I have been very hesitant to wade into animal health related content on here. I’m not a veterinarian and I haven’t worked in a vet clinic in nearly a year. However, I learned a lot in my many years of working in clinics and wanting to be a vet that I believer more pet owners should know, but vets are busy and don’t always have the time to explain because they have 4 appointments waiting or are late for surgery. There are many pet health hazards around the holidays, so much so that vet clinic staff have dark humor jokes about the days after Thanksgiving, Christmas, poinsettia season, lily season for Easter, there are so many opportunities for disaster and expensive emergencies.
Tinsel and ribbons
Tinsel and ribbons can be a choking hazard for pets if they get wrapped around their necks or they try to eat it. However, it can cause even more serious problems if they successfully eat it. Anything long, flexible and skinny can cause bunching of the intestines as the body attempts to pass it. When I was working in the vet clinic I saw more than a few cases where the piece of string gets pulled so tightly because it gets stuck in the stomach or in the intestines but the other end of it moves through their bodies and cuts through the intestine. It can be really serious.
We didn’t use tinsel when I was growing up, but I now use this Victorian Tinsel, and it’s roughly 4 inch long sections of twisted metal with a hook at the top. It has the sparkle of tinsel, but it isn’t messy and animals aren’t going to be attracted to eating it. Oh and it’s completely reusable so it is also more eco-friendly!
In general I (and most vets I know) recommend not feeding your pets human food, in general we require A LOT more calories than they do. So a cube of cheese to us, is like a third of their daily caloric requirements for most dogs. They can also be really sensitive to fatty foods, chocolate, sugar, etc. that we tolerate better than they do.
I feel like most people know about this one by now. However, I also think that this one is now so well known that it causes more alarm that is normally needed. Like most toxic things it is dose dependent, so the amount of the toxin vs. the size of the consumer. So think about how most 90lb people get drunk faster than 250lb people, and apply that to a Yorkie eating a square of dark chocolate vs. a Great Dane eating a square of dark chocolate. I would always recommend that you call your vet if you think or know your dog has eaten chocolate, they will ask you what they ate and how much. They will then use your dog’s weight and calculate if it’s a dangerous dose or not. But in general, the darker and richer the chocolate, the more dangerous to the pet.
Almonds, not-mouldy walnuts, and pistachios can cause upset stomachs, vomiting, and obstructions of the throat and intestinal tracts as dogs and cats typically won’t chew nuts properly. And mouldy walnuts and macademia nuts can cause seizures and neurological signs including, lethargy, vomiting, and loss of muscle control. Even though these nuts are specifically noted to cause illness, all nuts should be avoided.
Fat Trimmings and Bones
When I mentioned the dark humour vets have to get through the time around holidays, the results of feeding your pets too much fat is exactly what I was referring to. Pancreatitis and the holidays go together for veterinary teams. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can be very severe and result in long stays at the vet hospital, many days on IV fluids, potential long-term effects and, if severe enough, death. So avoid adding fatty foods to your pet’s diet at the holidays (and things like pig’s ears all the time). As for bones, I think we all have that pastoral image of your dog chewing on a bone as a treat. However, bones can splinter and cause perforations along the intestinal tract. And there are so many options now for other chewing treats such as Greenies, CET Chews, and all other types of dental chews all make great alternatives.
Other foods to avoid are alcohol, caffeine, fruits with pits (it’s mostly the pit that is the problem), dairy, nutmeg, onions and garlic, xylitol (in sugar-free gum, some brands have recently started to relable this product as Birch Sugar or Sucre du Bouleau), and raw fish can all also cause problems.
Poinsettia is the one that most people know about, it can cause irritation of the mouth and stomach and sometimes vomiting if enough is consumed. Mistletoe, holly, and pine needles can all also be very toxic. Mistletoe, especially, can cause serious neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms, including hallucinations, difficulty breathing, collapse, erratic behaviour and death.
False greens including artificial trees can also cause irritation of the mouth and intestines leading to painful gums and vomiting if your pet likes to chew on them or eat them. Spraying them with bitter apple spray can be a great way to discourage your pet from chewing on your tree!
I like to think about decorating for pets the same as decorating for small children, and while I don’t have children, I was the oldest child. So when I was helping my mom decorate when I was growing up, we always had to put the delicate stuff up top, and put the items that you can bear to part with within reach of your pets. Or do like some people on the internet and have a naked tree from the middle down.
Consider where you are putting your lights and running your cords if you have a pet that chews. Chewing on cords can result in shocks leading to burns or even electrocutions.
Everything we do has a certain amount of risk, knowing what the risks are and how to mitigate them is a part of life. And pets are excellent at finding all the possible risks they can any time of year. So don’t add anything onto your holiday stress with emergency trips to the vet or multi-thousand dollar emergency vet bills.
Happy Holidays to all your fluffy, feathery, and scaly friends!