“It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the kids jingle-belling and everone telling you be of good cheer…”
Andy Williams certainly had it right. The season between Thanksgiving and New Years, “With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call”, really is “the hap-happiest season of all”. I remember the last holiday season I spent with my family in our cozy little cave. My brothers and sisters all gathered around. My mother’s sister and her kits, as well as my grandmaw Lucille and grandpaw Henry. We gathered together and told stories and ate the tasty treats that everyone had brought. That is one of my favorite memories. The snow was falling outside, the trees were hushed, and the sun broke through the clouds and the light glittered and danced on the hills like it was celebrating with us.
Since I came to live with humans, I love the holiday season even more! All the beautiful decorations and lights, trees and garlands, candles, and packages and presents. It is a pet’s wonderland. All that ribbon and tinsel, and don’t get me started on the treats and concoctions that come from the kitchen! But, as I have come to understand while living here at Bear Creek Animal Clinic and listening to my ladies talk around me, even the best things in life can come with a price if we are not careful.
Every holiday season starts with one of the biggest shopping days of the year. And what are humans buying that day? Presents! Lots and lots and lots of presents! Some big, some small, but all will be wrapped in beautiful paper and tied with lovely ribbons and bows. And usually in the weeks following that shopping spree, decorations are put around the inside and the outside of the homes, and a tree is put up and covered in lights and decorations and tinsel. Glorious, beautiful, shiny tinsel. Oh how I love tinsel. I could swim in a sea of silvery shimmering tins… oh. a-hem. pardon me. I, um..Where was I? Oh yes, the tree and the decorations and the presents.
I learned recently that many dogs like to sniff out presents, especially gifts of leather, or candy, or other tasty treats. Gifts like sports equipment that are made from leather can cause intestinal obstruction if eaten. Even the wrapping paper can cause obstruction if it is made of foil or another type of indigestible material.
Then of course, there are the decorations themselves. Cats and dogs, especially kittens and puppies, love to play with the package ribbons and strings and bows. How many cute Christmas morning pictures have been taken with the family cat sitting with a bow atop his head, staring daggers at the camera and anyone near enough to be caught in the angry glare? Younger pets love to play with and chew on ribbons and strings, tinsel and other decorations. These items become hazardous when they are swallowed because they can get tangled in the intestinal tract. As the intestines attempt to move the mass of foreign material (I found out this is called a linear foreign body, due to its shape) the rough or abrasive material can rub against the sensitive walls of the intestine and cause inflammation and damage. An intestinal obstruction is a life-threatening emergency requiring surgical correction. Symptoms of an intestinal obstruction include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Pet parents would want to seek veterinary care as soon as possible if any of these symptoms arise.
While Dr Deb talked about all these wonderful things and the possibilities for bad things happening, she also said that it is safest to discourage pets from playing with ribbons and bows and tinsel and paper. But, she said, if you love watching your pets as much as we enjoy playing with them, just make sure to keep a close and careful eye on them. That way a potentially harmful situation is more likely to be avoided.
There are, though, some holiday items that pets should never be allowed to play with or chew on or consume. The first of those would be holiday lights and cords, and the extension cords they may be plugged into. Dangling cords of any kind can be tempting to pets, especially puppies and kittens. Add lights and flashing, glittering effects, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. Cats and dogs have extremely sharp teeth that can penetrate the insulation around electrical wires. If they were to bite through a cord that is plugged in, it could cause severe burns to the tongue and inside of the mouth as well as an electrical shock that could damage the lungs or heart. This situation would require immediate veterinary attention. And no one, human or animal, wants to take a trip to the emergency doctor on a holiday.
The other big bad buggar is plants and flowers. What!? How can those beautiful creations be harmful? Apparently there are some out there that can be harmful to pets. Some can make us very sick, and there are some that could potentially even kill us.
Poinsettia sap, for instance, can be irritating to the mouth and stomach if a pet chews on the leaves or stems. While not specifically toxic, it can cause intestinal upset.
Some species of mistletoe are toxic, and ingestion can cause liver failure or seizures. There are several types of mistletoe, so one would be wise to consider all types potentially harmful and keep them
out of reach of pets and children.
Many plants belonging to the lily family are highly toxic to pets. Because of this risk, it is best to keep peace lilies, Christmas lilies, and other plants in this family out of reach of pets, especially cats and kittens. Often springtime flowers such as daffodils, narcissi, and other spring bulbs are “forced” to bloom during the winter to add a touch of color and “breath of spring” to our homes during the cold, dark days. These are potentially toxic to cats, as well.
*For a pet friendly bouquet, consider plants and flowers that are considered non-toxic to pets (primarily cats and dogs). Flowers such as roses, African daisies, and orchids as well as plants such as bromeliads, African violets and Christmas cactus are non-toxic (although any ingested plant material might occasionally cause mild, self-limited vomiting) and would be suitable as to have in households with pets.
For households with cats, the beautiful and non-toxic Peruvian lily, which is not a “true” lily can be substituted for true lilies. If giving the gift of a bouquet, request ferns as greenery in place of baby’s breath. Most ferns are non-toxic. When requesting specific plants or flowers from a florist, it is a good idea to let them know that you are buying them for a home with pets, in case substitutions need to be made.* (*I got this information courtesy of Teleflora.com. These paws are pretty handy!)
In case of exposure to an unfamiliar plant, you can always contact the Pet Poison Hotline website, or reach them by phone at 888-426-4435, though charges may apply to phone calls.
Another “hazardous” area my girls talked about is the kitchen. Kitchens become very busy places during the hustle and bustle of holiday food prep. Not only are there lots of heavy, hot pots and pans, there are often more people than normal. And lots of activity. It’s a great place to gather but it is best to try to keep pets out of the kitchen, to avoid being burned or injured in some other way.
After those glorious meals have been prepared and served, some pet parents might want to share the deliciousness with their furry family. Select portions of lean meats, and veggies that have not been sautéed or cooked in oil. Any yummy treats that are high in fat content could lead to a bout with pancreatitis and another visit to the veterinarian. Be sure to safely dispose of the strings or packaging used to prepare turkeys, ham, and/or roasts. Most pets can’t resist digging these tantalizing tidbits from the trash and eating them, potentially causing an intestinal obstruction.
“There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for roasting, and caroling out in the snow”. With forethought and care, this holiday season truly can be the most wonderful time of the year. I wish safety and happiness and love to you and yours throughout the coming weeks.