Starting with Halloween, the fall-winter holiday season yields innumerable hazards to our pets (see Top 5 Halloween Pet Safety Tips). The potential danger continues into Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwaanza, New Year’s Eve, or other holiday of your choice. Pet hazards lurk in festive foods, decorations, and schedule and environment changes. Take the following precautions, as you will suffer emotional and financial stress caused by a pet’s holiday health crisis.
Even though they may love the taste, avoid feeding your pet any of chocolate, candy, fats, proteins, bones, and dried fruits.
Chocolate and Candy– Chocolate contains chemical compounds called methylzanthines, including caffeine and theobromine, which have many toxic effects in dogs (see Pet Care 101- Why is chocolate unhealthy for my dog?). Additionally, the fat and sugar in chocolate and candy can cause serious gastrointestinal abnormalities, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis.
Fats and Proteins– Holiday foods, including animal skin, meats, and cheese are high in calories and contain large percentages of fat and protein. Even feeding your pet an amount of these foods that visually appears small can exceed your pet’s daily caloric requirements. Additionally, the interruption of your dog’s consistent consumption of a particular food by feeding holiday foods will increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal upset.
Bones– Cooked bones are harder than raw bones and prone to splintering, causing mechanical irritation to the lining of the stomach and intestines. Large pieces or multiple bones can be ingested, potentially causing esophageal, gastric, or intestinal obstruction. This year, don’t be “that owner” berating yourself after a pet has gotten sick after eating your leftover steak bone.
Dried Fruits– Raisins (and grapes) have an unknown toxic mechanism which causes damage to the canine kidney. Although the toxic effects are most commonly seen when large amounts are consumed, it is recommended to prevent your dog from eating raisins and grapes. Along these lines, I recommend not feeding your pet any dehydrated fruits, as they are high in calories, may contain preservatives (sulfites, etc), and could lead to vomiting, diarrhea or other health concerns.
Prevent your pet from having contact with holiday decorations, including candles and holiday plants.
Candles– Even momentary contact between a lit candles and your pet’s fur can set your pet on fire, leading to life threatening skin burns. I have recently been involved in the treatment process of Buddha, a dog burned by an unknown heat source (see Burned French Bulldog Continues to Heal with Acupuncture Treatments). Besides the pain and suffering burned pets must endure, your entire family may be at risk if a pet knocks a candle over and causes combustion of flammable household materials.
Additionally, scented candles (cinnamon, fig, vanilla, etc) emit appealing aromas and may cause gastrointestinal abnormalities if consumed.
Holiday Plants– Many holiday plants are potentially toxic to your pet. A list of toxic and non-toxic plants can be found on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website.
Despite general public perception, the poinsettia is a traditional holiday plant that is only mildly toxic to pets when consumed. The poinsettia contains a sap which causes local irritation to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract when ingested, potentially causing salivation or vomiting.
Christmas pine, spruce, and fir trees and their water can both lead to toxic reactions in your pet. Christmas tree needles contain oils and resins potentially causing salivation and digestive upset. Consumption of tree water can cause gastrointestinal problems or organ (kidney, liver other) failure caused by fertilizers, bacteria, or molds.
Schedule and Environmental Changes
Holidays create situational changes in our lives and cause additional stress for our pets. Pet owners or guests entering and exiting the home environment increases the likelihood your pet could escape. Even if your pet is not a notorious escape artist, fit your pet with a collar bearing appropriate identification. Additionally, microchip implantation will connect your pet to you should their collar fall off or be removed.
Travel plans or the presence of holiday guests may require a pet to be kenneled in a facility or confined in your home. If your pet is kept outdoors, ensure their safety from weather extremes by providing a climate controlled shelter.
This holiday season, please think ahead and plan for the possibility that your pet may be adversely affected by your festivities. Should your pet show illness or be suspected to have inappropriately consumed holiday foods or decor contact your regular or emergency veterinary hospital.
Dr. Mahaney graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and is also a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. He lives and practices in Los Angeles, California, and works closely with local rescue organizations. He also writes for Los Angeles Pet Care Examiner column.