By Scott Prater
As the holidays approach, families and friends may have already started preparing the meals they look forward to all year. Parties and gatherings present an opportunity for elaborate feasts, where families revel in the holiday atmosphere. For family pets however, the holidays present an increased risk for food borne illness.
Most people have heard that chocolate is toxic to dogs, but many may be unaware that grapes and raisins can be dangerous as well.
“Onions and garlic can also be toxic to dogs,” said Capt. William Underwood, Fort Carson Veterinary Clinic’s officer in charge. “They can lead to liver and kidney problems. Unfortunately, pets don’t metabolize and break down those foods like humans do.”
Underwood explained that calling a veterinarian can help pet owners determine just how serious their pet’s condition is. Even a simple internet search can be helpful.
“People can search for chocolate toxicity in dogs and there are many reputable websites that host chocolate toxicity calculators,” he said. “You can simply type in the weight of your dog and estimate how much it consumed to get an idea of how much trouble you’re in.”
If a visit to a veterinarian is required, the staff usually will induce pet vomiting and follow with supportive care and monitoring.
Though leftover bones may seem harmless following a meal, when cast aside they present a tempting feast for pets and can become a significant danger.
“Bones can actually get stuck in an animal’s throat or perforate the esophagus. If the bone travels to the stomach or intestines it can cause even worse perforations there,” Underwood said. “Bones can also chip or break teeth or cause dental problems. A general rule of thumb for giving your dogs things to chew on is you don’t want the object to be harder than what you can depress with your fingernail.”
While foreign body ingestion occurs more often with dogs, cats tend to suffer from what veterinarians refer to as linear foreign body ingestion.
“Cats are mischievous — they’ll consume ribbon, tinsel and electrical lights on trees,” Underwood said. “With smaller animals, these can cause either a direct obstruction or anchor themselves in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract, where they can actually accordion the intestine.”
Pet owners should also be aware of the potential shock danger of holiday electrical cords and the poisoning danger presented by toxic plants, such as poinsettias, holly, mistletoe and pine needles, which can cause irritation, vomiting and diarrhea.
Many holiday decorations include electrical wires, which can present a shock hazard to pets.
“Pet owners may notice obvious things, like visible trauma, ulcers in a pet’s mouth, or black and red swollen areas around gums,” Underwood explained. “A lot of times too, when they suffer some kind of shock trauma, they might display odd restlessness, inappropriate urination or defecation, often right after the incident. Sometimes that shock will throw off heart rhythms as well. And, sometimes owners will find an animal passed out. That could mean they have been chewing on a cord and got a zap and then fainted.”
While the holidays are often a special time of year for family members, they may overlook the dangers presented by outdoor lighting as well. Holiday lighting may hang high on eves and trimming, but electrical outlets are often placed in low areas on structures, making them easily accessible to pets. In winter climates, pets may also be exposed to ice-melt salt that covers roads, sidewalks and driveways. Depending on the formulation of the salt, it can cause direct metabolic disturbance if ingested. The chemical also collects on the paws of our four-legged friends, which can cause ulcerations and other skin problems.
“Antifreeze can be tempting to animals because it’s a little sweet,” Underwood said. “If a pet has consumed antifreeze owners will want to get them to a veterinarian right away, so the vet can induce vomiting. From there on, it should be just a monitoring situation. That’s if detected quickly. If it’s been a while, a vet may need to take further treatment options and provide supportive care.”
As for feeding pets table scraps, Underwood advises against it.
“Around the holidays we tend to have a lot of rich, sugary, fatty foods around which humans process a lot better than pets and in general it’s a good idea to keep people food away from animals,” he said. “If you want to give your pet a treat, make sure it’s appropriate. There are plenty that are safe, either store bought, or if you make them yourself. There are plenty of recipes online.”
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on trash and make sure tables are cleared after family meals, especially with puppies and kittens.
“Brand new puppies and kittens are more curious and mischievous and are more likely to dig through a trash can,” Underwood said. “They don’t know when to stop and will keep stuffing themselves, often to their detriment, which can cause severe illness and even serious pancreatitis.”
Signals to watch for are vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Chocolate toxicity, for instance can cause seizures or increased heartrate, increased panting, restlessness and many similar signs like whimpering or crying for no reason.
Ultimately, the holidays remain a busy time for veterinary clinics and pet emergencies this time of year often occur after hours and on weekends.
“It’s best to be proactive,” Underwood said. “Pet owners should have a 24/7 emergency number handy in the event their regular provider is closed.
Pet owners can also call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for advice and guidance if they believe their pet has consumed something toxic.