Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Owners

Iris Katz

Now that the excitement of the holiday season is upon us, we decorate our homes, make plans to entertain guests, prepare for serious feasting, purchase and wrap gifts for loved ones. Responsible pet owners must also consider the safety of their pets during this hectic time of the year. Animal Hospitals and Pet ERs become inundated with animals rushed to those facilities during the holiday season for mishaps that could have been prevented. Please follow the tips listed below to protect your pets and prevent holiday tragedies from occurring.
• Lilies could be deadly for cats causing kidney failure.
• Mistletoe has the potential to cause heart problems but usually causes gastrointestinal upset.
• Holly when ingested may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and lethargy.
• Poinsettias can irritate the mouth and stomach and may cause mild vomiting or nausea.
Christmas Tree Hazards
• Tree preservatives added to water can be toxic when ingested.
• To prevent the tree from being knocked over make sure it is weighted down securely.
• Electric cords when chewed cause electrocution. Cover or hide cords.
• Avoid hanging tinsel, threaded popcorn garlands or ribbon because these tempting items can be fatal if swallowed. Cats are especially attracted to tinsel. If ribbon or tinsel protrudes from your pet’s mouth or rectum cut it off and do not try to pull it out because the esophagus or intestines could be seriously damaged. Immediately contact the vet because surgery may be necessary to save a pet’s life.
• Glass ornaments can cut the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. Broken ornaments and ornaments with hooks can inflict serious wounds to a pet’s body. Hang delicate ornaments high on the tree and fasten them securely
You can keep holiday plants and Christmas trees inaccessible to pets by closing doors to block access or set up barricades like baby gates or other enclosure devices.
Harmful Foods, Beverages and Ingredients
• Fatty foods do more than just contribute to obesity (the leading cause of health problems in pets). Drippings from turkey, ham, roast beef or fat trimmings added to a pet’s meal may cause diarrhea, but also potentially fatal pancreatitis. Symptoms: lack of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, depression, weakness, hunched appearance, drooling, fever and collapse. Immediate veterinary intervention is warranted to save a pet’s life.
• Chocolate and coffee grounds contain the chemical theobromine that may cause seizures and death. Immediate veterinary attention is needed. The caffeine content in both products as well as in teabags can also cause caffeine toxicity. Symptoms: increased and erratic heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and temperature, and seizures.
• Grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure in dogs. Symptoms: diarrhea, lethargy, increased thirst, abdominal pain, and vomiting that might occur hours to days after the dog has eaten them.
• Alcoholic beverages can kill dogs and cats because animals are more sensitive to alcohol than humans. According to as little as one tablespoon of alcohol can cause an adult cat to go into a coma and a bit more results in death, Cough medicine and raw yeast found in unbaked bread dough can also be sources for alcohol. Symptoms: problems with walking or standing, incoordination, drowsiness, slow breathing rate, excessive urination, vomiting or unresponsiveness. The odor of alcohol may be on the pet’s breath.
• Apple seeds and stems, pits from peaches, cherries, apricots and plums contain cyanide, which deprives a pet’s brain and heart of oxygen causing shock and death. Symptoms: dilated pupils, heavy panting, vomiting, rapid breathing or panting, brick red gums.
• Onions and garlic destroy red blood cells in dogs and cats resulting in anemia. If an animal’s red cell count becomes too low, the blood is unable to deliver oxygen to the cells which can result in a pet’s death. Symptoms: lethargy, weakness, muscle incoordination, pale gums, red or brown discolored urine, hyper salivation, occasional vomiting and/or diarrhea. Must be detected early and may require a blood transfusion.
• Macadamia nuts can sicken dogs. Symptoms: severe lethargy, vomiting, increased temperature, tremors, stiffened joints, and loss of limb control-particularly the rear legs-for two days after consumption.
• Xylitol, a popular artificial sweetener can trigger hypoglycemia or liver failure in dogs. It can be found in candy, gum, mints, peanut butter, toothpaste and other products. Symptoms: weakness, tremors and seizures within 30 minutes after consumption. Liver failure signs might surface eight hours later and can be fatal. A vet must be contacted immediately if a dog is suspected of consuming xylitol.
• Nutmeg (in large amounts) Symptoms: increased heart rate, disorientation and sometimes seizures.
Pets Interacting with Guests
There are many things to consider if you plan to allow pets to interact with guests. Some guests are not animal lovers and others don’t know how to approach animals appropriately. A responsible adult needs to provide direct supervision to children. Dogs lacking manners may jump up on people and could injure a guest. The noise level from guests, especially young children, may be too stressful for some pets. Shy or sound-sensitive pets should never be forced to interact with company because it increases their stress level and may result in a fear-biting response. Owners need to recognize their dog’s body language signals that indicate they are stressed: trembling, drooling, panting, hyperactivity, hunched appearance, sweaty paws (paw prints visible on flooring), clingy behavior toward owners, avoiding eye contact, yawning, stiff movement, teeth chattering, low tail position and flattened ears. Fearful cats make themselves look smaller and may scratch or bite to defend themselves if they are cornered or picked up and unable to escape.
A proactive solution to prevent the above scenarios from occurring is to create a “safe room” in your home away from the noise, guests, forbidden foods and holiday decorations. This could be set up days before the event to acclimate your pet.
• Select a room that is already familiar to your pet (like a bedroom) containing your pet’s familiar and comforting possessions and necessities such as a cushy bed, safe chew toys or goody-stuffed Kongs , favorite stuffed animals, food and water bowls, litter box, etc.
• Set up a CD player or radio to play quiet music, preferably classical which has been scientifically proven to reduce stress in animals.
• Calming products like DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) or Feliway for cats can be dispensed from a plug-in diffuser.
• About an hour before guests arrive take your dog for a walk to allow him to relieve himself and “burn off” some energy.
If your dog is normally calm and comfortable with people, has good manners and responds to obedience commands, he might be able to join your guests. It is advised that the dog be on a 4 to 6 foot leash held by an adult.
• Inform your guests to ignore a pet’s begging behavior no matter how cute because “people” food can cause serious digestive upsets and even death.
• Check that all foods and beverages are inaccessible to your pets.
• Ask guests to place closed handbags out of reach from curious animals. Cats are attracted to the scent of mint found in gum and breath-freshening mints that may contain xylitol.
• Mingle with your guests and monitor their interaction with your pets. There may be someone who may ignore your rules and try to sneak a treat to a pet anyway. This task may be difficult if you have a large crowd so put the pet in the “safe room” to prevent problems from occurring.
Wishing you and the pets who grace your life a Happy and Safe Holiday Season!