Oct 31 2018

Holiday Hazards

Keep your pets safe this season.


For many, the next few months will focus on family, friends and good cheer. But, for your furriest family members, the holidays may bring unfamiliar faces, loud noises, and the temptation to eat potentially hazardous things. Knowing what to look out for and the steps to take in an emergency can help ensure that, for both you and your pet, this really is the most wonderful time of the year. 


Although it poses a well-known danger to pets, chocolate remains one of the most highly reported pet toxicities. In fact, the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals addressed 17,540 chocolate toxicity cases in 2017, or about 48 per day. Chocolate become a heightened concern because of the increased volume of candies, baked goods, and chocolate-covered treats in the home. During the week of Halloween, calls to the Pet Poison Helpline – most regarding pets accidentally ingesting candy – increase by 12%, making it the center’s busiest time of year. 


The final few months of the year are brimming with opportunities to decorate your home. Unfortunately, for pets, some decorations look like toys and could lead to injury. 

On major culprit: tinsel. Shiny and string-like, this is a major temptation for cats – and a major threat. Because tinsel is thin and sharp, it can be swallowed easily and become lodged in a cat’s stomach and unable to pass through the intestines. Most veterinarians recommend skipping the tinsel you have a cat in the home. Pet owners who celebrate Christmas should anchor the tree securely so it cannot tip over, potentially injuring a pet. Also, keep an eye on the water in the tree stand. Some pets lap up the stagnant water, which is a breeding ground for bacteria, and can quickly become ill. 


From a pet’s perspective, many holiday traditions aren’t exciting – they are scary. On Halloween, for example, you might rejoice in the stream of costume-clad trick-or-treaters at the door, but your pet just notices that your doorbell has run dozens of times, only to reveal odd-looking strangers each time. This can result in unexpected aggression or in an attempt to escape through the open door. The best way to avoid this stress is to put your pet in a secure crate or a room as far away as possible from the open door. 

On New Year’s Eve, the fireworks that mark the start of a fresh year produce an unwelcome barrage of noise that may send your dog into hiding. If you know that your dog or cat suffers from noise aversion or anxiety, speak with your veterinarian about extra measures you can take to ensure your pet gets through the next few weeks unscathed. 


It is very likely that the sugar-free sweetener xylitol lurks in your pantry. A common ingredient in baked goods, gum and even peanut butter, the additive is particularly dangerous to dogs. Xylitol can cause their blood sugar to drop and even lead to liver failure. Although you can check the ingredient list of the foods you serve or prepare at home, it’s best to keep all baked goods out of your pet’s reach. 


It is widely believed that poinsettias are toxic to pets, but that is not entirely true. Although eating large amounts of the plant has the potential to sicken the animal, mistletoe and holly are actually much more toxic. If ingested, either plant can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and heart arrhythmia in both dogs and cats. 

Likewise, Halloween decorations such as pumpkins and cornstalks can cause gastrointestinal upset or intestinal blockage, and jack-o-lanterns and other decorations with lit candles could burn a curious pet. So, be sure to be watchful;  or use alternative decorations. 


You may look forward to the parties and excitement of the season, but that does not mean your furry friend does. In fact, your cat or dog is probably not a party animal at all. Unfamiliar faces may increase your pet’s level of anxiety or aggression and pose a safety risk. Also, guest entering and exiting the home may not notice your pet slipping out the door behind them. 

To help prevent mishaps, tell visitors in advance you have  a pet. You should also set up a comfortable, quiet place as a retreat for your cat or dog if the socialization becomes overwhelming. Don’t forget to check in on him or her occasionally. 

If you host overnight guests, be leery of their medications. Yours is likely stored away out of sight. But, visitors may leave pills in their suitcase or nightstand where pets can have access to them. This applies to prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements and vitamins. Last year, the APCC received nearly 35,000 calls about the accidental ingestion of medications. 


You don’t have to choose between having a pet an having a god time this holiday season, but being a responsible pet owner means taking precautions to keep your pet happy and healthy well into the new year. If, despite your best efforts, you suspect that your dog or cat has ingested a potentially toxic decoration or food item, immediately call a poison hotline such as the APCC (888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661). Specially trained staff can help identify what your pet ingested and alert you to the danger. If you notice that your pet seems sick or acts odd, don’t hesitate to call your vet (216-531-5225). 



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