The holidays are coming on quickly. This time of year always presents some unique challenges for pets and owners. I’m hoping that a little forewarning will help you avoid some of the hazardous things that pets will encounter during the holiday season.
Changes in a pet’s diet — even just a small bite of something — can set off a cascade of nasty illness. While some dogs and cats seem to have an ironclad digestive system, most do not. They can’t tolerate foods outside their normal diet. New treats, canned foods they’re not used to, new foods, and “people food” can cause digestive distress. This distress usually means vomiting and/or diarrhea. However, inflammation of the pancreas can result (pancreatitis), and that can mean a hospital stay or even death. Please think twice about food gifts for pets. Advise guests that handouts aren’t acceptable (unless they’re from the pet’s usual treat jar). Even ONE bite of food can be enough to seriously harm a pet. Just don’t do it!! (PLEASE don’t give alcohol to your pets, either.)
Don’t forget about overtly toxic foods: onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate, bread dough, and the artificial sweetener xylitol.
I think it’s great to provide enjoyable things for pets…as long as they’re pet-friendly. Remember the cautions we discussed with chew toys a while back. Watch out for objects that could cause pets to choke or have an intestinal obstruction. Kids’ toys can present an attractive chewing experience for a dog, so warn your children to pick up their new things.
I’m listing this separately because it’s so incredibly dangerous to pets. The fluid is very attractive to cats and dogs for some reason. They’ll readily lap it up. Even relatively small amounts can be enough to create toxic damage to the kidneys. By the time a pet’s kidneys are failing from ingestion of antifreeze, our treatment options are limited, and the prognosis is guarded. Some pets can recover, many will have permanent kidney damage, and some will die. There’s an antidote that can be given if the ingestion was recent enough, so if you see your pet lapping up antifreeze, GO TO THE HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY.
Pets might not understand that certain holiday decorations aren’t for chewing. Young pets experiencing their first holiday season aren’t likely to realize that these new things are off limits, since they weren’t part of early training experiences. The usual suspects include: tinsel, lights, tree decorations, ribbons, bows, potpourri, and Christmas tree water with fertilizer. Cats seem to be especially fond of ribbon, which can cause a very very serious type of intestinal obstruction.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’d rather talk about the obvious than fail to provide the warning. Dogs and cats can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Thin or light-coated dogs will have more trouble keeping warm outside when the weather’s frigid. Sweaters or jackets will help if a pet is going to be outside for a while. The basic way to judge is to watch for shivering. Dogs shiver from the cold for the same reasons we do. Just be sensible about the amount of time your pets spend outside. Frostbite doesn’t seem to be that big a concern for dogs, but it is for cats, namely on their ears. If you have outdoor cats, provide a shelter and a heat source for them. The same goes for dogs.
Keep your pets off the ice on lakes, ponds, or other bodies of water. We’ve treated a few cases of near-drowning and hypothermia from dogs that wandered out of the yard and onto the ice, then fell through.
Be aware that outdoor cats will often crawl up into a car’s engine bay or wheel well to get heat from the engine. Check your vehicle before you drive away!
Some ice-melt products can be harmful if a pet’s feet come into contact with them. Don’t allow pets to eat the melt products, either.
I know it must seem like I’ve taken all of the fun out of the holidays. (I promise it’s still more fun than having to come see me at the hospital!) Safely enjoying the time together isn’t hard. The warmth and companionship you provide is the best gift of all. Stick to the safest ways for your pets to have a good time: petting, playing, walks, and grooming.