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Christmas Holidays and Pets

Holiday hazards abound at Christmas time for pets and as vets in Kelowna now is a good time to warn you of what to be careful of. You are the guardian of your pets and you are shouldered with the responsibility to protect them from harm, including harmful behaviour. The more obvious hazards include chocolate, tinsel and electrical cords, but there are others. Below is a summary of what to watch for, what to avoid and what to do if you suspect a problem. 

Tinsel and other string-like items: These should, quite simply, not be used, particularly when you have a young cat. Cats are naturally attracted to glittery stringy things and will swallow them. And you thought cats were smart! Well, they are, but they have a very rough tongue that, once something starts going down, often prohibits the object from being spat back out. Symptoms of an errant piece of tinsel or ribbon inadvertently swallowed include vomiting, not eating, and general lethargy. A vet can often find string objects anchored around the base of the tongue. Surgery is most often required, so best to avoid the expense and the kitty’s discomfort and avoid using these items. Never leave yarn and thread lying around with young cats or dogs! A recipe for disaster!

Christmas lights: While uncommon, electrical burns, even shock, are a concern with any cord that is plugged in, including Christmas lights. Electric shock may occur from defective cords as well as from pets chewing on cords. Check all cords for any signs of bite marks, loose or frayed wires, proximity to the tree’s water supply and evidence of short circuits. If unsafe, don’t use. You may need to implement some form of limited tree access for pets such as a baby gate unless you are providing 100% supervision. If you notice burns around the mouth, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart rhythm or loss of consciousness, you may have an electric cord injury on your hands. Call the vet immediately!

Christmas Foods and Goodies: There is nothing harder than trying to avoid the soulful eyes of a dog begging for food. Resist the temptation to give them much more than a couple small tastes of turkey or some veggies. It is especially dangerous to give them any cooked bones from the turkey. If you want to give them some turkey scraps, use your common sense. Is your dog a short chunky aging Cock-a-poo that needs to lose 5-6 pounds? Then probably not a wise idea to give him more than a small cube of white breast meat. Is your dog a young active lean raw-fed 70 pound Lab? Then probably okay to give him a cup or more of the meat and veggie scraps with his dinner with minimal fat and none of the cooked bones. You might even give him the turkey neck before you cook it, assuming he is used to this type of item in his diet. Too much of a good thing, especially the fat, in a dog not used to it can cause an inflamed pancreas, known as Pancreatitis, a very painful and serious condition.
Chocolate: Resist this temptation too. Dogs have no need for chocolate like humans. Did I say humans need chocolate? Honestly, there must be a gene that creates a need for chocolate. Without regular does of chocolate, many affected people would perish! But seriously, dogs really don’t need any and it can actually be quite harmful. The toxicity of chocolate is related to how much is ingested, the type of chocolate, and the size of the animal. Just a couple months ago, I slaved away and made two dozen chocolate zucchini muffins, complete with at least half cup cocoa. Sadly for us, the counter-surfing Irish Water Spaniel, Kira, happily surfed about 16 of them. I decided to play it safe and induce her to vomit with hydrogen peroxide. She wasn’t too impressed. I did this because cocoa is basically pure chocolate whereas if she had eaten a chocolate bar such as a Snickers or Peanut Butter Cup, I would have just let her have it because there is not enough chocolate in those items to panic about in a 65 pound dog.
Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which is part of a family of potentially-toxic chemicals that can also be found in coffee, tea, and cola soft drinks. All members of this family can be harmful to your pet. Cats are more susceptible to the effects of chocolate, but are much less likely to ingest these sweets. Don’t store chocolate-containing presents under the tree until just before your gift-opening ceremony. You may be sorry for more than one reason!
Some of the symptoms of chocolate overdose include restlessness and hyperactivity, and high doses can result in seizures. It is important that you contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested any amount of chocolate.
Christmas plants: Poinsettias and mistletoe are common Christmas plants and have been known to create problems for pets. Poinsettias have received bad publicity in the past whereas, in fact, poinsettias are not very toxic to pets. They do contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth but if signs develop they are usually mild. Mistletoe can be very toxic to animals and you should seek veterinary consultation immediately if your pet has potentially ingested any part of the plant, especially the berries. Mistletoe can cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, difficult breathing, shock and death within hours of ingestion. The best plan of action is to simply keep all plants out of the reach of pets. Other plants to watch out for include lilies, amaryllis, aloe and daffodils.
Other Hazards: During the winter months, you should also be aware of a few other hazardous items or activities. These include antifreeze, considered tasty by some pets, but a deadly killer nonetheless; mouse and rat killers; ice melting products; salt and sand irritation on paws from walking on winter roads; slipping on ice and snow and tearing knee ligaments or putting their back out; thinly frozen water on lakes and ponds; and more. Also, please watch what you are feeding them over winter. Many pets are less active and put on weight in the winter which is hard on all of their body systems and is difficult to get off come Spring, aside from further promoting potential injury to joints and backs. So monitor body condition!! If your neighbour tells you your dog is too thin, say Thank you! because it is likely just right.

Lastly, don’t forget your pet over Christmas. A Family get together take you away from your normal routine, but your pets may not really understand your obligations, as much as you try to explain it to them. Do as much as you can to keep them on a regular schedule for feeding, exercise and attention.

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