The holiday season can bring some potential hazards for your pet. Exposure to and ingestion of pointsettia plants and leaves is a well-publicized hazard; however in comparison to other exposures, the gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea) is mild. Lilies, however, can result in irreversible kidney failure and death in cats if ingested (leaves, stems, flower, even pollen).
With many group gatherings with plenty of food, there is the possibility for dogs and cats to either over-indulge with high fat ‘treats’ out of the ordinary for their diet, or they may gain inadvertent access to the trash can. Being mindful of what your guests may be sharing with your pets and limiting what they are receiving, and ensuring the trash can is secure, particularly when pets are unsupervised, is important to minimize the chance of having to visit the veterinary emergency room with a vomiting pet. Resulting disease processes may range from simple gastrointestinal upset from dietary indiscretion to potentially life-threatening pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas due to early activation of digestive enzymes) to intestinal obstruction requiring emergency abdominal surgery if a foreign body (ie bone) is ingested. Foods flavored with onions and garlic have the potential to cause red blood cell destruction (hemolysis).
Baked goods often have high fat content and high sugar, and ingestion by pets may result in elevated heart rate and hyperactivity in the short term, gastrointestinal upset, and the potential for pancreatitis in the subsequent 2-7 days after ingestion. Xylitol is an artificial sweetner and is becoming more common in diabetic recipes and is toxic to dogs, causing an insulin surge and resulting low blood sugar and possible seizures, and in some cases death due to irreversible liver failure. Macadamia nuts can result in neurological abnormalities and seizures. Holiday chocolate ingestion ranges from minor gastrointestinal upset to elevated heart rate and arrhythmias, to hyperactivity, tremors, and seizures.
Holiday lighting, while beautiful, has the potential to become a hazard for curious puppies, kittens, or rabbits that may be trying to explore the electrical cord by chewing on it. Electrical burns to the mouth and electrocution resulting in pain, difficulty breathing, and death are possible sequelae to chewing on cords.
Ribbons, tinsel, or other linear decorative items attractive to cats may present a hazard if ingested. Linear foreign bodies have the potential to become lodged, and if it cannot pass, it can cause the intestines to bunch together and may shear through layers of the intestine requiring surgical resection of a long length of intestine and requiring critical care with extended hospitalization.
Potpourri oils and other aromatic essential oils have the potential for oral and esophageal ulceration if ingested, or corneal ulceration if splashed. Keeping oils closed or covered when not in use or when pets are not supervised is important to minimize exposure.
With visitors in the household, pet exposure to human medications increases, especially if medications are left out or on the floor in open suitcases where pets may gain access to them. By keeping medications in a drawer, medicine cabinet or kitchen cupboard, risk of accidental human medication can be minimized. You can contact ASPCA Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 while en route to your primary care or emergency veterinarian if an ingestion is witnessed or suspected.
Please do not administer any medication without the advice of a veterinarian. Many medications, including over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen have more potential for adverse gastrointestinal , kidney, and liver (Tylenol) effects in dogs than commonly observed in people.
Please discuss holiday hazards and ways to protect your pets with your primary care veterinarian.
Dr. Jessica Diaz