From the ER: Holiday Dangers to Your Pet

You can never be too careful in protecting your dog or cat from hidden household dangers.

Keep dogs away from household dangers during the holidaysWhen Sue Wilson adopted a new kitten as a Christmas present for her daughter, she had no idea that her family was about to embark on a $2,000 ordeal that would turn their holiday into a nightmare.

Holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year can be fun for families with pets.

But, as the Wilsons found out, holidays can also be times of trouble for pets. At emergency veterinary hospitals, caseloads always increase around the holidays as pets manage to find new ways to get into trouble. Some of these cases can be mild, but some are life threatening, as the Wilsons discovered.

Probably the most common cause of holiday problems that end up with a pet in the emergency room is feeding leftovers (intentionally or unintentionally) to pets. Dogs have been known to show unexpected athletic ability in crawling up on counters and tables to salvage turkey carcasses. Cats will circle highchairs, while toddlers happily throw large quantities of food scraps overboard.

Enterprising dogs may raid unattended bowls and bags of candy and ingest enough chocolate to have seizures and cardiac arrhythmias. Dark chocolate or baker’s chocolate is especially toxic. (Cats are usually more discriminating when it comes to chocolate.)

A Christmas tree can provide hours of delight as well as a smorgasbord of potentially deadly temptations for a pet. One holiday, we X-rayed a dog who had chomped through an entire string of Christmas lights. Others have swallowed ornaments of various sizes and shapes, often not discovered when they are deposited in the yard a day or two later. Newly opened packages containing slippers, dolls or clothing can be irresistible to some dogs.

The Wilsons enjoyed watching their kitten play with the tinsel on the Christmas tree. They laughed as she pulled at the tinsel with her mouth, and chased it as it wrapped around her tail. However, when the Wilsons woke up Christmas morning, their new kitten was throwing up, lethargic and obviously in pain.

Twelve hours later, their kitten was prepped for intestinal surgery at our emergency hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. The tinsel had pulled through the walls of her small intestine as the muscle wall of the intestine tried to propel it along. Two hours and $2,000 later, two feet of intestines had been removed, and the Wilson’s kitten recovered from surgery. It was truly a Christmas to remember.

Other holiday dangers threaten pets. Houseplants like poinsettias, holly berries and lilies can be toxic to cats, sometimes causing irreversible kidney failure. Thinking of grilling a turkey? Grilling utensils and brushes, as well as skewers and charcoal ash have found their way into dogs’ stomachs — making for interesting X-rays. Punch bowls and unattended mixed drinks can lure some dogs, who may then be found staggering drunkenly around the house.

Enjoy the holidays by being vigilant about potential dangers to your pets. Although emergency veterinary hospitals are open 24/7 during the holidays, we hope that you get to spend them at home enjoying your family and pets.

Jon Geller, D.V.M., of Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency Hospital and Pets Emergency Hospital of Greeley in Colorado, is a regular DogChannel contributor and the resident “Ask the Vet” expert.

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