Holiday Health Hazards
This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.
Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
If you want to get festive, mix some of your pet's regular food with
water to make a "dough" and roll out and cut into festive shapes, then bake
The holiday season brings excitement and commotion associated with
shopping, final exams, travel, and other seasonal preparations. In all the
activities of the season our beloved pets may be exposed to hazards less
commonly found other times of the year. As homes fill with holiday spirit,
pets may be intrigued by the new sites, smells and tastes. The following are
some of the most common health concerns for your pet during the holidays. If
you have specific questions regarding any pet health concern please contact
Tinsel, Ribbon and other Pretty Things
Ribbons, wrapping paper, ornaments, tinsel, extension cords and gifts may
be appealing "chew toys" that may make your pet sick.
There is something about those shiny strands of Christmas tree decor,
which drives kitties wild. Although the sight of your cat pawing at the tree
may be cute, the ingestion of tinsel can be deadly. Eating tinsel or other
string-like items such as ribbon (often called linear foreign bodies) can
cause serious damage to the intestine. One end can get stuck while the rest
is pulled into the intestine as it contracts; the contractions may cause the
ribbon or tinsel to saw through the intestine. If not caught in time,
infection of the belly cavity develops and the prognosis for recovery
becomes poor. Pets with linear foreign bodies quickly become ill with signs
including vomiting, diarrhea, depression, belly pain and sometimes fever.
Eating other holiday decorations can cause signs ranging from mild
depression to severe vomiting or diarrhea, depending upon whether or not the
foreign matter can be passed in the stool or gets stuck along the way.
Foreign matter stuck in the intestine often does NOT show up on "x-ray" but
sometimes the foreign matter will trap air in the intestine, which helps
your veterinarian make a diagnosis. Surgery is required to remove foreign
matter that does not pass out on its own.
Decorative lights are another attraction for pets to chew on. Both indoor
and outdoor lights should be carefully examined to ensure safety for your
household pets. Electrical shock may occur from defective cords as well as
from pets chewing on cords. Check cords for any signs of bite marks, loose
or frayed wires, proximity to the tree's water supply or evidence of short
circuits. Use grounded "3-prong" extension cords and strictly follow
manufacturer's guidelines for light usage.
Electrical shock can cause burns, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart
rhythm, loss of consciousness, and death. Call a veterinarian immediately if
your pet has been injured by electrical shock. Treatment will be most
effective if begun soon after the shock.
Even though they have their own water bowel, there is something enticing
about a novel source of water; whether it's the toilet bowl or the Christmas
tree stand. If you add chemicals to the water meant to keep your tree fresh
longer, be sure to read the label to make sure it is safe for pets.
Potpourri makes your house smell festive but may be another attraction
for pets to drink. Make sure that potpourri pots are covered or otherwise
inaccessible to pets.
It may be difficult to curb your pet's fascination with all those pretty
decorations. Child gates can be used across doorways to keep your pet away
from the Christmas tree and decorations at times they cannot be watched.
Well-intentioned family and friends may share holiday foods with pets
causing the pet to develop a stomach upset or worse,
(inflammation of the pancreas) which can be caused by eating fatty foods.
To control excessive food intake by your pets and meet your guests' desires
to feed the pets, dole out the treats your pets would normally receive and
let your guests "treat" the pets. If you want to get festive, mix some of
your pet's regular food with water to make a "dough" and roll out and cut
into festive shapes, then bake until crunchy.
Extra attention from visiting relatives and friends may be relished by
some pets while others seek solitude in their favorite hiding spot. Make
sure pets are given some "personal space" if they want to get away from the
Some pets may respond to all the hullabaloo with a change in behavior
including bad behaviors like eliminating in the house. Try to spend a little
extra "quality time" with your pet to assure them they have not been
What would the holidays be without boxes of chocolate and warm cocoa in
front of the fire? However, chocolate can be toxic or even fatal to dogs and
cats. Chocolate may be mistakenly given to pets as treats and may be
irresistible to the curious canine. Chocolate poisoning occurs most
frequently in dogs but other species are also susceptible. Theobromine is
the toxic compound found in chocolate. Signs which may appear within 1 to 4
hours of eating chocolate include:
- Increased thirst
- Difficulty keeping balance
- Muscle spasms, seizures, coma
- Death from abnormal heart rhythm
The toxicity of chocolate depends on the amount and type of chocolate
|Potential Toxic Dose (44lb dog)
The amount of theobromine in white chocolate or chocolate flavored dog
treats is usually negligible. As with any poisoning, call your veterinarian
or an emergency veterinary hospital immediately if you suspect your pet may
have ingested chocolate. Have the product label information available when
you call your veterinarian. There are national and regional poison control
hotlines for animals. In general, the treatment of poisonings is most
effective if begun soon after eating the poison, before large amounts are
absorbed into the blood.
Poinsettias & Mistletoe
fill homes with color during the holidays. Poinsettias have received bad
publicity in the past whereas in fact, poinsettias are not very toxic to
pets. They do contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth but if signs
develop they are usually mild.
Mistletoe can be very toxic to animals and you should seek veterinary
consultation immediately if your pet has potentially ingested any part of
the plant. Mistletoe can cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, difficult
breathing, shock and death within hours of ingestion.
are many species of Holly (genus Ilex) Berries and leaves can be a problem
although signs of poisonings are generally mild, and include vomiting, belly
pain, and diarrhea.
Pets as Gifts
A cute, cuddly puppy or kitten may seem to be the perfect gift but
unfortunately after the holiday season the population of animal shelters
explodes with these "surprise gifts". Owning a pet is a long-term commitment
that not every one can make.
Dealing With Death or Severe Illness over the Holidays
The holiday season heightens our emotions and can be a very difficult
time to deal with the loss or illness of a companion animal. The bond
between animals and humans is often very strong and losses can be very
painful. If you or someone you know needs support without judgment from
those who appreciate your feelings and may be able to help, please contact
the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline.
From all of us at the College of Veterinary Medicine at WSU, best wishes
for a safe and happy holiday season for you and your pets.
Other Holiday & Seasonal Tips:
Weather Pet Tips
Gifts for the Pet Owner and other Holiday Tips
Prevention of Antifreeze Poisoning
This Pet Health Topic was written by Paul Chauvin, Washington State
University, Class of 2004.
Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or
your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.
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