East End Veterinary Center’s emergency department treats a high volume of emergencies during the holiday season. Seasonal decorations, food, and activities can tempt curious pets to break the rules and land themselves in the emergency room. Prevent an unplanned veterinary visit by avoiding these 10 holiday hazards:
If you are serving wine, beer, or cocktails at your holiday gathering, ensure drinks are not placed where your pet can lap from an abandoned cup or spilled drink. Alcohol affects pets similarly to people who overindulge, and can cause clinical signs that include:
Alcohol toxicity can cause death if your pet drinks a large amount, so keep all adult beverages out of reach.
Chocolate is one of the most common food toxicities treated in our emergency room during the holiday season. Most people are aware that chocolate can make animals sick, but mischievous pets find ways to sniff it out. Dark chocolate, including baking chocolate, contains a higher toxin concentration than milk chocolate, and small amounts can cause toxicity. If you think your pet has ingested chocolate, or any toxic food, call your family veterinarian immediately, as treatment is most successful if administered after only a few hours of ingestion.
#3: Christmas Tree water
Water used to keep your Christmas tree hydrated can be contaminated with fertilizers, additives, and dangerous bacteria. Never add chemicals, such as bleach or tree fresheners, to your tree water, and prevent your pet from drinking by covering the tree stand and placing deterrents, such as citrus scents, nearby.
If your pet slips through an open door during a holiday party, or a well-meaning houseguest lets him outside, he may escape from your yard and get lost, or hit by a car and suffer life-threatening injuries. If your pet is likely to escape, keep him safely behind a closed door while guests are arriving.
Loud noises from noise makers and fireworks during New Year’s Eve celebrations can frighten nervous pets and make them bolt. If your pet is sensitive to loud sounds, ring in the new year quietly with a few friends to help him stay calm.
#5: Fatty Foods
It is natural to spoil your pet over the holidays, but don’t do so by sharing your rich holiday meal. Fatty meat trimmings, gravy, and other rich foods can activate pancreatic enzymes to cause severe pancreatitis, with vomiting, abdominal pain, significant dehydration, and systemic life-threatening effects that can land your pet in the hospital. If you want to share your holiday meal with your pet, stick to a few bites of lean white meat, sweet potato, or fresh vegetables.
#6: Foreign Bodies
Foreign bodies may include items such as bones, toys, balls, rocks, string, and Christmas tree tinsel, that curious pets ingest. Small foreign bodies may be able to pass through your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract without problems, but larger items can become lodged and cause a life-threatening obstruction that requires emergency surgery. Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, gift packaging, and small toy pieces could end up in your pet’s mouth, so keep small items out of reach, and clean up Christmas morning trash immediately. Keep all waste baskets behind closed doors, so your pet doesn’t sneak into the trash while you are distracted. Also, never give your pet a bone as a treat.
Fresh greenery may add holiday cheer to your home, but common Christmas plants, such as mistletoe, pine, and holly, are toxic to pets, and can be dangerous if your pet eats the leaves, flowers, or berries. Poinsettias, often believed to be highly poisonous, cause only mild GI irritation. If your pet is mischievous and often gets into trouble, skip the fresh greenery and opt for artificial arrangements and garland.
According to the ASPCA’s animal poison control center, human medications are the most common cause of pet toxicity. Keep all prescription and over-the-counter medications stored safely out of your pet’s reach, and ask houseguests to do the same. If you are hosting overnight guests, ask them to keep their bedroom door closed, and point out the life-threatening dangers that medication ingestion can cause your pet.
Low-hanging ornaments may be too tempting for your pet to ignore, and despite repeated warnings, a cat paw or wagging tail may knock your favorite ornament off the tree. Small ornaments could be chewed up or eaten, or a broken glass ornament could badly cut your pet and require stitches. Place all breakable ornaments safely on higher branches, and don’t place homemade ornaments, such as those made of salt dough, where pets can eat them.
Christmas tree tinsel is notoriously dangerous for pets—especially cats, who are known for eating string-like objects. Inside a cat’s GI tract, the intestines can bunch up around the strands of tinsel, creating an obstruction and possible perforation. Pets who suffer these life-threatening consequences require emergency surgery and potential bowel resection. If you have a cat, skip the tinsel, and keep other thread-like materials out of reach.
We hope you have a happy and safe holiday with your four-legged friend. However, if despite your best efforts, you think he has put himself in an emergency situation, call your family veterinarian or contact EEVC immediately.