It’s always a bit misleading to think that various times of the year are more dangerous for our pets than others, but there are some specific things we should think about and address in order to keep our beloved pets safe and happy, especially as our minds focus on holiday gift lists, vacations, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
GIFT WRAP AND PRETTY RIBBONS
Cats (and some dogs) eat ribbons. Cats love ribbons. If you have a cat, just avoid ribbons. Ribbons can get caught in the intestinal tract, but the result is not a pretty bow. No, the result is often a crisis that requires surgery to remove and repair. Be smart, and keep pets away from ribbons!
CHRISTMAS TREES AND HOLIDAY DECOR
Dogs and cats eat tinsel, chew lights and cords, eat ornaments, chew wreaths and all other festive items. At the very least stomach upset (diarrhea, vomiting, pain) is quite likely and at the worst intestinal foreign body obstruction can occur. Pets can even have reactions to glue or fake snow sprayed on wreaths, trees and other types of decor. It is best to err on the side of caution and keep pets away from décor, especially if your pet is prone to mischief. Electric shock can result from chewing holiday lights. Shock can be serious or even fatal. Glass ornaments can cause mild to severe mouth and gastrointestinal bleeding. Of course, even when your pet is unharmed, it is not unheard of for pets to knock over trees and/or inappropriately eliminate on them.
Gifts wrapped or stockings stuffed with meats, cheeses, candies, cakes, cookies, even some candles are particularly enticing to pets. Place these items out of reach. Animals do not respect the “Do Not Open Until Christmas” tag, and Christmas at the ER is not on anyone’s To Do list!
Be careful to position candles out of pet’s reach. Curious kittens, cats, puppies and dogs can burn their whiskers, tails or worse, and of course there is the obvious risk of household fire.
Your animals want to eat all of them! If you bake a cake and set it down to check on your children, your dog will eat it. Your cat will jump on the counter and lick frosting from a bowl. At this time of year, the cat and dog have made a pact – they are working together to distract you. Also giving your dog a lick of turkey or ham juice may seem like a wondrous holiday gift, but if everyone at dinner or in the house does the same thing, you will be finding that diarrhea, pain, vomiting, and a trip to the ER may also be needed to take care of gastroenteritis or pancreatitis. As always, be super careful with chocolate. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate can be very bad. Milk chocolate can be bad too. With chocolate, it’s typically a matter of dose. Some ingredients toxic to pets are simply a matter of exposure. Minimal amounts of ingredients like xylitol, grapes and raisins can have dire consequences and often require immediate treatment.
Poinsettias can cause gastrointestinal upset (especially if a large amount is eaten), as can mistletoe and holly. More serious is ingestion of decorative lilies and daffodils by cats. Christmas/peace lilies can kill cats. Daffodils are less deadly, but can cause severe irritation. Be cautious of ingestion of anything abnormal in the house.
Leaving the house for the day, bringing your cat to the in-laws, having the new downstairs neighbor check up on the animals … all these things can cause anxiety and stress for our pets. These changes are unsettling for many pets and even terrifying for a few. Animals don’t always find traveling, new environments, new smells, new people (especially children), and new animals appealing. Some animals may be disturbed by more alone time, unfamiliar caretakers, doggie day outs or boarding kennels. Think ahead if you have a sensitive dog or cat. Perhaps the pet sitter can come over a few times before you travel? Talk to us; we can give suggestions and perhaps even prescribe medications to help your pet through an otherwise anxious time.
GENERAL COLD WEATHER TIPS FOR PETS
Firstly, consider inherent breed differences. Short coated, toy breeds will likely require more of protection from the elements by you than the artic breeds would require. Malamutes and Siberian huskies won’t enjoy wearing a coat as much as a chihuahua would! Give extra thought to warmth and comfort for very young, very old and infirmed pets. All pets are different, so talk it over with us to be sure you are providing a safe and comfortable environment for those who rely upon you to do so. Is your pet playing, eating, and drinking normally? The answers to these questions can help determine your overall pet’s level of comfort.
Avoid salted sidewalks and roads as these can cause irritation and harm to animals.
Consider providing additional environmental stimuli for your pet during the harsh cold of winter. You and your pet’s outdoor activities may be curtailed, so consider puzzles and indoor games to keep your pet healthy. This can be particularly important for breeds like Border Collies. A tired dog is a well behaved dog. Dogs with energy to spare can get into trouble and may even become destructive. Consider spending indoor time brushing and grooming your pet or even wrestling and indoor play with your pet.
As always, beware of anti-freeze! Open containers, spills and towels used to clean up spills can all be sources of exposure for our pets. These chemicals taste sweet to pets and are life threatening following ingestion. Antifreeze can cause serious and permanent injury to kidneys. If your pet is exposed to anti-freeze, time is of the essence. Early treatment can be the difference in survival.
We live in the south and southern winters have warm days. This means fleas, ticks and mosquitoes (vector for heartworms) are still around. Although many people are tempted to stop preventives during “winter”, we do not recommend this practice. Please use high quality preventives all year to keep your pets healthy.
Lastly, NEW YEAR’S EVE is usually loud and most pets do not like loud noises, even if they are celebratory in nature. As mentioned in the Pet Anxiety section above, talk with us ahead of time. Our doctors can provide guidance for pets with noise phobias. Place uncomfortable and phobic pets in safe environments and be sure your pet is microchipped.
This blog was written by Dr. Midge Phillips based upon framework provided by Dr. Brett Grossman, Medical District Veterinary Clinic, Illinois.