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Holiday Safety Guide for Pets

Keep Your Pets Out of the ER

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays should be a time for welcoming friends and family into your home – not for making emergency trips to the animal hospital. But if this year is like most others, veterinarians like myself will be treating many dogs and cats who have gotten sick from eating toxins they shouldn’t have eaten.

Let’s face it, we all like a few extra goodies this time of year. But some foods that are perfectly safe for humans can actually be deadly for your pets. So here are a few tips for avoiding an unplanned trip to the animal ER.

Don’t give your dog bones from the holiday turkey or ham. They can get lodged in the throat and cause choking, or splinter and cause damage to the intestinal tract.

Don’t toss a chocolate candy to Fido – chocolate is toxic to dogs. And in general, avoid giving rich or fatty foods to dogs or cats. These can cause pancreatitis. Other foods to keep away from your pets include onions, garlic, grapes, and macadamia nuts. True, you probably weren’t planning to feed your dog a holiday onion. But remember, some pets think they have permission to eat any food left within reach of their tongue. Please be careful with anything left out on the counter or table.

If you want to give your pet a treat, consider buying something special from the pet store. Unlike some other members of your family, your pets will not feel hurt if their holiday treats are store-bought.

What’s the most dangerous thing a dog can eat? It might very well be xylitol, a substance which a lot of people may not even recognize. This is a sweetener widely used in sugar-free gums and even some low-fat baked goods. It is absolutely lethal for dogs – much more toxic than chocolate. As a precaution, make sure sugar-free gum is far away from any place dogs could get it.

Also, did Grandma leave her purse on the floor? Politely put it on top of a high counter. Dogs and cats love to sniff their way into purses and help themselves to anything that looks tasty. Unfortunately, this can include prescription medicine, much of which is dangerous to pets (as well as to toddlers who might be just as curious about what’s in Grandma’s purse). When people are visiting during the holidays, this low-lying purse situation is a common hazard. Easy-access luggage that’s left on the floor poses another threat for pets (and kids).

The most dangerous thing your pets ingest this holiday may not be food at all. Dogs and cats both have a habit of eating some of the strangest things.

Dogs in particular will swallow the oddest variety of items left on the floor – socks, LEGOs, hairbands, pacifiers, batteries, coins, silverware – you name it, we’ve seen it (and removed it!).

But cats are not immune. They especially like anything long and stringy they can pounce on, play with, and ultimately swallow. This is one reason
cats and tinsel decorations do not mix. Be especially careful of ribbons on gifts, or ornaments that are either low on the Christmas tree or happen to fall off. And while we’re on the subject of Christmas trees, some dogs have been known to chew on the cord to the Christmas lights. The result is serious electrical burns.

Remember these tips, and you’ll have a better chance of relaxing and enjoying time spent with the guests who come to your home to celebrate. Just don’t relax too much. Another holiday hazard is that pets slip out of the front door with so many people coming and going. While exercise is always a good thing, chasing your dog down the street is probably not what you had in mind!

Dr. Granum is a veterinarian at Dogwood Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center/BluePearl. She received her undergraduate biology degree and her doctorate of veterinary medicine from Oregon State University. She enjoys training for marathons and spending time with her cats, Quiz and Chaos.
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