Paws for Thought

by Dr. Janice Mitchell

Pet Holiday Hazards

The call comes in. A shih tzu has just opened up and eaten a wrapped, chocolatey gift from under the tree. Oh oh! It’s the most wonderful time of year…for pet holiday hazards that is.

In manner similar to the 12 Days of Christmas, here are the top five holiday hazards to familiarize with, and unfortunately it does not include golden rings or a partridge.

Number one. Holiday foods. Pets are not shy about counter-surfing or stealing from the table—yes, I speak to all those labs. Goodies that are baddies include chocolate (as our shih tzu can attest to); fruitcake (who knew? It’s the raisins and perhaps Aunt Martha’s rum addition); bread dough (it will continue to rise in the stomach); and of course alcohol—no spiked eggnog for Bailey. A double whammy would be those holiday foods wrapped up beautifully under the tree. Not only do we worry about the edible toxins, but now we have a superimposed ingestion of non-edible wrapping material that can get lodged and obstruct in the gastrointestinal system.

Number two. Snow globes. Although mesmerizing, these ornaments contain ethylene glycol, a highly toxic substance. If the snow globe is broken, the sweet smell can attract a pet to lick it up. Ethylene glycol, also found in antifreeze, causes acute kidney failure and often death.

Number three. Medication. As in National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation, visitors may descend upon your house and pets may get into any medication brought with them. People who aren’t used to pets in the house can be unaware of how curious they can be. Pets may snoop in suitcases and can get into pill vials. Please ask your visitors to keep all medications safely tucked away. A prewritten list of the names, milligram strength, and number of pills that visitors brought is very useful in an emergency situation as well.

Number four. Salt. No, it doesn’t cause high blood pressure in dogs and cats. But ice melt, homemade playdough, and salt dough ornaments can be a tempting salty treat and can cause life-threatening electrolyte imbalances.

Number five. Tinsel and Christmas trees. This applies mostly to the feline homes. Tinsel is a horrible attractant to cats…who knows why they like to chew on skinny foil but they do. Tinsel can then become what we call a linear foreign body…basically another gastrointestinal blockage. Surgery is the only remedy. And the family Christmas tree that contains the tinsel can become a collapsing conifer as Fluffy suddenly decides that he wants to be jungle kitty. Make sure the tree is well secured.

Now, what about Poinsettias? No, they are not lethal. Just pretty and unpalatable. If chewed upon, the milky sap can cause gastrointestinal irritation in the form of vomiting and/or diarrhea.

So, what happened to our shih tzu? To end on a cheery note, our little friend was successfully advised and treated by re-gifting the chocolate present—all over his owners’ floor. Causing an animal to vomit is often necessary in food toxicities. It is always wise to keep a fresh bottle of three percent hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet, and to contact your local veterinarian to see if it is advisable to cause vomiting and the dosing of the peroxide. This applies to dogs only. For cats, well, as you know, they are generally more culinary selective than their canine counterparts.

Happy and safe holidays to you all! Fleas navidad!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Janice Mitchell is a veterinarian at both Scott Veterinary Services and Island Animal Hosptial.