Holiday Hazards

The holidays can pose special risks to our four legged friends and keeping them safe with everything else that’s going on can pose some special problems. Even if you don’t have a pet you may be visiting someone who does and you don’t want to inadvertently injure their animals. Some common holiday foods, decorations and plants can seriously hurt and sometimes even kill pets.

The first thing most people think of is the poinsettia plant. For over one hundred years this flower has been alleged to be toxic to animals. Surprisingly, it’s not true. Ingestion of poinsettias can cause mild to moderate GI upset and diarrhea but it is not the deadly toxin that most people think it is. However, mistletoe or holly berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, incoordination, cardiac irregularities, difficulty breathing, seizures, coma and even death.

Silica gel packs, commonly found in vitamin bottles, leather goods and a few other products with the big warning, “DESSICANT- DO NOT EAT” are not as toxic as you would assume. Silica is used in some cat litters as a moisture absorber. It may cause stomach upset with the ingestion of large amounts and in small dogs and cats could possibly cause an intestinal blockage.

Alcohol can be very toxic to pets. The same negative effects on humans apply to animals but since our pets are generally smaller than us and are not used to consuming alcohol, it takes much less to cause severe problems. Nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, coma and even death can result from even a small amount of alcohol ingestion.

Chocolate can be extremely toxic to your pets. Depending on the type of chocolate even ingesting a small amount can cause severe problems. The darker the chocolate the more toxic it is. White chocolate contains the lowest amount of a caffeine-like substance known as methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the most. Methylxanthines can produce effects ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Be safe; don’t give your pet any chocolate.

Tinsel, wrapping paper and other decorations should never, ever be used as toys. Swallowing any of these can very quickly cause severe gastrointestinal problems including blockage and laceration of the intestines. A patient of mine swallowed a glass Christmas tree bulb. Luckily, the bulb remained intact and it was surgically removed. The Owner displayed this ornament on her coffee table. Within a week he was again at the clinic for ingesting this same bulb. After that the Owner put the bulb out of reach.

A few other things your pet might be tempted by but shouldn’t eat are sugar-free gum, lilies, batteries, avocados.

Although it’s been said many times, many ways, if your pet ingests any of these please call your veterinarian immediately. If they aren’t available please don’t wait for them to open. The Burlington Emergency Veterinary Service can help you when your regular veterinarian is unavailable.


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