Fully Vetted: Holiday pet health hazards

Published 2:58 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2017

We are well into the holiday season, and for most of us, this means celebrating with family and friends. While our pets also enjoy spending this time with their loved ones, it is important to be aware that some common holiday items may pose significant health risks for pets.

It is well-known that certain foods, such as chocolate and onions are toxic to pets. However, certain other foods associated with the holidays, such as fatty foods, coffee, salt, yeast dough, and alcoholic beverages also cause illness in dogs and cats.

Plants associated with the holidays can also cause significant toxicity if they are nibbled upon by our curious four-legged friends. Lilies, which are commonly found in holiday flower arrangements, cause potentially lethal kidney failure in cats. Poinsettias, while usually not deadly, can cause irritation of the mouth and stomach as well as vomiting and nausea. Mistletoe may cause vomiting, and is potentially toxic to the cardiovascular system. Holly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.

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Christmas trees host several potential pet health hazards. Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Tree water that becomes stagnant can cause severe GI upset.  Chewing of electric cords may result in severe burns and even electrocution.  Keep all electrical cords out of reach of pets, and cover any that pets could potentially reach. Ribbon or tinsel can get caught in the intestines, causing obstruction that may require surgical removal. Glass ornaments can lacerate the GI tract if ingested.

Batteries contain corrosive substances that may cause severe ulcerations of the mouth or the rest of the GI tract. If your pet has eaten a battery, he or she should be seen by a veterinarian on an emergency basis. Liquid potpourris may cause damage to the skin, eyes, and GI tract. Dry potpourris may contain toxic substances that may cause GI upset. 

Other hazardous substances more commonly used during the winter pose pet health hazards during the holidays. Antifreeze tastes pleasant to cats and dogs, but is highly toxic. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can be deadly to a cat, and as little as four teaspoons may cause severe disease in a 10 pound dog. Ice melting products may cause irritation, GI upset, and even severe disease due to electrolyte imbalances. Rat and mouse baits, which can be fatal to pets, are more commonly used during cold weather.

It is important to keep potentially toxic substances out of the reach of pets. Many vet clinics have limited hours during the holidays, so it is a good idea to have your regular veterinarian’s contact information, as well as that of an emergency veterinary clinic, in a convenient location. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is a valuable resource, and can be reached at 1-888-4ANI-HELP. If you suspect that your pet has ingested something poisonous, seek medical advice immediately, and do not treat your pet until you have received a recommendation from a veterinary professional.

Dr. Kelly Sulik owns and operates Animobile Mobile Veterinary Services in Tryon, N.C. She can be reached at animobiledvm@gmail.com.