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Charles Hurty, DVM

Originally written for Dog Gone News.

The hustle and bustle and fun of the holiday season is here.  As you prepare and decorate for the holidays, here are some basic tips and suggestions to keep in mind that will keep your furry family members healthy and safe during this great time of year. 

First of all, there are many holiday foods and treats that we want to keep away from our canine companions.  Candy (along with the candy wrappers) can cause significant stomach upset and intestinal irritation; a pet may experience diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and serious illness.  Chocolate is another type of sweet treat that needs to be avoided; ingestion of chocolate at toxic doses can result in potentially serious problems for dogs and cats.  Of particular concern are unsweetened, dark, and baking chocolate products.  Symptoms of chocolate toxicity include excitement, nervousness, trembling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination and thirst, muscle spasms, and even seizures.  If your dog eats chocolate, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian immediately.   Remember to keep candy and chocolate products out of reach and don’t forget to teach kids in the house about the issues surrounding candy and pets.

Other holiday foods and food items that are potentially harmful include coffee grounds, tea, onions, onion powder, grapes and raisins (found in many fruit cakes), avocado, garlic, and macadamia nuts.  Alcohol and alcohol-containing products should never be fed to our pets.  Additionally, offering high fat foods (bacon, turkey drippings, sausage, butter) to our canine companions should be avoided.  Sudden ingestion of high-fat foods can lead to intense intestinal inflammation and possibly pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).  Pancreatitis can be a life-threatening disease, so extra caution should be taken to avoid high-fat treats.  Each year during the holidays we see several cases of pancreatitis at the clinic.  This is a serious disease that can easily be avoided.  I generally recommend not straying far from your dog’s typical dietary regime during the holidays.  If any treats are to be given, make sure that they are low-fat and not very different from the food items that your dog enjoys already.  

While Christmas trees can be a beautiful and fun holiday decoration, they do create some extra concerns for your pets.  You want to make sure that your dog or cat will not chew on the Christmas tree light electric cords, as electrocution injury is painful and potentially life-threatening.  Ingested pine needles and pine branches can be intestinal irritants, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea and even intestinal bleeding.  It is important to remember to keep the Christmas tree water covered and to not allow your pets to drink this water, as it can be irritating to your pet’s stomach and intestines.  One should always avoid adding preservatives to the tree’s water. For example, the addition of sugar to the water will make this potentially toxic liquid more appealing to your pet.  Also, the addition of aspirin to the water can be especially dangerous, as aspirin can be extremely toxic to pets, especially if the ingested dose is high.  The toxicity of aspirin can be amplified if your pet happens to be on other medications.  Taking extra care to prevent consumption of the Christmas tree water is extremely important. 

Christmas tree decorations can be especially for dangerous for some dogs and cats.  Ball-shaped ornaments can be especially attractive to ball-loving canines; it is best to hang ball-type ornaments out of their reach.  Tinsel can also be a problem for dogs and cats; if ingested, tinsel can damage the intestines and cause an obstruction that can be life threatening.  I typically recommend avoiding the tinsel-style decorations for homes that have feline and canine family members.  Every year around the holidays, we see ornament-ingesting dogs and cats at the clinic; it is recommended to take extra caution if you think your dog or cat will have issues with the tree ornaments.

Many don’t realize that some snow globes contain antifreeze (ethylene glycol).  Antifreeze is extremely toxic to cats and dogs and causes kidney failure.  If a snow globe leaks liquid or breaks, it is extremely important keep your pet away from the liquid.  As little as 1 -2 tablespoons of antifreeze can be fatal to your pet.

These are just some basic holiday issues to think about when you are preparing and decorating this year.  It is fun to include our furry companions in the holiday festivities; we can take a couple extra steps to keep them safe and content during this fun time of year.  I hope everyone has a great and safe holiday season.


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