The holiday season abounds with celebrations, good times and cheer, but nothing can spoil a good time like an unexpected trip to the veterinary hospital for an emergency. Take some time to review the tips below and hopefully you can avoid the holiday season from becoming not-so-merry for you and your pet.
Familiarize yourself with the local veterinary hospitals which offer emergency care before there’s an emergency. Your normal veterinarian can assist in locating the closest facility. Take time to map out your travel plan so you’re not trying to figure it out when you’re anxious and stressed. It’s always a good idea to keep important numbers in an easy to find location just in case. Please review the information on facilities offering after-hours emergency care in proximity to our community.
Triangle Referral Hospital, Holly Springs: 919.973.5620
Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas, Cary: 919.233.4911
NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, Raleigh: 919.513.6911
The ASPCA Poison Control Hotline can offer owner guidance in the event your pet has consumed a potentially toxic substance 1.888.426.4435 (fees may apply)
Here’s a special issue for your consideration as we transition into the holiday season.
The holidays are a popular time for potentially welcoming a new furry friend into your family. There’s no greater gift for a homeless animal than to open your heart and home to them. Year round, animal shelters and rescue groups have many wonderful dogs and cats available for adoption.
Whether you are considering a new pet for you or someone else, remember that choosing an animal is a big decision with ongoing responsibilities. Instead of adopting a pet for that special person in your life, consider putting together and wrapping an “adoption kit.” This kit can contain toys, a bed, a leash, a collar, food, treats, and a gift certificate for adoption fees at the local shelter.
Remember, millions of homeless animals wait for a home each year. Give the gift of life this year and choose to adopt.
Before you give in to those gorgeous , pleading eyes and feed your pet that leftover turkey leg or Halloween candy bar, be aware of the potentially harmful and even deadly consequences of feeding “people food” to any companion animal. Sweet, fatty and spicy foods that we commonly eat during the holidays are certainly not intended for pets. If you have these foods around your home, make sure they are securely put away and out of reach to avoid a potential toxic emergency. If you want to share holiday treats with your pets, make or buy treats formulated just for them. See the list below for those items which are of particular concern during the holidays.
Chocolate – An essential part of the holidays for many people, this substance can be very dangerous to dogs and cats when consumed. Chocolate, especially baking chocolate, is of great concern when consumed. Toxicity can vary based on the type of chocolate, the size of your pet, and the amount they eat. In general, it’s advised to consider this substance off limits for pets.
Other sweets and baked goods should also be kept away from pets. Not only are they too rich for pets; and artificial sweetener, xylitol, found in baked good and chewing gum, has been linked to liver failure and death in dogs.
Table Scraps – Rich, fatty food, such as turkey skins or gravy can cause a condition called pancreatitis and should be kept away from pets. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition of the pancreas, a digestive gland, and can be very painful and serious, frequently requiring hospitalization. Stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea are more commonly seen when pets overindulge on table food.
Found in abundance in turkey stuffing, onions are toxic and can cause destruction of a dog’s red blood cells, leading to anemia. Food which contain a large amount of onion powder should also be avoided.
Grapes and raisins are beautiful and yummy but detrimental to pets. The toxins in grapes can cause kidney failure.
Any kind of bone can tear or obstruct your pet’s intestinal tract. Make sure all bones are disposed of properly. Poultry (chicken and turkey) bone can be especially dangerous to pets.
Coffee is dangerous. Watch out for those grounds and whole beans.
Alcoholic beverages should be kept away from pets.
Watch out for the string that ties up the turkey or roast, as well as the little red “pop-up” thermometers. Dogs and cats think these items are tasty. They can be associated with intestinal blockage and/or rupture.
Yeast dough can cause problems, too. Usually limited to gas and flatulence, but consumed in large quantities can cause potentially life threatening bloat.
In general, limit table scraps, and let your guest know as well.
Quick action saves lives. If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. Signs of pet distress include: sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Decorating makes the holidays festive and can be a part of the best holiday traditions, but they also pose risky temptations for our pets. Be aware and consider the tips below.
If you have a Christmas tree, keep this in mind: Dogs and cats can be drawn to the exhilarating outdoor smells that the tree brings inside, so make sure it’s secure in the stand so pets don’t accidentally push it over when they can’t overcome the temptation to play with the lights and ornaments.
Water additives for Christmas trees can be hazardous to your pets. Do not add aspirin, sugar, or anything to the water of your tree if you have pets in the house. Also, consider the fact that stagnant Christmas tree water can harbor bacteria, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.
If you have a live tree, it’s advised to clean up the needles frequently. They can be toxic when eaten by your pet.
It may be easier to keep your tree and your pets separate, perhaps in a room where the animals cannot enter. Or put up a baby gate.
Ornaments can cause hazards for pets. Hang breakable, glass ornaments well out of reach. Broken ornaments can cause injury, and ingested ornaments can cause intestinal blockage or even toxicity. Keep any handmade ornaments, particularly those made from salt-dough or other food –based materials, out of reach of pets.
Tinsel and other holiday decorations can also be tempting for pets to eat. Consuming ribbon and tinsel can be associated with intestinal blockage, frequently requiring surgery for correction. Cats are especially intrigued by ribbon and tinsel.
Electric lights can cause electrical/thermal burns, shock or electrocution when pets chew on the cords. Keep the lights and extension cords safely secured or covered to deter chewing. Better yet, consider investing in pet-proof extension cords, or spray with products such as Bitter Apple or Chew Stop.
Although they add a warm and festive touch, Flowers and festive plants can result in an emergency veterinary visit if your pet gets ahold of them. Amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar, and holly are among the common holiday plants that can be dangerous and even poisonous to pets who decide to eat them. Poinsettias and Lilies can be particularly troublesome as well. Keep the potentially dangerous bloomers well out of reach of pets.
Candles and Potpourris are attractive to inquisitive pets as well as people. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle; it could result in a fire if knocked over by an exuberant pet , and the fumes can be harmful to birds. Liquid potpourris and sachets can pose a risk because they contain essential oils and cationic detergents and can cause severe damage to your pet’s mouth, eyes and skin. Solid potpourris could cause harm if ingested.
Hosting Parties and Visitors
Visitors can upset pets, as can the noise and excitement of holiday parties. Even pets that aren’t normally shy may become very nervous in the hubbub that can accompany a holiday gathering.
Holidays can bring stress to all of us, and pets are no exception. When routines are disrupted and new activities occur, your pet may be the first to notice. Follow these tips to make the holidays and other events more relaxing for everyone, including your companion animals.
All pets should have access to a comfortable, quiet place inside if they want to retreat. Animals can get stressed with the hustle and bustle of holiday guests or even trick-or-treaters. Therefore, it’s best to simply keep your pets indoors and provide them with a safe, quiet, escape-proof room where they can get away from the energy and excitement. Remember to provide plenty of food and water, and let your pet catch up on some rest and relaxation.
Watch the exits. Even if your pets are comfortable around guests, make sure you watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving your home. While you’re welcoming hungry guests and collecting coats, a four legged family member may make a break for it out the door and become lost.
Identification tags and microchips reunite families. Make sure your pets always wear current identification tags with up to date contact information. Consider having your pets microchipped if you haven’t already.
Inform your guest ahead of time that you have pets or if other guests may be bringing pet to your home. Guests with allergies or compromised immune systems (due to pregnancy, disease, or medications/treatments that suppress the immune system) need to be aware of the pets (especially exotic pets) in your home so they can take any needed precautions to protect themselves.
Guests with pets? If guests ask to bring their own pets and you don’t know how the pets will get along, you should either politely decline their request or plan to spend some time acclimating the pets to each other, supervising their interactions, monitoring for signs of a problem, and taking action to avoid injuries to pets or people.
Clear the food from the table, counters and serving areas when you are done using them- and make sure the trash gets put where your pet can’t reach it. A turkey or chicken carcass or other large quantities of meat sitting out on the carving table, or left in a trash container that is easily opened, could be deadly to your family pet. Dispose of carcasses and bones- and anything used to wrap or tie the meat, such as strings, bags and packaging – in a covered, tightly secured trash bag placed in a closed trash container outdoors (or behind a closed, locked door).
If you’re throwing a holiday party, consider leaving a cute, festive noted on the food table to remind guest not to share holiday treats with pets. Drinking cups ( especially those filled with alcohol) and plates should be kept out of reach of your pets.
Another tip… Give your pets an early dinner before the guests arrive and the party starts so they are less tempted to beg for and steal food.
Trash also should be cleared away where pets can’t reach it – especially sparkley ribbon and other packaging or decorative items that could be tempting for your pet to play with or consume.
Dr. Gibbs is the Veterinarian at Hilltop Animal Hospital in Fuquay-Varina. Dr. Gibbs purchased Hilltop Animal Hospital in 2011, and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.