Holiday Hazards


With the holidays approaching rapidly, there are a few questions that always seem to pop up regarding pets. There is, of course the question of whether or not to get a pet for Christmas, or give one for that matter. There are the safety concerns for the pets we already have, and love dearly. Do we give our furry family members gifts (and if so, what)? Then, there are the good manners we always have to hear about from our relatives, which of course our pets do not possess when the relatives are around. Hopefully, this article can help make the season go a little smoother for everyone, especially our ever-loving pets.

A dog is for LIFE, not just for Christmas

The first question that always comes up is “Can we get a dog this year for Christmas?” Usually followed by “I promise, I will feed him, and walk him, and take care of him.” Well, it is important to consider the whole picture. Ideally, the holidays are not the best time to introduce a new member into your family. There is the hustle & bustle of the season, the friends & family dropping by, the excitement, the food and the dangers that come with all of that. You want to keep in mind that this is a life, and a puppy or kitten will need attention, training, in a word: bonding time with you and your family. It is very exciting to get a new pet, and you want to be sure the excitement doesn’t wear off as the holidays become memories. It is okay if the Legos sit in a box for six months after Christmas before someone plays with them again, but a dog or a cat will need attention and play every day for a long, long time. There is also the cost of a new animal, which includes vaccinations, vet bills, food, toys, bedding and training, from the beginning. You must consider your personal situation. If you do decide to bring home a new friend for the holidays, I would like to suggest going to an animal shelter or pound to get him. The shelters are over loaded this time of year, and many animals are turned away and euthanized. Shelter animals usually make wonderful pets, and they generally live longer too.

WHY has my dog forgotten his manners?!

“As the holidays approach and you make your plans, keep in mind that stress and changes in routine can impact your dog’s behavior. Often we get frustrated and are on edge as there is so much to do to prepare for dinners, visits and other celebrations.” Says Jennifer Shryock of “Keep in mind that as you are busy rushing around, your dog is observing and sensing changes in you. They may “act out” if and when usual attention seeking methods do not work. This is predictable and can be avoided by being aware and maintaining some of the usual routines your dog is comfortable with.” In addition to making time to “normalize” things for your fur-buddy, also try to make sure he has a quiet place to escape to just in case he wants to get away from your little niece who wants to play dress up or uncle Fred’s cigars.

What are the dangers to watch for?

The next question is probably the most important. “What hazards lurk in holiday fun that can hurt my best friend?” Well, there are plenty, we will address the most common, and most serious. Basically, there are quite a bit of yummy things pets can (and will) try to eat. All those delectable treats we love so much this time of year can be very harmful, even fatal to our furry friends. Chocolate is extremely toxic to dogs and cats who are sensitive to it. Sensitivity to chocolate is like sensitivity to bee stings, if your dog is allergic, he could very well die. More often than not, dogs are extremely sensitive to chocolate. When this is the case, it doesn’t take very much at all; an ounce of chocolate can kill a Great Dane of over 100 lbs. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which cannot be metabolized readily by most dogs. Baker’s chocolate has the highest concentration of theobromine, and is therefore more dangerous than semi-sweet, which is in turn more dangerous than milk chocolate. So even if your dog ate a few M&Ms and was okay, doesn’t mean he can eat a batch of mom’s homemade brownies and survive. Also, a dog can develop a sensitivity at any age. Symptoms of chocolate toxicity may include some or all of the following symptoms: Moderate to severe vomiting or diarrhea, excitability and nervousness, muscle tremors and/or seizures, heart failure (death).

Holiday plants are also toxic to pets, primarily dogs. Specifically, Holly (berries), Mistletoe (all), and Poinsettia (all). Symptoms of Holly poisoning include digestive upset and/or central nervous system depression. If your pet eats mistletoe, you may see any, or all, of the following symptom: digestive upset, depression, exhaustion, coma, heart failure (death). Poinsettia causes digestive upset and/or irritation to the mouth & stomach lining. Poinsettia sap is also irritating to the skin. Other plants or decorations may be sprayed or treated with a chemical or perfume, which may also be toxic. If your dog (or cat) ingests one of these plants or chocolate, and is alert, it is best to get it out of his system. To induce vomiting in a dog, place a teaspoon full of table salt on the very back part of his tongue, and confine him to an area you can easily clean. For cats, use one-half of a teaspoon (and good luck getting it in there, try putting the salt into a straw to get it further back in the cat’s mouth). Within a few minutes, he should empty his stomach of everything he has eaten in the previous few hours. Clean it up promptly so he doesn’t try to eat it again. Once you have started this process, or if your dog is not alert, call your veterinarian or animal emergency clinic immediately. Let them know what happened and exactly what symptoms your pet is experiencing.

Some pets enjoy eating Christmas tree ornaments and/or tinsel. Tinsel, like glass, can slice through the lining of as animal’s stomach and intestines. It can also wrap around the intestines and cause a blockage. If this happens, the treatment is simple. First, call your veterinarian and tell him or her how much and what exactly your pet ate. The preferred course of action, for small amounts of glass or tinsel, is feeding the animal white bread or soaked in half and half (you may want to keep a small carton of half and half in the freezer). A large dog (over 65 lbs) would need 7-8 slices of bread. As the bread travels through the animal’s digestive tract, it will surround the foreign bodies and help them to pass without incident. You must watch the animal’s stool for blood. If you see blood in the stool, call your vet immediately.

Hazards in gift wrap!

The last holiday hazards are the ones you buy for your pets. Pet toy & treat manufacturers are out there to make money. They do not always know the dangers that lurk in the pretty packaging. I would like to caution you against some of the bad toys & treats that are out there. First and foremost is rawhide. Rawhide in and of itself should be a great treat for your dog. Unfortunately, the majority of the rawhide that is sold in the United States is not made here. In other countries, the preservative used in rawhide for dogs may contain arsenic. Arsenic remains in an organism forever, it does not leave the bloodstream. Throughout your dog’s life, as he eats more and more rawhide, the arsenic levels will continue to build up until a toxic level is reached. There are no symptoms to watch for. Arsenic poisoning can look like many other illnesses. In most cases, when a dog dies from arsenic poisoning, the cause of death appears to be something else. Most grieving owners will not have their vet perform a necropsy (autopsy) just to be sure. If you buy rawhide, be absolutely certain that it is 100% made and distributed in the United States.

Other hazardous toys include other animal products like pigs ears and choo hooves. Bones should not be cooked, this makes them brittle and cooking removes the enzymes in the bones, which make animals able to digest them. Toys with squeakers can present a hazard if your pet removes the squeaker. Tennis balls or other balls which can fit entirely into a dog’s mouth can become lodged in the animal’s throat if caught in the air. Finally, the “Lazer Mouse” cat toy or other flashlight-type games to play with your pet have a potential to create neurological problems for animals. These problems develop out of frustration with never being able to catch the light they chase. Cornell University’s Veterinary Behavior Clinic has treated many of these cases.

If you have any questions about other holiday hazards, please e-mail me at
Happy (and SAFE) HOWLidays!
Michelle Douglas CPDT CDBC

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