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Deck the Halls — and Avoid an Emergency Visit to Your Vet

By Kim Everson, DVM

It’s a well known fact among veterinary professionals…emergency cases spike around holidays and full moons. As a pet owner you can’t do a thing to prevent astrological influences on your pet’s health, but you can create a pet-safe holiday environment.

  1. People food is not for pets. It’s tempting, I know, to share a chunk of turkey or the ham bone with your furry family member. However, gastrointestinal upset ranging from a little diarrhea to pancreatitis, broken teeth, or intestinal infection is the most common veterinary complaint following holiday meals.
  2. Some sweets are toxic treats. Chocolate is probably  the most well known toxic sweet; however,the cookie tray and buffet table may contain other less obvious threats to pets. Macadamia nuts, avocado, grapes/raisins, onions/garlic/chives, and goodies containing xylitol artificial sweetener should not be ingested by pets.
  3. Dangerous drinks? I’m sure some dogs love to lick the foam off a good brew, but really…alcohol should be kept away from pets. Also keep your pets away from caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea.  Egg nog (even alcohol-free) is not a good choice for pets either. Fresh water is still the best.
  4. Pets and fire safety. Each holiday season fires kill hundreds and cost millions in damages. The warmth and beauty of a flaming candle or crackling fire can quickly turn disastrous in the presence of a curious cat or a wagging tail. Never leave burning candles unattended.
  5. Hang the mistletoe up high. Many holiday plants can be toxic to pets. Make sure no one nibbles the holly, mistletoe, poinsettia or lillies in your holiday decor.
  6. Tree tip #1: Tinsel is beautiful on the tree but wreaks havoc on the digestive tract. Avoid emergency surgery for your cat by steering clear of this holiday hazard.
  7. Tree tip #2: Electric shocks and oral burns can occur when curious pets chew or play with strands of lights. Keep light strands out of reach to reduce the risk of injury and fire.
  8. Tree tip #3: Home-made garlands of cranberries and popcorn may tempt pets into mischief. My darling yellow lab EdGrrr once devoured the natural garlands I draped on an outdoor evergreen for the birdies. Imagine the disaster if he had clambered up our indoor tree! Also the string, like tinsel, could lead to intestinal dangers.
  9. Fragile family heirlooms? Like toddlers, pets don’t understand how to behave around your precious antique stemware. Best to keep your fragile treasures out of harm’s way entirely.
  10. Gift trimmings are not cat toys. Ribbons, bells and other pretty trimmings can be choking hazards or cause intestinal blockage if swallowed. Plus it spoils the surprise if Fluffy inadvertently unwraps the gifts under the tree!

Heeding these holiday warnings does not mean furry family members have to be left out of the festivities. On average pet owners will spend $46 on gifts for their pets during the 2011 holiday season. Topping the gift list are toys and treats. From experience, I suggest you hide the gift wrapped tasty treats until the appointed moment of celebration or Fido and Fluffy may just help themselves a little early!

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