In 2019, 70% of pet owners bought a Christmas present for their pet. Millions of cat and dog stockings hung by the chimney with care can’t be wrong — households want to share the joy of the season with their pets. We love to see it!
But veterinarians, like most medical professionals, spend holidays waiting for the emergency calls to roll in. Let’s be proactive this year: It’s time to remind clients that many of the festive treats and decorations they bring into their home pose a hazard to their pets.
Christmas Trees and the Dangers of Foreign Bodies
For households with pets, Christmas trees can swiftly become twinkling disaster zones. The baubles and bright lights draw in curious pets, and unfortunately, ornaments are a serious threat to animals’ health.
Tinsel and cats are not a good mix. (Tinsel is also a danger to dogs, but the shiny stuff seems especially tempting to cats.) Tinsel is made out of foil, and if ingested, it can wreak havoc on a pet’s insides. It can also get wrapped around the base of the tongue, making it difficult or impossible for the cat to swallow normally. Ribbon, ornaments, and wrapping paper pose a similar risk. In addition to vomiting, owners should also keep an eye out for symptoms like drooling, lip licking, and excessive head shaking.
Foreign bodies can get stuck in the digestive tract, causing a potentially serious obstruction. Often, radiographs (x-rays) are needed to look for signs of foreign bodies. It is possible for a foreign body to pass without causing an animal discomfort, but if a dog or cat is vomiting and exhibiting signs of illness, it may be time to operate. The good news: there is a high survival rate among animals who need an operation to remove a foreign body. But it’s still not how anyone wants to spend their Christmas Eve.
And Christmas tree danger doesn’t end there.
Preservatives added to the base of a Christmas tree can cause serious gastrointestinal discomfort in animals. Even if there aren’t preservatives, standing water can develop bacteria that can make animals sick. If your client sees them lapping up water at the base of the tree, they shouldn’t be surprised if illness quickly follows. For many clients, fake trees are the best way to go.
No matter if it’s real or fake, lots of cats love to knock trees over. Cat owners should make sure their tree is securely fastened to its base, and maybe leave the more delicate ornaments off the tree.
Holiday Treats to Keep Away from Pets
Everyone needs a reminder: Human food is not necessarily pet food, no matter how much they beg. Foods that are toxic to pets include chocolate, treats sweetened with a fake sweetener called xylitol, grapes, raisins, coffee, raw dough, and onions (that includes onion powder). Tell Santa that if he wants his chocolate-chip cookies, they will be somewhere the dog can’t get to them.
Here are a few examples of holiday toxins that clients should make sure their pets don’t consume:
Sugar-free candy canes are often sweetened with xylitol, and they have proven fatal to dogs, especially smaller breeds.
Turkeys, especially heavily spiced or smoked turkeys, can make dogs ill.
Fatty and spicy food tend to give pets an upset stomach.
Poinsettias have a bad rap as a poisonous plant — they’re a much milder toxin than their reputation might suggest, but why take chances?
Mistletoe and holly are much more dangerous plants. They’re toxic, and holly’s pointy leaves can injure a pet’s insides.
It’s a lot to remember, and no one can watch their pets 24/7. Make sure clients know that the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is just a phone call away: 1-888-426-4435.
Scented candles and essential oils can add festive fragrances to our homes, but we should remind clients that these super-strong smells can be irritating to pets’ sensitive noses. Also, hot oil should never be left where animals can get to it — one lick could result in a serious burn.
Candles pose just as much a danger to pets as humans. Cats might knock them over on purpose, while clumsier dogs’ wagging tails can swiftly put an end to menorah and advent wreath fun.
Traveling for the Holidays?
Not many families will be able to travel this year, but it’s still worth mentioning that dogs spending the holidays in a kennel can receive a vaccine that will lessen their symptoms if they get kennel cough. They can also get a vaccine for canine influenza, and they’ll need to be up-to-date for all their other shots. Dogs should also prepare for a kennel stay with lots of crate training.
This is a great time to remind clients: If it’s not an emergency, they can always check in with you on a quick video conference call. No need to leave the cozy fireplace. Here’s hoping we get to spend as much time as possible with our loved ones (even if it’s over Zoom), instead of rushing to handle an emergency.
And if clients plan to ring in the New Year with a bang, it’s never too early to consult our guide on how to prepare pets for fireworks.