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Four Holiday Hazards for Pets to Avoid this Season
By: Brianna Gunter
Festive decorations, special foods, and large gatherings are all part of the December holiday season, but if you’re not careful, you could be putting your pets at risk. Nobody wants a surprise visit to the veterinarian this time of year, so it’s important to know the holiday hazards for pets and how to avoid them.
Holiday hazards for pets you should be aware of
Many pet owners enjoy traditional holiday food and décor, but it can all lead to trips to the animal hospital when proper precautions aren’t taken. We sat down with Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Sarah Nold to learn more about the things all pet owners should be mindful of during the festive season.
A popular decoration made from plastic or aluminum, tinsel is draped everywhere from banisters to Christmas trees. But pet owners should keep it well out of reach of curious dogs and cats.
“The primary hazard associated with tinsel is that it can cause a gastrointestinal blockage or bunching up of the intestines that can result in the blood supply to the intestines being compromised,” Nold says. “If left untreated, the ingestion of tinsel could ultimately result in death.”
Cats are particularly at risk due to their natural instinct to hunt prey. Shiny and string-like, tinsel easily draws a cat’s eye. Dogs, however, are a different story.
“While tinsel can also be an issue for dogs, it is usually only a problem for smaller dogs,” says Nold. “Ultimately, the best way to prevent tinsel ingestion is to not have it in your house.”
If you do have tinsel in your house this holiday season, use it sparingly and take care to hang it up high and away from where dogs and cats can get to it. Likewise, be on the lookout for any signs of tinsel consumption by your pet:
- Decreased appetite
Depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms and how much tinsel they have consumed, they may need surgery. Your veterinarian will carefully examine your pet to determine the best course of action.
Mistletoe as a decoration is commonly used in doorways, entryways, and other open spaces. But while festive, the plant comes with multiple substances known to be toxic to both dogs and cats.
“Mistletoe contains glycoprotein lectins that inhibit protein synthesis leading to cell death, as well as phoratoxins and ligatoxin, which can act as cardiac depressants,” Nold says.
These are the most common signs observed after mistletoe ingestion in pets:
- Depression / mood changes
- Low blood pressure / changes in heart rate
- Dehydration / increased thirst
The good news is that most mistletoe ingestions result in signs and symptoms that are mild and self-limiting. While serious poisonings can occur (including those resulting in death), they are rare.
“If a large amount of mistletoe was recently ingested, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting,” Nold says. “Otherwise, the main course of treatment is supportive care to avoid dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities.”
Just like mistletoe, poinsettia plants are a popular holiday decorations. The bright red flowers are pretty, but poinsettias are toxic to cats and dogs. Fortunately, most reactions following ingestion aren’t too serious.
It appears that the toxic effects of poinsettias is greatly exaggerated, as signs from ingestion are often mild and self-limiting,” Nold points out. “The sap of the poinsettia causes irritation… Ingestion can result in excessive drooling, vomiting and more rarely diarrhea.”
Signs every pet owner should look out for if their pet has eaten poinsettia include:
- Redness of the skin and/or eyes
- Itching (often characterized by frequent scratching)
- Excessive drooling
- Diarrhea / changes in bowel movement
Even though the signs may be mild, it’s still a good idea to contact your vet to be safe. Most treatments will revolve around preventing dehydration, but vomiting may be induced if a large amount of poinsettia was ingested. Bathing with a mild soap and rinsing well will typically help ease any skin irritation.
While poinsettia ingestion in cats and dogs should still be taken seriously, Nold has great news:
“Deaths resulting from ingestion of poinsettia by a dog or cat has not been reported.”
Human holiday treats
From Hanukkah donuts to Christmas cookies to New Year’s cake, the holiday season is filled with baked treats for humans. But as you probably already know, many of these desserts can be harmful to pets.
Both cats and dogs are susceptible to chocolate poisoning, for example. Cinnamon and other baking spices can cause some unwelcome side effects if consumed in large quantities but are not typically toxic. These spices are often in the company of more severely dangerous ingredients, however, like macadamia nuts and raisins (consumption of which can be life-threatening).
Signs your pet has consumed a toxic holiday treat may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Tremors (shaking)
Just as with toxic plant consumption, it’s important to get your pet medical attention if you suspect they have eaten chocolate or other toxic substances. After determining what they ate and how much, your pet’s veterinarian will begin immediate treatment. This can vary based on the substance. In the case of chocolate, for example, charcoal can be effective for preventing its progression throughout a pet’s body.*
*Always consult with a veterinarian before administering any medications or treatments yourself.
Keep holiday hazards away from your pet this season
Whether you are traveling with your pets this holiday or hosting a party, be mindful of your pet’s behavior at all times. No pet owner wants the stress of a sick pet during the holidays. If you do notice any abnormality in their behavior or suspect they’ve consumed any substances toxic to pets, please seek immediate medical attention just to be safe.
By knowing the risks and taking the right precautions, you can spend more time on what’s really important — enjoying the holiday season with your furry loved one!
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This blog is designed to be a community where pet owners can learn and share. The views expressed in each post are the opinion of the author and not necessarily endorsed by Trupanion. Always consult your veterinarian for professional advice.