Holiday Hazards

The holiday season brings merry festivities to our homes and often brings new people, plants, foods, and decorations which warm our hearts (and our bellies!) but can also pose threats to our canine and feline family members.  Additionally, the hub-bub of all the visitors can disrupt the routine of your furry friends and they may react to these changes by acting out in ways they wouldn’t normally behave. To keep every happy and safe this holiday season, keep note of these helpful hints.

Christmas trees make our home full of holiday cheer, but there are a couple of things to watch out for when you begin decorating for the season.  A live tree can quickly become dry and become a fire hazard, especially when mixed with electrical cords for the lights. Always keep your live tree well watered, and unplug all lights when you’re not at home. Chewing on cords and strings of lights can also lead to electrocution and cause burns to the mouth and tongue.  Also, ingestion of the dropped needles from a dry tree can cause additional problems. The needles themselves are not harmful or toxic, but can be irritating to the mouth and stomach and if large quantities are consumed, can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction.

One of the most potentially dangerous things you can have on your tree around the holidays is tinsel.  The glittery shiny strands are very attractive to pets (especially cats!) and if consumed, can lead to a dangerous intestinal obstruction which requires surgical removal.  If your dog or cat likes to tangle themselves up in your tree, sniff things out or pull off ornaments, it’s always a good idea to keep tempting ornaments higher up on the branches, out of their reach.

Candles are a staple for both Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, and definitely add a special ambiance to the festivities. Just be sure to keep them monitored at all times, to avoid potential fires, and also so that our furry friends don’t knock them over or burn themselves.

As with all times of the year, dietary indiscretion can be problematic for our pets.  Especially around the holidays there are large amounts of chocolate and baking.  The component of chocolate which is toxic is theobromine. This can be deadly to both dogs and cats and causes heart arrhythmias and death. Levels of theobromine vary in different types of chocolate so contact your vet right away if your pet eats chocolate to determine the best course of action for treatment.

The yummy food that everyone cooks up at this time of year can also be tempting to our pets. There tends to be a higher incidence of “garbage” ingestion around the holidays.  While most of the food isn’t necessarily harmful, fatty scraps and bones can be problematic, causing vomiting, diarrhea, or perforating the intestines.  Also, family members may not realize that those “treats” they are sneaking your pet under the table can exacerbate allergies or conditions like pancreatitis.

Poinsettias, holly and mistletoe are common holiday plants that adorn our homes around the holidays.  The poinsettia leaves cause indigestion if consumed in small amounts. The sap in the leaves causes discomfort and indigestion and the side effects include nausea and vomiting. While that in itself is unpleasant, it takes a hefty amount of poinsettia leaves to put your pet into an emergency state. With that said, try and keep poinsettias out of reach to avoid any worry. Holly and mistletoe both have leaves and berries, and in fact have a higher toxicity level than the poinsettia. If you notice your dog or cat has ingested mistletoe or holly, their symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive drooling and intestinal upset. In addition, mistletoe will also cause your pet’s blood pressure to drop severely and cause heart and breathing problems.

When it comes to introducing new decorations and plants to your home this holiday season – play it safe! There are plenty of artificial alternatives that look identical to the real thing. Introduce a pet friendly way of decorating this holiday season and free your mind of any worry that could ruin the holiday fun!