With Halloween just around the corner, and commercials about Christmas shopping already dominating the air waves, I thought it would be appropriate to address some of the more common hazards of our fall and winter holiday season.
- Anxiety and Fear: Many pets become anxious with trick-or-treaters repeatedly ringing the door bell. And some costumes can be intimidating and may cause pets to become fearful. Common signs of anxiety or fear may include excessive barking, pacing, restlessness, inappropriate behavior (such as urinating in the house) and a need to cling to the owner’s side. As a pet owner, you know your pet best and can monitor their behavior and react appropriately. Often it is best to confine your pet to a quiet area of the house during the activity. In severe cases of anxiety, sedative may be prescribed to help relieve the symptoms. Generally pet owner’s are aware of this condition and will address the issue in advance. These are often the same pets who have trouble during thunderstorms or fourth of July celebrations. If you think your pet may require sedatives, talk to your veterinarian in advance. Sedatives are not appropriate for all pets, especially if there is an underlying heart, kidney, or liver condition.
- Escape: With the door opening and closing frequently, pets may have a tendency to bolt out the door in the midst of the excitement. If your dog or cat is an escape artist it is best to prevent the problem by confining them to a quiet area of the house during the activity. I can share some personal experience in this area… last year, during a regular evening at home which involved several trips between the car and the house, one of our cats (Brady) got out. An hour later as we were doing a head count before bed we realized he was missing. Thankfully, we found him unharmed, hiding behind the neighbor’s trash bin. He was sure scared, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to escape again!
- Food/Chocolate: Just like people, a lot of pets have a sweet tooth and can devour an entire bag of Halloween candy before you even have time to sort it! Chocolate can be toxic depending on the type of chocolate, amount ingested and the weight of the pet. The darker the chocolate, the more potent the toxin. The smaller the pet, the less they have to ingest to be affected. With smaller doses of chocolate, or with ingestion of any rich or new food, it is common to see gastrointestinal symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and gas. With higher doses of chocolate, symptoms may include restlessness, hyperactivity, cardiac arrhythmias, neurologic signs, and potentially death. If you are concerned that your pet may have ingested chocolate or any other toxin, call your veterinarian right away. The earlier a potential toxicity is dealt with, the better the chance for full recovery. If it is after hours, contact the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. They will assess the risks and help you decide when your pet needs to be treated at an emergency facility.
- Food: The most common ailment we see in the weeks following Thanksgiving is gastrointestinal (GI) upset. Just like people, when our pets ingest a food that is not a regular part of their diet it can lead to GI distress. Most common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and gas. In mild cases of diarrhea, a bland diet or specific medications may be recommended to manage the symptoms. When a pet is vomiting, it is important to try to identify the cause of the vomiting as some treatments may exacerbate the condition. In more severe cases, the pancreas may be inflamed (pancreatitis). When the pancreas is inflamed, treatment often requires hospitalization with intravenous fluids. Most pets with gastroenteritis (inflammation in the stomach or small intestine) or pancreatitis make a full recovery, though dehydration associated with either condition can lead to more severe complications including death. If your pet is experiencing vomiting, diarrhea or GI distress, it’s best to have him/ her looked at. It’s fun to treat our pets, and around the holidays it’s natural to want to indulge them a bit. But maybe this year treat your furry friend to a new toy, another loop around the block or some extra lap time instead.
- Foreign Body: Unfortunately many pets are like Houdini with fur. They can open doors and garbage bins without our knowledge and if they get their chops around the turkey carcass it could spell trouble in more ways than one. In America, it’s tradition to have turkey for Thanksgiving, but regardless of your culinary preference after the table is cleared and the dishes are done, make sure you take an extra two minutes to take out the trash. It is very common for animals to steal the food from the counter or table before you’re even done eating, or help themselves to the leftovers in the trash bin. Pets cannot digest bones and depending on the size of the bone fragments they may cause irritation to the stomach or intestine as they travel through, or they may cause an obstruction. This is called a Foreign Body Obstruction and often requires surgery to remove the offending object. The worst case scenario would be a perforation, where the bone actually punctures through the wall of the stomach or intestine and carries bacteria into the abdomen. This condition is often fatal. If your pet is vomiting, an xray of the abdomen can help to look for a foreign body or obstruction.
- As with Halloween and Thanksgiving, common ailments include ingestion of rich foods leading to GI distress, or ingestion of chocolate. Please refer to the above recommendations regarding these situations and what to do.
- Decorations: Tinsel, wire hangers, ribbons. Ingestion of foreign objects can mean a trip to the emergency room with your pet. Wire hangers, much like bones, can penetrate the wall of the stomach or intestine or may cause irritation to the lining of the gut. Tinsel and ribbons are particularly attractive and if ingested, can result in a special kind of foreign body called a Linear Foreign Body. Linear foreign bodies may not show up on an xray, but your veterinarian will look for a specific pattern on an xray that is consistent with obstruction.
- Christmas Tree: Whether you prefer a real or artificial tree, Christmas trees can pose a hazard to pets in several ways. Pets like to eat the needles which may upset the stomach. Vomiting is not uncommon after any plant ingestion (similar to when pets vomit after eating grass). Pets may also want to drink the water at the base of a real tree which can pose a fire hazard if the tree becomes dry. Remember Clark Griswold in the movie Christmas Vacation? Pets may also try to climb the tree, or may accidentally knock the tree over causing injury to themselves or anyone close by. Make sure your tree is secure in it’s stand and check the water supply daily.
- Toys/Small Parts: Just like with children, it’s important to watch pets around small toys to avoid accidental ingestion. Some things, if ingested, will pass through the gastrointestinal system within a few days. If an object is having a hard time moving through, vomiting and/ or diarrhea is usually the first symptom. An xray will help to determine if an obstruction is present.
- Anxiety: We all love to have a house full of family and friends at the holidays. Your pet may be used to a routine, and having that routine upset or having a lot of noise or activity in the house may be stressful. If your pet suffers from anxiety, chances are you already know and are prepared. However, if you encounter unwanted behaviors during the holidays (excessive barking, pacing, restlessness, or inappropriate behaviors) talk to your veterinarian. They may be able to help you put your pet’s mind at ease with simple things you can do at home or with holistic treatments such as Rescue Remedy, an herbal stress reliever. If your pet suffers from extreme anxiety, you may choose to use anti-anxiety medications for the holiday season. Don’t wait to start them if you are expecting a full house as it may take 30 days to reach full effect. Anti-anxiety medications are not safe for all pets, so talk to your veterinarian about the risks and side effects first. If your community does fireworks for New Year’s Eve, you may consider a sedative as an alternative to the longer-acting anti-anxiety medications. Talk to your veterinarian to decide what’s best for you and your pet.
Where holidays are concerned, often an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take a few steps to pet-proof your holidays and avoid a trip to the veterinarian. If you have stories to share or a Holiday Hazard that I’ve missed please share! You can leave a comment below or email us at EVAHdoctor@gmail.com.