Holiday Pet Hazards

It seems that every year we hear about seasonal dangers that could affect our pets.  At the risk of being redundant, I will review them again for you.  A refresher is always nice to have and some “dangers†are more serious than others.  That being said, if your pet is acting unusual, it is best to get the advice of your veterinarian because it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Toxic plants
Poinsettias, Mistletoe, Holly, Amaryllis, and Christmas trees.  These plants cause GI upset (vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, nausea).  Many times our pets only get small amounts of them and because they are irritating or taste bad, our dogs and cats leave them alone.  There are some exceptions where these plants can be bad for our pets – namely if they ingest large quantities or certain parts (like the bulb of the amaryllis).
The toxic plant to be very aware of is the Lily – it causes renal failure in cats.  Namely Lilium and Hemerocallis genera (Easter lilies, tiger lilies, day lilies, etc.) are the dangerous ones.  Any ingestion of a lily in a cat is a medical emergency and your cat should be admitted to the hospital.  Keep in mind the Peace Lily, Calla Lily, and Lily of the Valley are all toxic, but do not cause the serious renal effects that true Lilies do.  Water lilies are not toxic.
Other toxicities
Christmas tree water contains fertilizer that can cause stomach upset and if the water is old, it may become contaminated by bacteria that can also cause diarrhea.
Antifreeze can be lethal in even small amounts to both dogs and cats – it causes acid/base imbalance and kidney failure.  They will drink it readily because they find the taste pleasing.  However if your pet ingests any amount of antifreeze this is a medical emergency.  Go immediately to the vet!  The worst antifreeze product for pets is Ethylene glycol.
Ice melting products irritate the skin and mouth.  Ingestion of large quantities can lead to electrolyte imbalances.  Watch for drooling or vomiting.
Household hazards
Electric cords, though a threat year-round, are used more extensively in the winter – if your pet chews them they are at risk of electrocution.  Watch out for your pocket pets with this one, also!
Ribbons and tinsel can cause a unique form of intestinal obstruction since they are long.  The surgery to remove a “linear†foreign body can become extremely complicated because the string can tear the intestines in multiple locations if it gets caught.  Pets can also get these wrapped around their tongue.
Batteries are corrosive and not a good idea for eating.  Nor are ornaments – especially glass ones.  They can lacerate the intestines as they try to pass.
Silica gel packs are actually not horribly toxic to pets, but if consumed intact they can cause an intestinal obstruction.  If your pet chews up a pack and swallows some, make sure you keep him/her well hydrated.
Stuffing from toys can cause impaction.  Any large object that our pets swallow such as pieces of toys, bones, socks, etc. can cause intestinal obstruction.  Always be aware of what your pet is consuming.
Human food is a problem for pets – I will list the major ones here: alcohol, chocolate, raisins, coffee, onions, salt, yeast dough, fatty foods, and spoiled foods.
Whenever there is a concern: call your vet, your local emergency vet, or the poison control hotline:
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
A final word to new puppy or kitten owners
Don’t forget the tree itself can be a hazard.  Cats love to climb the Christmas tree and sometimes they actually knock them over.  Puppies may choose to urinate on the tree – it’s quite natural.  Both puppies and kittens like to chew on low-hanging ornaments, particularly those home-made pasta or dough ornaments that you painted as a kid!  Keep an eye on your new pet – they can get themselves into some pretty unusual situations!
Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care

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