Leesburg Veterinary Hospital’s Winter Holiday Safety Tips
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here. As you gear up for a season full of festivities and merriment, be sure to take your pets’ well-being into consideration. Curious critters may be enticed by shiny decorations and decadent foods, or get stressed by a house full of guests and changes to their routine. In general, we suggest keeping your pet’s daily schedule (eating, exercise, etc.) as close to normal as possible. To reduce or prevent stresses, always provide a quiet room where your pets can retreat, stocked with their favorite comforts such as toys, catnip, blankets, and beds. Before guests arrive, take your dog for a walk or run, or romp around with your cat to release extra energy.
Take a moment to review some holiday pet hazards and our suggestions for a safe and healthy holiday season with your four-legged friends. Just a few preventative measures can make all the difference!
Indulgent Foods Served At Dinners or Parties
Some of our favorite holiday indulgences can cause stomach upset, pancreatitis, or toxic poisoning in cats and dogs, even when given in small amounts. It’s best to keep your pet’s diet as normal as possible during holiday dinners or when entertaining at parties. (Politely remind guests not to feed beggars from the table as well.) If your pet is used to eating human food, offer some skinless, white turkey; plain veggies such as green beans are also a healthy option! Avoid feeding your pets the following foods:
- Fatty skins and gravy
- Turkey bones
- Garlic and onions
- Sage and other herbs
- Raisins and grapes
Xylitol, a hidden danger in candies, baked goods, and now even some peanut butters.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in many types of gum, mints, baked goods, a few brands of peanut butter, and even hygiene products (such as oral/dental care products). Unfortunately, xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even a small dose can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, and/or liver failure. Some types of gum can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia if a LARGE dog ingests only 2 pieces! Xylitol causes a rapid release of insulin from the dog’s pancreas, which results in a significant decrease in their blood sugar. Higher doses of xylitol can cause liver failure. Prompt treatment by a veterinarian is essential for a good outcome in these cases. You do not want to wait until you see signs of low blood sugar—your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as you suspect xylitol ingestion.
Xylitol ingestion treatment consists of monitoring bloodwork, an IV catheter with IV fluids containing dextrose (sugar), and liver protectants.
The sweet smells of the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without chocolate or cocoa in the air. Unfortunately the chemical makeup of chocolate is not pet-friendly, making many holiday sweets off limits. Chocolate consists of two chemical compounds that are toxic to dogs – theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine is particularly harmful because dogs metabolize this compound much more slowly than humans. A toxic dose can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias and death, in severe cases.
This does not mean every time your dog accidentally ingests chocolate they will become ill. It all depends on the type of chocolate, amount ingested, and the size of your dog. For example, unsweetened baker’s chocolate (commonly used in cookie, candy, and fudge recipes) contains 8-10 times the amount of Theobromine than milk chocolate. (For a more in-depth review o the chemical makeup and toxicitiy levels of vaious types of chocolate, read our blog article, A Short and Sweet Summary of Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs.)
If your dog has ingested chocolate it is best to contact your veterinarian or the poison control hotline (see below) to see if treatment is advised.
Some animals are curious and will chew on electrical cords. Chewing the cords can cause mouth burns, shock, or electrocution. Prevent accidental problems by covering and hiding the cords in your house, unplugging cords when leaving, and not allowing your furry family members from chewing on them!
Ribbons and Tinsel
Many animals are drawn to ribbons, tree tinsel and other shiny decorations. If chewed or ingested, these objects can get caught in the intestinal tract and cause severe damage (often referred to as a “linear foreign body”). If you have a curious critter, it is best to keep your wrapping simple (no ribbons) and maybe avoid the tinsel on the tree this year!
Many household plants can be toxic if ingested. Lilies are by far the most toxic plant; if you have a cat in your house it should just be a rule that you do not have any lilies in your house. Other holiday plants such as poinsettias, mistletoe, holly, and pine tree needles are mildly toxic and may cause gastrointestinal upset if ingested. Please call your veterinarian if you think your pet may have ingested a plant.
When the weather outside turns frightful, some helpful winter products for us – antifreeze, windshield wiper fluids, and ice melting products – are not so friendly for pets.
Antifreeze and Windshield Wiper Fluids
Ethylene Glycol (or methanol), the main ingredient in antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid, has an inviting aroma and sweet taste, making them very enticing for our furry friends to ingest. Unfortunately, even a small dose (about 2 tbsp.) can be toxic to pets! Make sure these products are stored out of reach from children and pets, and spills are immediately cleaned up. Do not allow your dog to drink from puddles when out for walks. If exposure is suspected, immediate emergency treatment should be initiated.
Rock Salt and other ice melting products
Dogs can easily get ice and salt clumped to their feet on walks. This can be irritating to their skin and mouths (when they try to lick it away) and in some circumstances can cause more severe signs such as drooling, vomiting, and electrolyte imbalances. Booties are a great option for keeping paws clean and dry (if your dog will tolerate them!) or you can quickly soak each paw in a bowl of warm water when they come inside, then pat dry to get rid of the ice clumps and possible salt and chemicals.
The best defense against pet poisoning is educating yourself and being aware of potential toxins before your pet gets into them. If you suspect your pet has ingested or come in contact with a harmful product, food, contact your veterinarian immediately. During the busy holiday season, keep your veterinarian’s (and the local 24 hour emergency hospital) contact information close by.
- Species, breed, age, sex, weight
- Symptoms and signs of your pet’s poisoning
- Name, strength, and amount ingested (have the product container or packaging available for reference)
- The time elapsed since the time of the exposure
To wrap up, here’s a summary of our tips to keep your furry friends happy and healthy this holiday season.
Leesburg Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Jennifer Boyle contributed to this article.