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Holiday Pet Safety

The holidays are here, that joyous time of year when family, friends and food take center stage in our lives. So many things about the holidays bring smiles to our faces and inches to our waistlines. As we look forward to and plan for all the fun that surrounds our celebrations, it is important to take a few minutes to include our furry family members in that planning. The holidays are full of things that we enjoy and take for granted, but those same things can quickly send Snoopy to the emergency clinic and us to the bank.

Things that are NO, NOs generally fall into the following four categories: food, decorations, plants and people.

Stockings hung by the chimney with care are often filled with goodies that can make Snoopy sick or even the unthinkable if he eats enough. Most of us know that CHOCOLATE is not good for dogs. But often folks are not aware of certain things about chocolate…like not all chocolates are equal. The toxic substances in chocolate are theobromine and caffeine neither of which your dog can metabolize very quickly. Different chocolates have different amounts of theobromine and therefore differ in their toxic effects. Baker’s chocolate (or those wonderful chocolate chip cookies) is the worst having 393 mg/oz while white chocolate has only 0.25 mg/oz (milk chocolate – 58 mg/oz and dark chocolate - 130 mg/oz) and will cause only a mild upset tummy. If empty wrappers on the living room floor have you believing Snoopy may have had helped himself to Santa’s stash, you need two pieces of information to determine how much trouble you both are facing. How much does Snoopy weigh and approximately how much did he eat. If Snoopy ate an amount nearing 20 mg per pound of his weight you need to be calling the vet immediately. A quick way to calculate according to Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. is round Snoopy’s weight to the nearest ten pounds: 20, 30, 100 whatever. Estimate the amount of chocolate 3, 10 16 oz. Knowing the type of chocolate, say Snoopy likes dark chocolate Hershey bars and ate 3 bars weighing 3 oz each you can calculate – 3 bars x 3 oz or 9 oz, each oz having 130 mg of toxic yuck per oz this means Snoopy has ingested 1,170 mg and if Snoopy is 30 pounds his toxic load is 1,170/30 or 39 mg a pound – get in the car Snoopy is in trouble… remember anything near 20 mg/pound is trouble and this is an emergency.

While cats are far more discriminating and less likely to engage in chocolate overindulgence (90% of calls to poison hotlines regarding chocolate are about dogs), chocolate is as toxic for them and pet parents need to understand when and where Santa should leave chocolate goodies whether they have a Garfield or Snoopy who might be seeking holiday cheer in all the wrong places.

Lately, an even more toxic substance has become increasingly more relevant when talking about holiday hazards. XYLITOL, an artificial sweetener found in chewing gum, candies and many baked goods has seen a dramatic increase in use because it contains about 2/3 the calories of sucrose. While harmless to people, when something containing xylitol is ingested by a pup, it can result in a dramatic drop in the level of blood sugar, quickly leading to a condition called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is life threatening and can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of a pup eating something containing xylitol.

So how much is too much? Approximately 50 mg of xylitol per pound of body weight can cause hypoglycemia in a dog. Obviously the more ingested the worse the situation. The most common calls to the pet poison hotlines relative to xylitol involve dogs and sugar-free gum. While some brands of gum contain low amounts of xylitol, others contain 1 gram (or 1000 mg) or more per piece. In a 40-pound dog, it would take only 2 pieces of this brand to cause severe hypoglycemia and a 5-piece pack could cause severe liver failure.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning present themselves quickly, many within 15 to 30 minutes after consumption. These symptoms may include vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination, tremors, seizures or even coma. Getting treatment as quickly as possible is a key to how successful that treatment will be and similar to chocolate poisoning, knowing how much and what brand or goody Snoopy ate can also be a key.

While chocolate and artificial sweeteners are a real concern, for many of us the more problematic items are the most common. The turkey and fixins slipped under the table by well meaning grandpas can lead to a nasty case of pancreatitis in many pups which can in some cases require hospitalization. Many foods that are fine for humans can cause problems for our pets, some like grapes, raisins and onions are even poisonous and need to be kept up away from those sweet faces and longing looks. The best rule for our pets’ health and happiness is NO PEOPLE FOOD.

While we often roll ourselves away from the holiday table seeking the couch and a long nap, Snoopy may be lying in wait for the first hint of a snore. Food that is not cleared away, left on counters or not secured in trash cans with a tight lid (preferably outside) is fair game. Cute videos of Snoopy on the table consuming leftovers, knocking over trash cans and springing from the floor with athleticism you had never seen before to grab a yet to be cleaned carcass will surely be followed by a not so cute trip to the emergency vet. Dogs are like heat seeking missiles when it comes to meat and leftovers, be sure to clean up, put away and secure the trash before you take that holiday snooze.

If you have trouble call your vet, the emergency clinic or the Pet Poison Hotline: 1-800-222-1222 or ASPCA Animal Poison Control 1-888-426-4435.

Ah, the Christmas tree, often the focal point of our holiday decorations and the source of many of our most nostalgic memories. If you are a traditionalist and can’t fathom not having the smell of balsam or Frazier fir filling you house, then as you wrestle that tree into the stand be aware of a couple hazards. Trees should be anchored firmly so kitties who like to climb and dogs who like to rough house with the kids don’t send tree and heirloom decorations crashing down on them. Also, the water keeping those beautiful trees alive can be an additional hazard. Most trees these days are not grown organically and the pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers used in their production as well as the chemical additives we use in the water to keep our trees looking fresh cut can harm your furry friend. Don’t add aspirin, sugar or anything with unknown chemicals to the water if you have pets in the house – instead just fill the stand regularly with fresh water and keep the vacuum handy. Stagnant water that sits in stands for a long period of time is also a breeding ground for bacteria that can irritate and cause stomach upset in dogs that find the tree stand a convenient water bowl. Your best bet is to use a covered stand or train Snoopy to seek refreshment elsewhere.

All of the wonderful decorations that we place on the tree also have their own hazards we need to consider. Ornaments knocked, batted or tail whacked to the floor can shatter and any pieces snatched up can cause a multitude of nasty problems from gastrointestinal issues to cuts and perforations. Especially if you have young pets, keep lower branches free of the temptations low hanging fruit like round, dangling objects hold for pets.

Cats and tinsel are a disaster waiting to happen. Although tinsel adds that shiny, glittery festive look to a tree, it is like throwing a lure out to a fish. Cats love strings, ribbons and tinsel. Unfortunately, the attraction and possible consumption can spell trouble for Garfield and you. The edges of tinsel are thin and sharp and can wrap around and anchor in the stomach causing obstructions which will lead to expensive abdominal surgery for Garfield and a second mortgage for you.

Finally, when it comes to the tree, be aware of electrical cords. We love our lights. What would a tree be without the warm glow of the lights reflecting off the ornaments? But, particularly with puppies and kittens, biting and tugging on cords for those lights can lead to nasty electrical shocks and burns. No one wants you to give up the artistic flare you express with your lighting, just be aware of where the cords are and how accessible they are to unsupervised furry family members and unplug trees when you are not present

And for those of you breathing a sigh of relief because you have an artificial tree, you are not home free. Artificial trees as they age can become more brittle. Often small pieces of aluminum or pvc will break off and if consumed by our four-legged friends can cause intestinal obstructions or other issues.

This holiday season brings with it some very special plants and foliage. Just as we are attracted to the vibrant colors, tradition and fragrance of these plants so too are our pets. While many are harmless, there are a few we should steer clear of or hang from the rafters.

First, let us dispel an age old myth - POINSETTIAS are very rarely poisonous to pets. The Pet Poison Hotline does not consider poinsettias to be poisonous. The white sap like substance produced by the plant can cause a mild gastrointestinal upset in cats and unless your furry friends see poinsettias as the next coming of tuna, the bright crimson color can be a part of your holiday decorating.

More troublesome and even dangerous particularly for cats are certain types of LILIES — including Easter, Japanese Show and Tiger lilies. All of these flowers contain highly toxic substances and eating just two or three leaves, or even drinking water from a vase containing them can be potentially fatal. While bouquets including these flowers are often beautiful, they are not worth the risk they present when a kitty who enjoys plants as an appetizer finds them.

If the romantic in you likes the thought of strategically placing mistletoe in the house make sure it is the right kind and it is hanging high. American mistletoe is only mildly toxic to pets, while European mistletoe can be quite toxic. Be safe – buy American. If you don’t know the difference, be safe – buy none.

Other plants bringing cheer to the season but that can be dangerous are amaryllis and holly (also toxic to humans). If you really want to include these plants if your holiday decorating make sure they remain out of the reach of your pets.

If you have trouble call your vet, the emergency clinic or the Pet Poison Hotline: 1-800-222-1222 or ASPCA Animal Poison Control 1-888-426-4435.

This joyous season finds us sharing time with friends and family. Often, we have gatherings in our homes that bring these folks in contact with our furry friends. You may have pets who love people and enjoy sharing the sofa and a cookie with Aunt Mary, but you may have pets who do not feel as comfortable around strangers or large groups of jovial folks. For the bashful, shy furred ones, they should have a quiet place to retreat – their own safe house where they can escape the madness and Aunt Mary. For those who are outgoing, gregarious pups be sure Aunt Mary embraces their enthusiasm and holiday spirit, you don’t want to find it necessary to lock Aunt Mary in the bedroom. Sharing with potential guests that your house is an active pet zone can avoid awkward moments and misunderstandings before they happen.

Guests who aren’t really pet savvy can also can present additional challenges. Their arrival and departure, particularly arrivals, with all of the excitement that often surrounds them offer chances for opportunistic or frightened pets to make a run for it. Extra care needs to be taken when welcoming guests and securing doors or you may spend the day chasing Snoopy instead of sharing appetizers and eggnog.

These same guests when confronted with Snoopy’s looks of longing and tail wagging may try to win favor by slipping a goody or two his way. Make sure your guests and family members understand that the short term joy of getting the desired treat may have long term consequences for the animal.

If you have trouble call your vet, the emergency clinic or the Pet Poison Hotline: 1-800-222-1222 or ASPCA Animal Poison Control 1-888-426-4435.