We hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season! While there is much to celebrate during this time of year, some festivities may include aspects that can put your pets at risk. While there is no reason to skip out on your favorite traditions, simply being aware of potential dangers will go a long way in ensuring the safety of our furred family members.
Just as is the case with Easter and Halloween, during Christmas time chocolate and other sweet treats are often present in abundance. Chocolate contains the compounds Theobromine and Caffeine; both of these substances are toxic to our pets. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cocoa and the higher the danger; hence baking chocolate is much more dangerous than white chocolate (which contains little cocoa). Even as little an eighth of an ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can cause clinical signs. Pets that ingest chocolate can show signs of vomiting and diarrhea, fever, increased heart rate and respiratory rate, and even seizures and death. So when you make your grandmothers famous chocolate snowcap cookies this holiday season, please be cautious that everything stays well out of reach of pets. If an accidental ingestion does occur, please call us immediately with the type of chocolate and the amount ingested; it may be necessary to induce vomiting and give activated charcoal to reduce absorption and limit toxicity.
Along with increase in sweets consumption around this time of year, generally we have a change in the décor of our homes as well. Festive decorations such as Christmas trees, Mistletoe, Holly and Poinsettias are quite common. And while beautiful, they can also pose a health risk to your pets. The berries and leaves of Mistletoe and Holly can be extremely toxic when ingested, and can lead to hemorrhagic enteritis (severe bloody diarrhea). Poinsettias can also cause gastrointestinal irritation, and can be toxic if large quantities are ingested. We advise keeping these plants up high and quickly cleaning up any fallen leaves or berries. Potpourri is another common holiday item that our pets may get into. Solid decorative potpourri may pose a risk for obstruction if ingested; liquid and/or simmering potpourri can cause burns or irritation to the mouth, skin, or eyes if pets come into contact with it.
Christmas trees are brought into many households during the holidays and are often decorated with numerous items including twinkle lights, fragile glass ornaments and tinsel. The addition of string lights and other cords put nibbling pets at risk for electrical burns; cover or hide cords to prevent chewing. Low-hanging ornaments are easy targets for kitties looking for batting practice or ferrets who like to hoard shiny objects. Shards can easily cut tissues of the mouth on gastrointestinal tract if ingested. Additionally, be sure family heirlooms are hung higher on the tree to avoid wagging tails. Items such as tinsel, ribbons, and strung popcorn can pose a threat of linear foreign bodies if ingested. Long thin objects are difficult to pass through the intestines; often they become stuck and cause damage internally, leading to emergency surgery.
There are number of risks outside of the home during these colder months as well. It’s a time many of us tune up our vehicles with antifreeze, which has a pleasant sweet taste that can be very appealing to pets. Antifreeze has the ingredient ethylene glycol, which is extremely toxic; as little as one teaspoon may be deadly for a small pet. Within 30 minutes of ingestion, pets may exhibit vomiting, lethargy, incoordination, excessive thirst and urination, even seizures and coma. 12-24 hours after ingestion, these signs may appear to improve, falsely giving the impression that the pet is recovering from the episode. Within 36-72 hours after ingestion, severe kidney damage has occurred, and pets may succumb to seizures, coma, and death. If you suspect your pet has ingested Antifreeze, seek medical attention immediately. Time is of the essence for treatment to be successful. Please keep Antifreeze and other automotive products in tightly closed containers and secured well away from pets. Low Tox® is a brand of Antifreeze made with propylene glycol, a form less toxic to pets, and may be safer for pet households.
In addition to the chemical automotive dangers, mechanical injuries occur commonly during cold weather as well. Outdoor cats frequently seek warm locations in which to sleep overnight, the engine block of vehicles often provides just such a location. If your vehicle remains outdoors during the night, thumping on the hood to scare away any sleeping kitties before turning the key may save a life.
Chemicals used outside of the garage during cold months may lead to medical concerns as well. Ice melting products are often used on drive and walkways. These products may cause contact irritation to the skin and mouth. Depending on the ingredient of the product, ingestion may lead to drooling, vomiting, and possibly even electrolyte imbalances if the quantity is large enough.
If you ever have any questions regarding your pet or a possible toxic ingestion please contact Prescott Animal Hospital and speak with our veterinarians at 928-445-2190 or visit our website at www.prescottvets.com. In addition to our resources, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is also available to pet owners 24 hours a day year round. Their poison hotline can be reached at 1-888-4ANI-HELP (426-4435) or at www.aspca.org.
Keeping our pets safe, healthy and happy is what we strive for here at Prescott Animal Hospital.
Dr. Ashley Joy
Prescott Animal Hospital