My cat once needed emergency surgery a few days before Christmas. I was sewing the finishing touches on my mom’s gift and got up to get a snack. When I sat back down, not more than a minute later, I discovered my cat running away with a sewing needle in her mouth! We both took a fateful – gulp. My cat and I have enjoyed 12 holiday seasons together since that terrible day. We all know accidents happen but there are simple precautions that can help. Here are the top ten dangers that could save you a trip to the veterinary emergency room.
- Holiday Lights and Candles: Not only is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation an excellent movie, but it is also a perfect example of what not to do with your pets at this time of year. Hilarious movie scene? Yes, but in all seriousness, pets chewing on wires can have tragic consequences. Electrical shock can cause tongue lacerations and possible death. Be sure to examine your holiday lights for fraying or chewed wires and always use a three-prong extension cord as a safety precaution. When you have a candle lit, keep it out of reach to prevent burns or pets knocking them over, creating a fire hazard.
- Tinsel and Holiday Ornaments: Tinsel can cause serious injury to your pet. If ingested the foreign body can be fatal as it works its way through the intestines of a pet. It’s no wonder bright and colorful tree ornaments can be very attractive to pets too. Sometimes they do not look all that different from actual pet toys. If chewed or swallowed delicate ornaments can be easily broken or taken apart. The sharp edges could cut your pets’ paws, mouth, throat and insides or could be a choking hazard.
- Ribbons and Bows: Many of us like to go the extra mile with our gift-wrapping to make our presents stand out. Ribbon and bows can attract pets and can wreak havoc on their intestines when ingested. Make sure you keep any gifts with ribbon out of reach of pets and quickly discard (or put them away to use again) when unwrapping gifts. It can save your furry critters from emergency surgery.
- Festive Food: Everyone loves holiday meals and treats. Unfortunately, many of our favourite goodies are extremely toxic and can be fatal to pets! Watch out for chocolate (the darker and richer the more risk of toxicity), fat trimmings, bones, and nuts. Raw bread dough if ingested can rise inside a pets’ digestive tract, blocking internal organs and can cause seizures and respiratory failure. Make sure visitors in your home know not to give table scraps to your pets, no matter how big those pleading eyes get!
- Toxic Holiday Plants: Some plants can be very poisonous to pets. Lily’s for example can be lethal to cats. Other plants may cause more mild symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea but nevertheless should be avoided. Some holiday plants you will want to watch out for: Christmas tree pine needles, holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia.
- Hazardous Treats: Special treats can seem like a great gift idea for your pet but it is important to recognize potential dangers. Bones and rawhides for example are a choking hazard and can obstruct their intestinal tract. Hard treats like bones or antlers can break teeth. Cooked bones when chewed on can fragment into small slivers that cause severe irritation or even puncture through the intestine.
- Christmas Trees – We’ve all seen funny videos of cats attempting to climb Christmas trees. Yes – it can be entertaining when we see it online but a tree falling could potentially result in injury and heartbreak when your favourite ornaments are broken! Always make sure your tree is secured by using a stable stand or tying it off. Evergreen needles should never be ingested as they may require surgery to be removed. Ensure your pets do not drink water from a live Christmas tree because it can cause stomach upset.
- Open Doors: Always keep an eye on your pets and know where they are when guests are coming and going from your home. Consider keeping cats in their own safe space with everything they need. Take the time to make sure they have collars with identification and that they are microchipped just in case. On this topic, if your pets get stressed out by doorbells and increased activity; consider speaking to your veterinarian about some tips to help manage their stress.
- Anti-Freeze and Ice Melt: Be very careful to look for ice melt products that contain a propylene glycol base that is relatively pet safe. Rock salt can irritate paws causing pets to lick or swallow the salt which can result in agitation and vomiting. Anti-freeze with the chemical ethylene glycol is deadly to animals even in very small amounts so make sure to clean up any spills that may occur when refilling your car. While on the topic of ice, be sure to limit exposure to freezing temperatures. If it is too cold for you to be outside it is likely too cold for your pet (temperature tolerance can differ greatly depending on breed. A husky will likely be much more tolerant of the cold than a greyhound but you should always make sure your pet is able to escape the cold when they want)! Provide small dogs or those with thin hair a coat or sweater if going outside. Pet booties can also help your pets’ feet stay warm, dry and protected from rock salt.
- Alcohol and Marijuana – Alcohol can be poisonous to pets and in some cases can lead to coma or death. Even a small amount can be lethal for a small cat or dog. Remember that alcohol can be found in many places including Holiday Fruit Cake. Additionally, pets can become intoxicated by cannabis in many ways including second-hand smoke, eating edibles or ingesting cannabis directly. The effects of cannabis are dramatic and toxic to pets. Be sure to keep alcohol and cannabis out of reach of pets.
A few extra safety measures around this time of year can help ensure you and your family (including your pets) have a safe and happy holiday. As much as we love to see you and your pets at the clinic we never *want* to see them for emergencies. That being said, we are always here to help if you need us! In case of an after-hours emergency please call your nearest emergency veterinary clinic.