Protecting pets during the holidays

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) and its member veterinarians offer these tips for keeping your pets safe and healthy during the holiday season.

Food: According to OVMA president Dr. Sheri Morris of Willamette Valley Animal Hospital in Keizer, “Food is the most common hazard for pets during the holidays. Avoid a trip to the veterinarian or veterinary ER by keeping these foods away from your pets.”

Candy: Keep holiday treats and candies out of your pet’s reach as they can make your pet quite sick. Candy wrappers can cause digestive upset if eaten.

Fruitcake: Holiday fruitcake with ingredients such as grapes, raisins, currants and alcohol should be kept away from pets.

Alcohol: Because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure.

Chocolate: Chocolate, particularly unsweetened, dark, bittersweet and baking chocolate, can be toxic to pets, especially dogs, who are more prone to eat it. If your pet eats chocolate, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center, as treatment may need to be rendered immediately. Symptoms of toxicity include excitement, nervousness, trembling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst or urination, muscle spasms and seizures. Even if a cat or dog doesn’t eat a toxic amount, chocolate can give your pet indigestion, so it should be avoided.

Xylitol: Gum, candy or breath fresheners containing the sugar substitute xylitol should be kept away from your dog. Even a small amount of xylitol can cause a surge of insulin which can cause the animal’s blood sugar to drop quickly and dangerously. Cases of liver damage have also been associated with ingestion of xylitol. Xylitol can also be used as a substitute for sugar in holiday breads and cakes. Unknowing guests may bake goodies using xylitol, which are extremely toxic if given to–or taken by!–the family pet.

If your pet ingests any food item containing xylitol, contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center immediately.

Other foods: Potentially harmful foods include: coffee grounds, tea, alcohol, hops, salt, onions and onion powder, grapes and raisins, avocado, garlic, and macadamia nuts.

Leftovers: According to Dr. Morris, leftovers can prove harmful to pets, “Small bones or fragments of turkey or chicken can lodge in the throat, stomach, or intestinal tract. Fatty leftovers such as turkey skin can trigger inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis, which can be life threatening. At the very least, too much human food may give your pet an upset stomach, so it is best to not feed it to your pet.”

Christmas Tree: Make sure your tree is well secured. Avoid adding preservatives, aspirin or sugar to your tree’s water, or keep the water covered so pets can’t drink it. Tidy up around your tree and wreaths as sharp needles can puncture your pet’s internal organs if ingested.

Holiday Decorations: Holiday decorations such as breakable ornaments and dreidels should be kept out of reach of pets, as should tinsel, string, and ribbon. If your pet ingests any of these items, it could experience serious internal injuries, or worse.

Dr. Morris reminds dog owners to keep light strands and electrical cords secured out of reach of pets. “Light strands, loose wires and electrical cords can be a serious hazard to your pet, especially puppies, who may chew them. They may get deep tissue burns in the mouth and throat, as well as risk fatal electrocution.”

Never leave holiday or Hanukkah candles unattended, especially around puppies and kittens.

Plants: Holly, The spiny and leathery leaves of Christmas or English holly can result in significant damage to the stomach and intestines of dogs and cats. (The holly’s berries have mildly toxic properties, but are tolerated in most pets.)

Mistletoe & Poinsettia

While not toxic, American mistletoe leaves/berries and poinsettia plants can cause gastrointestinal upset if eaten, so keep these plants out of reach if you have a pet who likes to chew on foliage.

Consider Waiting to Add a New Pet to the Family: Holidays may not be the best time to introduce a new pet to the household. Dr. Morris says, “The excitement, noise, and deviation from a household’s normal routine could make it difficult for a new pet—and any existing pets—to make the adjustment. It may be better to wait until after the holidays to bring a new pet home.”

Guests & Stress: Pets can become overexcited, confused or frightened by holiday guests. Keep pets in a quiet part of the house. When guests are over, watch for open doors and make sure your pets have ID tags and/or microchips in case they do get out.

Remind your guests that your normally friendly pet may want to be left alone. The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone, even your pets. Even though your routine might change, try to keep your pets on their normal routine of feeding and exercise.

As always, if you have any concerns about your pet’s health over this holiday season, or any time, please contact your veterinarian.


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