This week marks the start of that magical time of year -- full of bright hopes and dashed expectations.
To help maintain your holiday glow, I want to share some of the holiday hazards that can cause you unneeded stress and trips to the veterinary emergency room. After all, there's just no fun in the world quite like your cat getting an enema on Christmas morning, especially when the afternoon's freezing rain prevents you from joining your family. Our editor Phyllis DeGioia says she wishes her cat hadn't picked Dec. 25 to become constipated since that was one expensive Christmas enema, but she did pick up a 99-cent Christmas clearance sweatshirt at the drugstore, which she now refers to as her $300 reindeer sweatshirt.
With a little awareness, you can prevent some holiday hazards from stealing your joy.
Most holiday pet hazards revolve around food, lots and lots of food. Food, glorious food, starting at Thanksgiving and not ending until sometime in January after the New Year's Eve extravaganzas. Most of us pet owners share bits of food with our dogs and cats (not that we will all admit that) and it is sometimes to their detriment. What dog does not want to share your potatoes and gravy? A good turkey leg is quite tasty, especially with a side of crispy brown skin! Any dog who doesn't lust after that should turn in his Dog Union Card. And just show a cat a turkey leg and you are likely to slip on the drool, if you aren’t tripped or tricked into dropping it. How fun would that be if you and your cat go to separate ERs on Thanksgiving?
Just like us, when a dog or cat eats some of this rich yummy food, they get an upset tummy, or what my fellow VetzInsight writer, Dr. Tony Johnson refers to as dietary indiscretions. Many things can cause dietary indiscretion: poultry skin, gravy, pie, chocolate, an entire bowl of mashed potatoes, ham, yeast dough rising, and New Year's Eve noisemakers. Plus, holiday foods often include ingredients toxic to pets, such as chocolate (mentioning that twice for emphasis!), grapes, onions, garlic, or raisins. Whatever items are ingested, it typically doesn't end well because vomiting and diarrhea go into overtime right along with the football games and that tends to put a damper on any and all holiday parties!
Did I mention alcohol? Sometimes there's lots and lots of it with none of it good for our pets. I suspect my cat Rocky thinks he would enjoy a kahlua and cream, but we're not going to find out if he does. I don’t think I need a drunk cat careening around my house trying to steal the turkey off the counter!
At least the potentially fatal pancreatitis, in either dogs or cats, is not common. To be sure, every vet has seen a bit of pancreatitis on holidays, but we don't see it nearly as often as the garden variety dietary indiscretion that steps into high gear for the holidays.
Just as we need to take care in what we intentionally share - "just a teeny, tiny bit of ham," 15 pieces total given by three different people - but what we unintentionally share. I have sat down for a snooze after a big holiday meal only to get up and find my animals have helped themselves to food left out on the counter. Be it a tall dog who can devour an entire platter of painstakingly decorated cookies or a nimble counter-surfing cat, if you do not intend to share, put the foodstuffs away before you sit down to watch football. After all, your pets covet that unguarded food and fervently believe that possession is nine tenths of the law. Just ask Rocky!
Holidays also bring carloads of people to your home for whom the door must be opened. Family dropping in, postmen delivering packages, neighbors sharing cookies, and so on. For some of our pets, these are great opportunities to go ‘walk about’ just to see what the neighborhood has to offer. If you are having a party, make sure your pets are in a room with a closed door, or a crate, so they cannot escape as your guests come and go. If you live with a Nervous Nellie, being safely tucked away from the main event makes her feel better about her home being invaded by reveling party-goers! Be sure to keep an ID tag on your pets in case prevention fails and they zoom out the front door while all the company comes and goes.
Those holiday decorations that hit the stores in June can have some not so sparkling consequences for your pet. Special dangers include tinsel and broken glass ornaments, likely broken by your cat flinging himself onto the Christmas tree, or your dog's happy tail! Some cats really enjoy "helping" with the ribbons and bows on presents, tenderly shredding them into linear foreign objects to be swallowed. There are those pet owners who even go ribbon-free to keep their cats from trying to kill themselves with these ‘ribbon toys’.
As in most homes resplendently decorated from October to New Year’s, we often use a few extra extension cords for all the lights and dancing reindeer. Puppies, kittens, or rabbits of any age think that chewing on cords is a great past time. Keep in mind that your pets may think these cords are fabulous new toys, not the reason the jack-o-lantern is lit or the Santa is dancing.
If you have a fresh holiday tree, make sure you are watering it with pet-safe water, using no chemicals that can harm your dog or cat. My cats love pine-flavored water and will drink it several times a day if it's available, so I water my Christmas tree only with plain water, no chemicals added. By the way, poinsettias aren't as toxic as most people think but mistletoe is really bad.
Lest we forget, there is always one subtle, un-thought-of holiday hazard: our attention is generally directed in places other than our animals, so we're less likely to notice if something is up with them. Sure, if your dog tosses her cookies in the living room, you're probably going to notice it, but if you're not paying attention to your cat’s litter box you may not know that his bladder is going on strike and he's not peeing enough.
It is now time to go forth and enjoy the holidays. May your expectations be met and may you have no trips to the veterinary ER. I'm declaring this holiday season an injury-free zone at my house, and I hope you do the same.
Remember, New Year's Eve party hats are best seen on your head, not in your pet's x-ray.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.