The holidays are a great time for baking, decorating, and gift giving, but all the festivities can present some unexpected hazards for your pets, most of which wouldn't be obvious. Plants, treats, decorations, and even the busyness of the season can pose threats to your pet's health which wouldn't be an issue the rest of the year.
Here are some things you should watch out for in the next few months:
- Poinsettias, lilies, mistletoe and holly are pretty, but they're extremely toxic to pets if ingested. Most people think if the plant is on a table, countertop or shelf that the pet won't have access to it, but cats can climb and dogs can knock things over. Fake plants aren't quite as festive but they're a lot safer for your pets.
- Cats can climb a Christmas tree and knock it over if not properly secured. Make sure the base of the tree is good and tight. A narrower tree will keep your cat closer to the center of gravity and make it less likely to fall over. If you have prolific climbers in the house, you might even consider tying off the top of the tree to a wall or other secure object. Also keep in mind that your pet can become tangled in Christmas lights, dragging the tree over behind them or even presenting a strangulation hazard.
- Supplies such as ribbons, scissors, and tape look like attractive playthings to your pet, but can cause serious injury. Be careful while you're wrapping gifts or decorating your home. In particular, wire edged ribbons have just the right amount of stiffness to be a lot of fun to bat around, but the sharp ends can easily cut a paw.
- Single-strand tinsel is often ingested by pets who think they're sneaking a treat. The long strands obviously don't digest well and can lead to serious medical complications.
- Candles can be knocked over, even when they're placed out of reach. If you choose to light candles, make sure they're short and heavy enough to not get tipped over easily. Place them far away from the edge of tables or counters. If possible, put them on a non-slip base so that they can't easily slide onto the floor and start a major fire.
- Chocolate candies are a year-round hazard for dogs, but are more likely to be placed out where they're accessible during the holidays. The most toxic form of chocolate is cocoa powder, so while it may seem harmless to let Buster clean up a little baking mess in the kitchen, that bit of spilled cocoa might lead to a trip to see us. Chocolate poisoning can lead to seizures, vomiting, convulsions and even death. If your dog does ingest chocolate you should call the clinic as soon as possible to get advice from our veterinarians.
- Another year-round hazard: Many sugar free candies use Xylitol as a sweetener. A naturally occurring substance that is found in a variety of plants, Xylitol is used in candies, gum, breath mints, baked goods, toothpaste, mouthwash, and even chewable vitamins. It's completely safe for humans, but even a small amount of Xylitol can be fatal for your pet, leading to rapid liver failure, seizures, and death - sometimes within 30-60 after ingesting the substance. Rapid and agressive treatment at the clinic is the best chance to save your dog's life.
- Alcohol is widely known to be toxic to both dogs and cats. While most people wouldn't think of putting hard liquor in their pet's water bowl, other hazards aren't as obvious. Rotting apples begin to ferment, sickening pets who eat them off the ground. Rum-soaked fruitcake shouldn't be left out on the counter. And even unbaked dough contains enough yeast to seriously poison your pet, leading to seizures and respiratory failure.
- Admit it. At one time or another you've shared food from the table with your pet. We're not here to judge, and in fact some holiday treats are actually good for your pet, like turkey or mashed potatoes. But most foods on your table range from unhealthy to toxic for dogs and cats, not to mention the choking hazard from poultry bones. Best bet - unless it's something you're sure is safe for your pet, leftovers are better off in the refrigerator than on your pet's plate.
This seems like a long list, but with a little caution the holidays can be a safe and enjoyable time for your family and your pet.