Seven holiday traditions that can threaten your pet's safety

Consumer Reports News: December 02, 2011 11:48 AM

At this time of year we hear a lot about Rudolph, Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy and the Grinch’s pooch Max. But it’s the animals in your home that you should be most concerned about. Some of the very things that make the holidays so festive can pose a danger to your pets including plants, trees and other decorations, fancy foods, and even the lovely guests you invite to your holiday party.

While you’re making your lists, check twice to make sure you know where to take your pet in case of an emergency. Your veterinarian should know of clinics close to home that are open 24 hours. And to make sure your holidays aren’t interrupted by a trip to the vet, follow these tips from the American Animal Hospital Association, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University and the ASPCA.

Company chaos
With everyone coming and going, watch out for open doors through which your pet can escape. Make sure your pets have updated collars and tags. Your normally friendly dog or cat may not enjoy being pawed by enthusiastic children or stressed out by rooms full of unfamiliar people. Better to create a quiet place with your pet’s bed, favorite toy, food and fresh water.

Decoration dangers
Cats are fascinated by hanging objects such as tinsel, ribbons and ornaments that they can bat around. Unfortunately, they may also try to ingest these shiny objects, which can end up wrapped around their intestines or balled up in the stomach. Ingested pine needles can puncture your pet’s intestines.

Plant problems
Holly and mistletoe are extremely poisonous when eaten. The vibrant poinsettia may not be truly poisonous but its milky white sap and leaves can certainly cause severe gastric distress. The bulbs of the amaryllis plant, a popular holiday gift, can also cause digestive issues.

Tree tipovers
Make sure your tree is well secured. If you have a tree-climbing cat or a large dog with a happy tail, your tree can go “timber.” Better to anchor the top of the tree to the wall, using strong cord or rope. And do your best to cover the water in the tree stand. Preservatives used in the water can cause gastric upsets as can sugar and aspirin additives. Stagnant tree water is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Food frights
With all those leftovers, you may be tempted to throw the dog a bone. Don’t. Poultry bones can easily splinter and even steak bones can break into pointy chips that can lodge in the throat, stomach or intestinal tract. Also refrain from sharing table scraps—foods that are too rich, fatty or spicy can trigger a bout of intestinal upset. Why not treat your pet to some nice canned pet food instead?

Chocolate meltdowns
If you are giving your sweetie a box of chocolates, don’t leave it under the tree. Chocolate can be toxic or even fatal to dogs and cats. Chocolate poisoning occurs most frequently in dogs but other animals are also susceptible. The toxicity of chocolate depends on the amount and type of chocolate ingested and darker chocolates are more harmful.

Pet presents
Take care when buying your pet a stocking stuffer. Dogs have been known to tear their toys apart and swallow the pieces, which can then become lodged in the esophagus, stomach or intestines. Stick with chew toys that are basically indestructible or chew treats that are designed to be safely digestible.

Long, stringy things are irresistible to most cats, but the most risky toys for cats involve ribbon, yarn and loose little parts that can get stuck in the intestines, often necessitating surgery. Surprise your cat with a new ball that's too big to swallow or a stuffed catnip toy.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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