Making the holidays safe for our pets

The holidays are rapidly approaching once again. I thought I would take a moment to discuss some of the common holiday items that can cause our pets and us some undue stress at this happy time of year.  There are numerous plants and foods that are always apart of this time of year that can cause our pets to become sick, or occasionally, seriously ill.

When we talk about something being toxic it is almost always with respect to how much of that substance an animal or person consumes. A small amount may not cause a problem and the signs of toxicity increase with the amount ingested. Therefore, the smaller our pet the more likely there is going to be a problem.  We all know that puppies and kittens explore their new world by putting anything they find directly in their mouth and are more likely to have issues with indiscriminate eating. This column is not written to be a damper on the season or meant to imply that these items need to be completely avoided, rather just a reminder of some of the hidden concerns that we all need to be aware.

When we think about winter flower arrangements, the first plant that usually comes to mind is Poinsettia.  These plants have a reputation for being extremely toxic, but that is more of an urban legend than truth. They do cause nausea and vomiting if ingested, but are unlikely to cause a life threatening situation. So placed in the proper location, they can still be a part of the holiday decorations. The plants that need the most concern are mistletoe and any plant in the Lilly family. These plants can cause anything from nausea and vomiting to organ failure with the kidneys being most commonly affected. These plants should absolutely be kept in a place where they can have no contact with our pets.

For our readers out there with feline friends, make sure that these items are kept way out of reach. If you are planning on using live holly with the bright red berries as part of your garland or wreaths be aware that the berries can cause your pet to have increased salivation (drool) but the affects of this are usually self limiting and can be corrected by washing your pets mouth out with tap water.  Live Christmas trees can also cause mild toxicity and there is always the family cat out there that makes the Christmas tree there winter home, so be aware!  The most common signs are similar to the holly berry but if the needles are consumed in large enough quantities they can lead to irritation of the stomach and even blockage of the intestine.

At my house, the holidays are all about eating lots of delicious and savory meals. While the incredible food is what makes me and my family happy, it is not well tolerated by our pets. The best way to approach this issue is not to feed our furry friends anything other than their normal dog food. Our pets do not tolerate changes in their diet very well for the simple reason they are not used to having their diet changed. They eat the same food every day, so when we give them something new it can cause serious issues. Any food that is high in fat is exceptionally bad for our pets. At our hospital we treat countless animals every holiday season because they either helped themselves to the Thanksgiving spread or were given leftovers as a “special treat”. The most common signs that we see related to eating human food are vomiting and diarrhea, but the illness can develop into a very serious and even life threatening situation. I know it’s hard to resist those loving eyes as they stare at you begging for that last piece of ham or turkey, but the potential consequences are not worth the risk.

If your pets start to show any of these clinical signs, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. There are very few over-the-counter medications that are safe to give our pets, so it is always best to get medical advice before treating your pet yourself.  I hope that everyone and their pets have a happy and safe holiday season.

If anyone has any questions or topics they would like discussed, feel free to contact us at Argyle Veterinary Hospital.

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