Family pets can be as curious as children when it comes to holiday decorations, foods, and visitors. Cats swallowing tinsel, dogs eating chocolate, and both getting the medicine from Aunt Sally's purse…pets need to be watched as carefully as children.
Here are a few things to consider when planning your holiday celebrations.
- Batteries in toys, greeting cards, electronic devices, flameless candles, and remote controls can cause serious injury if pets (or humans) swallow them. Internal burns can occur in a very short time.
- If your pet swallows a battery, take the animal to the vet right away! It is NOT OK to wait.
- Water from Christmas tree stands can contain bacteria. Swallowing the water can cause stomach upset and diarrhea, even if the ingredients aren't poisonous.
- Pets can choke on tinsel, ribbons, and Christmas tree needles. They can be cut by broken ornaments. Keep trees and their decorations high up or blocked off.
- Poinsettia is not a deadly plant, despite frequent warnings in the media. However, the sap from poinsettia plants can be very irritating. Pets who chew on poinsettia can develop skin rashes and mouth irritation. If they swallow the plant, they could have stomach upset and discomfort.
- Holly leaves are prickly and can cause injury if a pet tries to eat them. Holly berries can be poisonous; they easily dry up and fall onto the floor where pets (and children) can find them.
- Alcoholic beverages and chocolate are among the foods which pets should not consume. Empty the glasses and store left-overs safely so pets won’t consume the drinks or develop food poisoning.
- Many human medicines are poisonous to pets. For example, small amounts of over-the-counter pain relievers can be fatal to cats and dogs. Even if your own medicines are stored safely, be aware that visitors may have medicines in their purses or suitcases. Provide a place for these things to be stored safely, out of sight and reach of pets (and children).
Please remind your guests NOT TO FEED HOLIDAY FEAST LEFTOVERS to your pet. They may not know that many holiday foods may pose great danger to your four-legged companions. It may seem innocent enough to slip a few extra morsels of dinner or dessert under the table to a begging canine or feline friend, but even the most harmless-seeming meal scraps can sometimes be hazardous to pets.
Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing for the many feasts of the holiday season:
Candy Can Be Deadly. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance that can be toxic to pets. Dark, semi-sweet, and Baker's each contain high-concentrates of theobromine, more than other chocolates varieties - but all chocolate can all be lethal to pets if ingested. Even "sugar-free" candy can be extremely dangerous, so be sure to keep the candy bowls and snack trays well out of your pets’ reach!
Leftovers May Be Dangerous. Fatty leftovers, like meat drippings and bones, can cause internal injury, upset stomachs, diarrhea, or vomiting, and may lead to pancreatitis and obesity. Be sure to keep your friends and family informed and in check before they begin doling out unwanted scraps beneath the dinner table.
Bones Are Bad. Although bones from our holiday birds look good to pets, they are dangerous and can cause intestinal upset and may even splinter once chewed – becoming lodged dangerously in your pets’ throat – or in the process of being digested – creating serious intestinal problems.
Hold the Fruits and Veggies. It seems perfectly logical that because they are good for us, fruits and vegetables are good for pets – and that’s true, partly. Some fruits and vegetables, however, are actually toxic to pets. In terms of vegetables, keep an eye out for garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots dropping from the dinner table, as they are all highly toxic to dogs and cats, and can be fatal in severe cases. As for fruits, grapes, and raisins are the culprits you’ll most need to keep an eye on, as they too can be harmful to pets.
Watch the Packaging. Packaging can cause choking or intestinal blockage when ingested. Foil wrappers can become as dangerous as razors when swallowed, so keep a special eye out for wrapped foods and excessive packaging lying about your home.
Careful with the Caffeine. While you may often need that extra caffeinated boost to keep you going during this exhausting time of year, your pets do not – in fact, many products on the market with large amounts of caffeine or caffeine-like stimulants are toxic to pets. Be sure to steer your cats and dogs clear of anything containing caffeine around your house, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, caffeine pills, and soft drinks.
And a special warning about xylitol: Certain Sugar-Free Gums and Treats Can Kill Dogs
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is commonly used in sugar-free candy and gum, as well as baked goods and toothpaste. It is also used to enhance sweetness in food such as peanut butter. Xylitol is used by many people as a healthy alternative to processed sugar because it has little effect on human blood glucose levels, making it useful for people with diabetes who are trying to control their blood sugar levels. Additionally, xylitol has been approved by the FDA as a way to prevent tooth decay.
But although this sweetener has health benefits for people, xylitol has serious toxic effects in our canine companions!
Xylitol has long been known to cause hypoglycemia, or abnormally low blood glucose levels, in dogs. Within 30 minutes of ingestion, xylitol can cause the pancreas to secrete large amounts of insulin. This encourages the dog’s muscle and fat tissue to use too much blood glucose. The result, hypoglycemia, has devastating effects on a dog’s neurological system, which can lead to seizures or death. Symptoms of hypoglycemia are often lethargy, confusion, sudden blindness, stumbling, and shaking. More recently, xylitol has been shown to cause acute liver failure within 72 hours of ingestion.
Even small doses of xylitol can cause a pooch to become gravely ill. Only 0.1 gram of xylitol per 2.2 pounds of body weight can cause hypoglycemia, while only .5 grams can cause liver failure. Since a piece of sugarless gum can have between 0.3 and 1 gram of xylitol, it will only take a few pieces to poison a dog. There are 190 grams of xylitol in 1 cup of the sweetener. This means that if a recipe for 12 cupcakes call for a cup of xylitol, a 50-lb. pup can become ill after eating one cupcake!
If you suspect your canine companion has ingested a product containing xylitol, it is important that a veterinarian intervenes as soon as possible. Xylitol can be digested and reach maximum levels in the body in as few as 30 minutes.
- If your pet seems ill after getting into any kind of food or decoration, call your vet right away. If you have questions about something your pet may have swallowed, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Local specialists will answer your call, 24 hours a day.