By Scott Prater | CSMNG Staff Writer
The holidays are here, and it’s likely family and friends 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 foodborne 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. Other common flavor producers like onions and garlic can also be toxic for dogs.
“It’s important for people to understand that animals don’t metabolize food the same way we do, especially the fattier foods,” said Capt. Ashley Kotran, veterinary corps officer, Fort Carson Veterinary Center. “A lot of people like to feed meat to dogs, but they should avoid doing so. Dogs can acquire pancreatitis, which is extremely painful, from these types of foods. It’s a costly veterinary emergency as well, so its just not worth it to give them fatty foods.”
Also, those leftover bones may seem harmless following a meal, but 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. They can also chip or even break teeth and cause other dental problems as well.
While foreign body ingestion occurs more often with dogs, cats tend to suffer from what veterinarians refer to as linear foreign body ingestion.
Mischievous cats can consume ribbon, tinsel and electrical lights on trees. With smaller animals, these can cause either a direct obstruction or they can anchor themselves in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract, where they can actually accordion the intestine.
“Linear obstructions may require surgical intervention,” Kotran said. “Emergency clinic staff may be able to reach a pet’s obstruction with an endoscope, through the animal’s throat, but if not, it may have to be surgically removed from the abdomen. Either way, it’s a costly procedure.”
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 true lilies, daylilies, poinsettias, holly, mistletoe and pine needles.
“It’s a good idea for cat owners to conduct some research on true lilies and dayliles,” Kotran said. “Even plants that don’t have the word ‘lily’ in them can be toxic to cats. “These plants cause severe kidney disease, and even one or two licks provides enough toxin to harm an animal. Poinsettias also have a reputation for being toxic to pets, with the associated mild vomiting and diarrhea.”
Kotran explained that pets typically show signs of abdominal pain if suffering pancreatitis.
“If a pet sits in a praying position, with their rear end up and their front legs out, that’s abdominal pain,” she said. “Owners should also take notice of pets who are abnormally lethargic. Those who actually see their pet ingest something should call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals poison control center. They have vets on call who can tell people exactly what they need to do.”
Though it may be fun and festive to decorate during the holiday time frame, families should pay close attention when stringing holiday decorations. Many 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.
Pets may 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. So, it’s a good idea to keep emergency veterinarian’s contact information handy.
Calling a veterinarian can help pet owners determine just how serious their pet’s condition is. If a visit to a veterinarian is required, the staff will usually induce vomiting and follow with supportive care.
Families who plan to travel this holiday season either with or without their pets have a few issues to consider. Kotran recommends that those who will bring their pets along for the trip should make sure they obtain a health certificate for the animal from a veterinarian.
“The health certificate shows that the animal is healthy enough to travel, either by car or plane,” she said. “And, if owners are flying, they should look into specific airline regulations and ensure they’ve met vaccine requirements. A lot of the airlines require the health certificate for animals, especially those of the brachycephalic breeds. Some of those breeds have trouble breathing normally.”
If a pet is traveling by car, ensure they are properly and securely restrained, and away from any air bags.
Families who are hosting a holiday party should consider the disturbances that often accompany them. the clamor and racket of crowds can cause anxiety or stress in some animals, so it’s important to make sure pets have a comfortable place to get away from noise. Table and counter food should also be cleared away when not in use and trash should be covered and kept out of reach of animals.
Ultimately, the holidays remain a busy time for veterinary clinics, and families should keep a 24/7 emergency contact handy in the event their regular provider is closed.
Pet owners can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or online at ASPCApro.org.