Have yourself a merry little Christmas... but let's make sure your pets do, too!
Some thought and preparation can help keep your pets safe during the holiday season and make for a very merry Christmas for all!
Between candy and baked goods, this is an obvious concern during Christmas. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine. Both of these chemicals can be toxic or even fatal for pets. This is because dogs and cats cannot break down and excrete theobromine as efficiently as we can.
Unsweetened (baker's) chocolate contains 8-10 times the amount of theobromine as milk chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate falls roughly in between the two for theobromine content; so, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pet. White chocolate contains theobromine, but in such small amounts that theobromine poisoning is unlikely. Caffeine is present in chocolate, but less than theobromine, so although a concern, it is less likely to be ingested to a toxic level.
If you suspect that your pet has eaten chocolate (more than the stray chocolate chip that fell on the floor), call your veterinarian for advice. The toxicity of Theobromine is dose dependent. This means that the size of your pet, the type of chocolate, and quantity of chocolate ingested determine if or how toxic it is for your pet.
Signs of chocolate toxicity are most commonly seen within 12 hours (or less) of ingestion and may include:
- Excitement or nervousness
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Excessive thirst and sometimes excessive urination
- Muscle spasms or tremors
Xylitol is a sweetener substitute found in sugar-free gum, candy, and some packaged baked goods. This chemical is highly toxic to pets, causing hypoglycemia, liver failure and eventually death if prompt, appropriate medical treatment is not sought.
Toxicity ranges from mild to severe for many of our favorite holiday plants. The amount of plant consumed determines how sick your pet may become. This means, dose is size-dependent, so puppies and kittens are most often at greatest risk for plant poisonings. In general, gastrointestinal upset is the most common finding, but if enough plant material is ingested, seizures, coma or death is possible. Some of the more common holiday plants include:
- Poinsettia (mildly toxic)
- Balsam, Pine, Cedar, Fir (mildly toxic)
- Mistletoe (moderate to severely toxic)
- Holly (moderate to severely toxic)
- Christmas Lily (severely toxic- cats only)
Cats are the only species known to be affected by lily toxicity. All parts of the lily plant (all lilies, not just Christmas lilies) are considered toxic to cats and consuming even small amounts can be life threatening. Within hours of ingestion, a cat may vomit, become lethargic or develop a lack of appetite. These signs continue and worsen as kidney damage progresses. Without appropriate and immediate medical treatment, the cat may develop irreversible kidney failure in 36 to 72 hours. Failing to seek medical attention in a timely manner often results in death of the pet.
- O Tannenbaum- If you put up a tree, wire it to the ceiling, so it cannot tip over.
Do not let pets drink the tree water. Some may contain fertilizers and/or preservatives that can be toxic if ingested.
Do not allow your pet to chew or rub on the tree. Sap from trees can be irritating to the oral cavity, skin and particularly difficult to remove from your pet's coat and ingestion of sap, bark or needles can cause stomach irritation and upset.
- Lights- Electrical wires should not be within reach, cover or tack/tape down electrical cords to reduce chewing temptations and lights should be unplugged when not in use to reduce the risk of electrocution.
- Decorations- Snow sprays/snow flock, glass ornaments, bubbling lights and snow globes all pose hazards to pets. The liquid component of bubbling lights and snow globes is toxic to pets if ingested, and snow sprays can cause respiratory problems if inhaled.
- Ribbons & Tinsel- This seemingly benign decoration can actually be a deadly hazard to pets. Tinsel is particularly attractive to cats, who once they begin to lick or chew at it, are unable to expel it from their mouth and are force to swallow it. Pets who ingest tinsel or ribbon are at high risk for gastrointestinal blockage, specifically, a linear foreign body, which can be life-threatening and may require emergency surgery.
Most potpourri liquids contain natural or essential oils, which if ingested can cause vomiting, stomach upset, diarrhea, weakness, and possibly liver damage. Some products also contain cationic detergents, which can be caustic, making the symptoms much worse. The caustic cationic detergents, if ingested, burn the mouth and tongue causing ulcers, drooling, pain and diminished ability, if not an inability to eat or drink properly. If they come into contact with the eye or skin, can cause chemical burns, resulting in alopecia, blister-like wounds and pain. Although cats are not typically drawn to ingest this type of product directly, if they rub against or tip the liquid onto themselves, instinctively, cats will tend to try to groom off the product, inadvertently ingesting the potpourri. Signs seen with potpourri contact include depression, drooling, food refusal, tongue ulcerations, patches of reddened skin (possibly with hair loss) or even blister-like wounds.
Within a pet's range, candles are a fire hazard. Wagging tails and frightened or excited pets racing through the house can easily tip over a candle, causing burns or a fire. Curious cats especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames. Fur catches fire easily and pets will run in fear from the flames, sometimes endangering not only themselves, but you and your home, too.
- If you plan to take your pet with you during holiday visits, make sure that your pet is welcome first (with all the activity or family members who may be allergic to your pet, it may be better to board your pet or hire a pet sitter).
- Holiday treats, such as rich, fatty food scraps, meat (cooked and uncooked), bones, alcoholic beverages, and chocolate, can be harmful or toxic to your pet. Do not allow friends and relatives to give your pet special treats. It could ruin everyone's holiday.
- Always take a copy of your pet's medical records with you when you travel, should your pet require emergency treatment while you're away from home.