape. If you notice your puppy or kitten getting tired or trying to get away from all the attention, take him to his special place where some of his favorite things- bed, blanket, chew toys, etc.- are waiting. Most likely he will just fall asleep, but having familiar things around him may help him relax.

Older pets need access to quiet places as well. They may not need all the extras but having their beds or crates in a ‘no-go zone’ where guests won’t intrude allows them to sneak off when they need to do so. Some dogs will happily fall asleep in the middle of chaos. That’s fine, as long as it was his choice. But be sure your guests understand that they should not disturb pets in their ‘quiet place.’

An Ounce of Prevention Makes For a Happy Holiday

To avoid spending your time in the vet’s office, be diligent about keeping novelties — trees, plants, and decorations — out of animal reach. Be sure to coach your guests not to give your pet too many treats, particularly fatty foods, and remind them of the dangers of chocolate poisoning. Let friends and family know of any special health issues your dog or cat may have that would make ‘just a little extra something’ a real health problem for that animal.

Then, the only thing left to do is enjoy the company of your pets during the holiday season.

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