It’s that time of year — Christmas trees going up, holiday music on the radio, and lights lit up around town. The holiday season is busy enough already; the last thing you need is an unnecessary visit to the vet and more expenses added on top of your Christmas present and holiday traveling budget.
Keep in mind, Thanksgiving to New Year’s is by far one of the busiest times of the year for sick pets in the veterinary world. We want to keep all pet owners informed about some of the most common reasons why you might end up having to make a trip to the vet over the holiday season!
When everyone is enjoying their holiday feast, it’s natural to want to include your dog in on the festivities. While small amounts of certain table scraps can be okay, many owners overdo it and their dogs end up in their veterinarian’s office the next day. In addition to making sure that your pet doesn’t get fed too many table scraps or treats, there are certain foods, plants, and chemicals that are toxic, and even potentially fatal.
I’ve compiled an extensive list of holiday hazards (foods, plants, toxins, and other hazards) to help keep your pets out of the vet clinic during the season:
HAZARDOUS FOOD ITEMS:
- Chocolate (baker’s, semi-sweet, milk and dark chocolate): Can cause hyper-excitability, severely elevated heart rates, twitching, seizures, and death.
- Grapes: Can cause kidney failure and death.
- Coffee (grounds, beans, etc.): Can lead to hyper-excitability, severely elevated heart rates, high blood pressure, twitching, seizures, and death.
- Moldy or spoiled foods (often pulled out of the trash by dogs): Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and more severe symptoms depending on the type of toxins/organisms present.
- Garlic, onions (and garlic or onion powder): Garlic is much more toxic to pets than onions. Both garlic and onions can cause damage or destruction to red blood cells. Signs that dogs have ingested garlic or onions include drooling, oral irritation, gastrointestinal signs, pale gums, lethargy, elevated heart and respiratory rate, and other symptoms.
- Macadamia nuts: May cause vomiting, in-coordination, weakness, fever, muscle tremors, and depression.
- Avocados: Contains a toxin called Persin which can cause mild gastrointestinal upset, and swallowing the pit can lead to intestinal obstruction requiring surgery.
- Sugar free candies and gum containing Xylitol: Can cause severe hypoglycemia, hypoglycemic comas, and death.
- Fatty foods: Can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis (see pancreatitis section below).
- Alcoholic beverages: Can cause depression, lethargy, in-coordination, drooling, vomiting, weakness, slow respiratory rate, and other problems.
- Lilies: Can cause gastrointestinal upset and vomiting in dogs.
- Poinsettias: Can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and may cause mild gastrointestinal upset, vomiting/nausea, or diarrhea.
- Mistletoe: Has the potential to cause cardiovascular problems. Fortunately, mistletoe ingestion usually only causes gastrointestinal upset. Mistletoe berries can be fatal.
- Holly: Ingestion may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and lethargy.
- Mother in law plants: Contain Calcium Oxalate crystals which can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach, along with other mild gastrointestinal problems.
CHRISTMAS TREE AND HOLIDAY DECORATION HAZARDS
- Christmas tree pine needles: Can cause mouth pain if ingested and may cause vomiting.
- Christmas tree water: Stagnant water is often full of bacteria that can cause GI upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. Many Christmas tree extenders/water additives contain nitrates or other types of fertilizers, which, if ingested, can cause stomach upset.
- Electric cords: Creates significant danger, so cover up or hide electric cords and never let your pet chew on them as this could electrocute your pet.
- Ribbons, string, and tinsel: Pets may ingest these and they can get caught up in the intestines and require foreign body surgery.
- Batteries: Contains corrosive chemicals. Ingestion of batteries can lead to ulcerations in the mouth, tongue, and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Glass ornaments: Can cause cuts and bleeding in the mouth and through the gastrointestinal tract if ingested. These glass fragments can lead to sepsis if they penetrate any of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Stockings and presents: Make sure you do not leave stockings full of snacks hanging too low. Every year I see several dogs that got into stockings and ate large amounts of chocolate and candies. In addition, if you have presents that contain food/candy, I recommend keeping them up until Christmas Eve. You would be surprised how many dogs can smell food even through wrappers, boxes, and Christmas paper and we often see dogs who open packages in the middle of the night and feast on the contents.
OTHER WINTER AND HOLIDAY HAZARDS AND TOXINS
- Cold weather: PLEASE bring your pets inside when the temperatures drop. Yes, dogs and cats can tolerate the cold weather better than we can, but thousands of owners lose their pets every year to harsh winter weather or pets suffer from frostbite to their ears, feet, and tails.
- Pets escaping and getting lost: Make sure to keep an eye on your pet when you have friends and family over and during holiday parties. I see numerous dogs who have escaped and gotten lost, or even worse, hit by a car after escaping when guests don’t close doors or gates.
- Fireworks: Many dogs have a severe phobia of fireworks due to the loud noises. I treat dogs every year that destroy houses, break out of fences and run off, are hit by cars while running away from fireworks, or suffer burns from running up to fireworks to investigate them. I recommend keeping your blinds closed, and turn on the television or radio to a volume loud enough to help drown the noise out. For pets with severe firework phobias, contact your veterinarian for some anti-anxiety medicine to be given to help keep them from stressing out too much!
- Medications: Make sure to keep all your medications up and out of reach. Be sure you find all pills if you spill medication and DO NOT SELF MEDICATE your pet. Many human medicines like Tylenol and Advil are toxic to dogs. It’s better to give nothing at all and wait until you see or speak with your veterinarian than giving medications without knowing IF they are safe for pets and what dose is needed based on your pet’s weight. Pain medications, ADD/ADHD medications, cold medicines, chemotherapy drugs, antidepressants, vitamins, and diet pills can be potentially lethal even in small dosages.
- Antifreeze: Even a small amount of antifreeze can be fatal to dogs and cats. Antifreeze has a sweet taste, so animals are attracted to it. Make sure to store all anti-freeze and automotive chemicals in a safe place, clean up any spills immediately, and dispose of anti-freeze properly. There are newer Propylene glycol types of anti-freeze which are safer for pets, and I recommend swapping to these in the future if you have pets.
- Liquid potpourri: During the holidays, everyone enjoys a home with a fresh holiday scent. Many owners have liquid potpourris, fragrance sprayers, and similar items. Make sure to keep these in a location your pet can’t come into contact with them as some of these can cause severe oral, skin, and ocular damage.
- Ice melting products: Can be irritating to the skin and mouth. Consumption of these products can cause excessive drooling, depression, vomiting, electrolyte imbalances, and other issues.
- Rat and mouse killers: Used more commonly during the winter when the rodents start moving into homes to stay warm, many of these are anti-coagulants and can lead to uncontrollable bleeding and death. Search for pet-safe options and keep them in locations pets cannot access such as attics or top shelves in cabinets.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and is very commonly seen when dogs are fed a large amount of fatty food. Pancreatitis is rampant during the holiday season, since many people think a nice way to celebrate is to share their holiday meals with their dogs. In addition, dogs are notorious for getting into the trash after being tempted with all the smells of the holiday feast.
How to prevent your dog from getting pancreatitis:
- Ask your guests not to feed food and treats to the dog, especially your younger guests
- Take your trash out frequently, particularly after cleaning up the leftovers from your holiday feast or any food that has a strong and enticing odor
- Do not overfeed your pet or indulge in giving them lots of fatty foods, table scraps, or other treats
Signs of pancreatitis include:
- lethargy (acting tired)
- distended/bloated looking abdomen
- abnormal posture/arching the back (due to abdominal discomfort)
If your pet shows signs of pancreatitis then they need to be taken to your veterinarian for IV fluids and medications as soon as possible. Pancreatitis can be fatal if left untreated.
I always recommend that my clients keep their veterinarian’s phone number, the number and address of the nearest emergency veterinary clinic, and the number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-4 ANI-HELP or 1-888-426-4435) somewhere that can be quickly accessed in case of emergencies, such as storing them in your phone contacts and posting on your refrigerator.
If you suspect that your pet has ingested something poisonous, seek medical attention from your veterinarian or local emergency veterinary clinic IMMEDIATELY, as time is of the utmost importance in these situations. Many owners try to avoid taking their pets in due to the extra expense at holiday time; however, this often ends up with a veterinary bill twice what it would have been if they had taken their pets in immediately. Even worse, delaying treatment may end up with the loss of a beloved family pet during what should be one of the happiest times of the year. When in doubt about any medical issue, take your pet in to the vet sooner rather than later.
I hope this article will help you avoid an unnecessary veterinary visit this holiday season and in the future! All of us at the DailyBarker wish you and your furry fur-legged family members a very Happy Holidays!!!
What do you do to keep your pet safe during the holidays? Tell us in the comments!
Dr. Mills is a veterinarian and avid dog lover who is dedicated to helping further educate pet owners on all things health related for their four-legged companions. In addition to practicing in his local vet clinic, Dr. Mills has a mobile house call veterinary business, works with numerous local shelters and rescue organizations, and is in the process of opening an emergency veterinary clinic giving him a wide array of experience in the veterinary field.