Shorter days and longer nights signal the end of summer and the beginning of autumn and winter. They also signal the beginning of another season: the holiday season. The holidays are filled with trick or treating, turkey dinners, lighting of the Menorah, and Christmas carols. Sadly, for many pets, these joyful times are interrupted by an unexpected visit to the veterinarian. While the holidays are festive times, they can also be perilous times for our pets. Each year, millions of pets are seriously injured during the holidays, with intestinal obstructions, chocolate toxicity, burns, and pancreatitis being some of the most common reasons. In order to ensure that your holidays are filled with visions of sugarplums, rather than long waits in a veterinary emergency room, follow these simple precautions to help keep your pets safe.
Pets are inquisitive by nature but their curiosity can get them into trouble. While a Christmas tree adorned with glistening ornaments and twinkling lights may be a feast for our eyes, we would never think of putting one of those shining ornaments in our mouths. However, to our pets these twinkling objects are new toys beckoning to be examined, played with, and even eaten. Shattered glass ornaments are razor sharp and can injure pets and their people. Most of us know that small ornaments can be choking hazards, but many are unaware of the dangers of linear objects, like tinsel, string, yarn, and ribbons. Not only can pets become entangled, if ingested, linear objects can also cause life-threatening intestinal blockages unless they are promptly removed surgically. Linear foreign bodies are especially common with cats.
Decorative candles, jack o' lanterns, and Menorahs can also be very tempting to our pets. Besides possibly burning an overly curious or careless pet, they can start a house fire if accidentally knocked over. Never leave lit candles unattended and always place them out of reach of pets.
Although they may seem harmless, certain holiday plants, like lilies, ivy, holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias can be dangerous if ingested. The symptoms can be as mild as vomiting and diarrhea or as serious as kidney failure and death. Lilies in particular are highly toxic to cats causing kidney failure and death. When decorating your home for the holidays try to use non-toxic plants or keep poisonous plants well out of reach of pets.
Calorie-filled holiday feasts and Halloween sweets can hurt our waistlines by packing on a few extra pounds. For our pets, holiday foods can have even more serious health consequences than weight gain. Although in keeping with the holiday spirit of goodwill, sharing our leftovers with our pets can lead to pet obesity. Pet obesity is associated with significant health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Giving leftovers routinely also promotes begging and reinforces bad behavior.
Besides leading to obesity, eating fatty holiday foods can also cause a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas gland called pancreatitis. In pets, pancreatitis is usually caused by ingestion of fatty foods like turkey, ham, gravy, and chicken skins. If left untreated, it can be fatal. Bones also pose a serious danger to pets. Poultry bones are dangerous because they can splinter and get lodged in the gastrointestinal tract and therefore should never be given to pets. Ham and beef bones can break teeth or can also cause intestinal obstructions. If you wish to give your pet a special holiday treat, instead of giving them bones, consider giving them a healthy dental treat specially intended for safe chewing and dental hygiene. Never give your pets chocolate. Fortunately, most people know that chocolate can be toxic to pets. Even small quantities can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and even death, so keep chocolate out of their reach.
Although the holidays are usually joyous times, as anyone who has ever hosted a holiday party knows, they can also be stressful times. This can be especially true for our pets. The revolving door of visiting guests, the break from the routine, the raucous trick-or-treaters, and the merry carolers can frighten our pets and cause them to run away. If your pet tends to easily get scared, nervous, or becomes protective, it is important to keep them confined safely inside your house. Many pets are lost during the holidays when they jump out of their yard or dart out of an open door. Sadly, there is also a disturbing increase in the disappearance of many animals, especially black cats, during Halloween. Keep your pets indoors so that they do not fall prey to pranksters. Remember all pets, even strictly indoor cats, should have collars with tags and microchips so that if they become lost they can be returned safely home.
Keep these important tips in mind during the holidays in order to keep your pets safe. Watch out for choking and obstruction hazards. Avoid pet-toxic plants or, at least, be sure to keep them out of reach of your pets. Don't give them chocolate, alcohol, or bones. Instead of giving your pet leftovers from your holiday meal, give your pet a pet-safe treat or a new toy. Lastly, keep pets inside and away from open doors during the holiday commotion to prevent them from running away. Paying careful attention to these warnings will help keep the holidays happy for you and your pet and should prevent unscheduled visits to the vet.