For humans, the holiday season is something we look forward to all year long. This time of year means gathering with friends and family to share holiday decorations, good food, and joyous festivities. While some pets may also enjoy this time of year, there are many holiday dangers for our pets we need to look out for!
Here are the top 7 pet holiday dangers to know:
1. Human Foods - while many foods can be safe for pets to consume, they can still pose many dangers. Pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, blockages, and gastrointestinal ruptures are some of the illnesses that can ensue.
a. Fatty foods: There are plenty of holiday treats that are simply too rich for pets. This includes turkey, chicken, or pork skins, salty processed meats, cakes, pies, gravy, and fat trimmings. Also, pets can be extra sensitive to the oils and sugars found in baked goods and candies.
b. Bones: Whether cooked or uncooked, bones of all kinds can be dangerous. Smaller bones may splinter and scratch or even rupture the esophagus or gastrointestinal tract, while larger bones, like pork knucklebones and antlers, may break teeth or become stuck in the throat, stomach, or intestines.
c. Unbaked bread dough: While bread and bread dough themselves are not toxic, eating just a small amount of unbaked bread dough can become deadly. After making its way into the stomach, yeast within the unbaked bread dough begins to expand the dough dramatically. This results in a life-threatening condition called ‘bloat’, where the stomach expands to a dangerous size and may even rupture.
2. Toxic Foods - some foods are simply too toxic for our pets, even in the tiniest amounts. These holiday foods include:
a. Xylitol: This is a very common sugar substitute found in gums, candies, peanut butter, and baked goods. Even the smallest amount, such as one stick of gum, can be deadly.
b. Chocolate: The more cocoa and caffeine, the more dangerous this can be for our pets if ingested. Keep chocolates well away from your pets’ reach!
c. Grapes and raisins: Veterinarians and scientists don’t know why or how grapes and raisins cause kidney failure in dogs, but we know that they do. While some dogs can metabolize the fruit just fine, even one grape or raisin can kill many large breed dogs. Until we know more about this toxin, it’s best just to avoid it for all dogs.
d. Alcohol: Just like us, our pets can suffer alcohol poisoning. However, unlike most humans, only a small amount is needed to cause liver damage in our pets because their livers are unable to process the alcohol as well as ours can.
a. Many human medications, even over the counter ones, can be extremely toxic for our pets. For example, even small amounts of ibuprofen or acetaminophen can cause liver and kidney failure or dangerous stomach ulcerations in our pets. Keep pets away from all human oral and topical medications unless otherwise instructed by a veterinarian.
4. Guests - Keeping pets in separate, quiet rooms can be very helpful to safeguard against dangers that even well-meaning guests can bring.
a. Stress: Many pets can become stressed if there is an influx of strangers, children, or new pets. This stress can lead to increased levels of anxiety that expresses itself as vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, inappropriate urination, or other atypical behaviors. Calming supplements and medications can be considered to help pets stay calm.
b. Escaping: As guests are going in and out of the house, there is an increased risk that pets could escape.
c. Purses and bags: Guests often have purses and bags that are full of foods, medications, and other interesting objects that pets could get into. Keeping purses and bags out of reach is the safest way to prevent this hazard.
a. Christmas trees: Both real pine and faux Christmas trees can be dangerous to pets. With both kinds, the needles can be ingested and cause vomiting and diarrhea. Even the tree water from live Christmas trees can cause severe gastrointestinal problems. Many pets also like to climb trees, which can fall over and lead to traumatic injuries.
b. Tinsel, lights, and ornaments: Many pets are attracted to the flashy colors and can become entangled in tinsel or lights. If stringy objects are eaten, they can cause the intestines to become bunched together. Pets can become shocked if they chew on anything powered by electricity. And if shattered, many ornaments can become very sharp can cause lacerations.
c. Plants and flowers: Pine needles, holly, and poinsettias can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested by pets, while mistletoes can cause hallucinations, seizures, and even death. Many lilies are common around the spring holidays. While beautiful, any part of the plant, including the water, pollen, leaves, and stem, can be extremely toxic to cats.
a. Regulations: There are many regulations when it comes to traveling with your pet. Most states and all airlines require vet checks and vaccine documentation before allowing pets to board or cross the border. Some countries have even stricter rules when it comes to international travel, as they can require various blood tests and wait periods of up to 180 days. Before planning any travel, it is extremely important to check with the USDA for all rules and regulations (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel).
b. Escaping: It’s important for pets who are traveling to be microchipped and wear identifying tags in case they become lost while traveling.
c. Stress: Traveling can be extremely stressful for pets as they often feel unsafe in unfamiliar surroundings.
7. Boarding - Pet boarding facilities are a good alternative to traveling with your pet. However, there are still some risks that should be known.
a. Contagions: Responsible boarding facilities will require proof of vaccinations at a minimum, with some even requiring proof of parasite free fecal tests. While some risk still exists, this minimizes the chance of spreading disease from one pet to another.
We hope you and your pets have a safe and happy holiday season. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to our team on Facebook, Instagram, email, or in the comments section below. Happy holidays!
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.