Whether you are at home or away, the holidays should be a time for everyone to enjoy, including your pets.
Rich foods, glass baubles and tinsel, and exotic holiday greens capture the attention of cats and dogs, but all can pose a serious threat to their well-being.
Cats will chew tinsel and even swallow it. Once swallowed, it can wrap around the animal’s intestines and create what veterinarians call a linear foreign body.
Tinsel ingestion is one of the most common holiday pet problems, according to Brent Cook, a veterinarian with Kingsbrook Animal Hospital.
“We had a cat come in after eating tinsel last year, and he was lucky enough to have it pass naturally,” Cook said. “Unfortunately, we also had a case which required surgery. … The tinsel was stuck, and there was a possibility that it would puncture the bowel,” which can cause death.
If owners see a pet eating tinsel, they should try to induce vomiting. If they are unable to remove the tinsel, they should call their vet for instructions.
Glass baubles hanging on Christmas trees resemble bright pet toys, and dogs have been known to take them off the tree and try to chew them. The ornaments can shatter and cut the inside of the animal’s mouth.
Younger animals are more prone than older ones to eating inedible items, experts say.
“If you have pets, you should only decorate the top two-thirds of the tree,” said Brigitte Farrell, executive director of the Frederick County Humane Society.
Beware of chocolate and mistletoe
Holly, mistletoe and other potentially poisonous holiday greens should be placed out of animals’ reach.
“Depending on the weight of the animal and the amount ingested, they can be toxic and will cause gastrointestinal problems,” said Leslie Wolff, managing doctor at the Frederick Veterinary Referral Group.
Table scraps of holiday food — such as turkey, ham and baker’s chocolate — can also cause stomach problems for pets.
Baker’s chocolate is known to cause seizures and other neurological problems if more than half a pound is eaten.
Opportunities for pets to grab scraps increase during holiday get-togethers and family visits, where food is often left unattended. Hosts should tell their guests to remain attentive around pets and to not feed them, experts say.
“You have to know your pets. … If they’re amongst guests, make sure they don’t get scraps,” said Diana Culp, director of humane education for Frederick County Animal Control.
Hosts should prepare a room in their home where pets can be alone so the animals are not overwhelmed by a large number of new people.
Pet owners who plan to travel with their animals in tow should remember to bring food, paperwork, identification and a picture of themselves with the pet.
If the animal is staying home, owners should make arrangements with a kennel or sitter beforehand.
“Make sure that the kennel or sitter is available and that they can reach you at any time,” Culp said.
Active pets that spend time outside require special attention when taken out into the cold and snow.
Road salt between paw pads can lead to irritation. Paws should be cleaned after walks, especially if the animal walks through slush.
Antifreeze is another common winter commodity that is dangerous to pets. Consuming only a tablespoon can cause death in large dogs.
“I hope that you don’t need (to take your pet to the vet), but it’s good to know that we are here,” Wolff said.
Wolff recommends “common sense, and keep them safe.”