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Holiday Hazards for Our Four-Legged Friends
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By:  Sarah Thatcher-Mason, DVM

            The holidays can be a joyous time of year for both you and your pets, however, with the seasonal joys come certain seasonal hazards.  Keep in mind that the novelty of holiday decorations and ready availability of rich (and potentially toxic) foods can pose a significant threat.  To prevent a holiday visit to the emergency clinic, keep these handy tips in mind:

            Keep all ribbons, tinsel and other package and tree trimmings up and away from your cats and dogs.  While these bright and shiny adornments make for a beautifully decorated tree, they can spell disaster if ingested by your curious pet!  Shiny dangling objects such as tinsel and ribbons can quickly become life-threatening linear foreign bodies requiring surgical removal if eaten by your cat or dog.  Electric cords also pose a serious hazard, causing serious burns to the lips and tongue when chewed as well as delivering a powerful and life-threatening electric shock.  Other things to be aware of include small ornaments, decorative figurines and scented potpourri.

            Toxic holiday plants include poinsettias, holly and mistletoe.  Signs of ingestion range from minor oral and GI irritation to severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea requiring treatment and hospitalization.  Poinsettias, while reputed to be highly toxic are more irritating to the mouth and GI tract when eaten.  Mistletoe, depending on the variety, can cause more severe symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea and liver failure.  Holly also results in bouts of vomiting and diarrhea – again, as in mistletoe the variety of holly does play a role in the level of toxicity.  While most incidences of holiday plant ingestions are likely to result in nothing more than GI upset, it is important to keep any and all seasonal foliage out of your pets reach.

            Although not specifically toxic, Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers which can lead to stomach upset and organ damage, depending on the compounds used.  Stagnant water is also an excellent breeding ground for bacteria.  These bacteria can then result in cases of colitis of varying severity when ingested in significant enough quantities.

            With the holidays comes an abundance of delicious treats.  Chocolate, onions and garlic, and raw bread dough are all common intoxications seen at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Chocolate ingestion results in nervousness, hyperexcitability, increased heart rate, vomiting and diarrhea and even death.  The darker and less sweet the chocolate the more toxic it tends to be (think bakers chocolate and dark or bittersweet chocolate).  The fat and sugar content in chocolate can also lead to the development of GI upset.  Onions and garlic can make any dish more savory, however, ingestion by your dog or cat can cause red blood cell damage resulting in anemia so severe that blood transfusions are warranted.  Everyone loves the smell of baking bread – including your pet!  When eaten, raw bread dough will continue to rise in the stomach resulting in the production of ethanol.  Affected dogs will present painfully bloated and drunk!

            If you suspect that your cat or dog has fallen victim to any of these holiday hazards, call your veterinarian as soon as possible!  Most conditions are treatable if caught early!  Tis the season to be jolly – however don’t forget your 4-legged friends in the hustle and bustle of the holidays!  Keep all potentially harmful foods and objects out of reach, and your pets out of harm’s way!

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