Common Christmas Pet Traps and Pitfalls, and How to Avoid Them!

This year, put your money into your children's (or your own) stockings ... and not into your local veterinary ER! As much as we love to stay busy in our ER, we would rather not have your holiday memories dimmed by an ill-fated accident during the most wonderful time of the year.

What is there to fear?

Several areas of concern quickly come to mind for most longtime pet owners, as well as for veterinary professionals. 

Foreign Bodies

This means typically non-digestible, well, anything. Christmas tree lights, tinsel, the string the popcorn is strung on (especially tasty!), presents, ribbon, wrapping paper, contents from guests' luggage or purses left unguarded, just to name a few. Often due to the house being full of guests and with lots of activity going on, owners are likely to be distracted and there tends to be more clutter lying around than usual.

Dietary Indiscretion

This can include foreign bodies, but usually when we use this phrase we are thinking of the snuck-under-the-dining-table pieces of turkey, the gravy licked off the well-meaning plate, or the chocolate bars you were going to melt down for making fudge. Typically, vomiting and diarrhea are very treatable with proper supportive care, but can be miserable and even fatal without treatment. And the mention of chocolate leads us to ...

Toxins!

  • Chocolate leads the pack here during the holidays. At low doses, baked goods with small amounts of chocolate in them, or one to two pieces of milk chocolate candy, can merely cause stomach and intestinal upset (vomiting/diarrhea), but in smaller patients and at higher doses, we can see heart issues and even seizures. The type of chocolate and the amount (in ounces or grams) and the weight of your pet are the most important pieces of information to call the ER with, if this does happen in your household.
  • Xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener, is also becoming an increasingly common toxin. It's not just in gum anymore – now it is even used in some peanut butter as well as other sugar-free products. This can cause such low blood sugar in dogs that they can go into a hypoglycemic coma and will not survive without a source of IV dextrose (i.e., medical sugar); they can also suffer liver complications. Make sure people check their purses SECURELY at the door. Most cases I have seen came from dogs that raided someone's purse.
  • Poinsettias are commonly referred to as toxic, but actually simply cause drooling and GI upset/irritation due to irritation of the mucous membranes. They can cause dermal irritation if the sap contacts the skin. With some supportive care, they not typically considered a lethal toxin. For skin contact, a bath with warm, soapy water should suffice.
  • Some less common, but still notable, toxins are macadamia nuts, mold toxins from compost/decaying food or organic material, and yeasted bread dough.

Interactions With the Pack

Putting several dogs or cats together who are not entirely used to each other is highly stressful (think about how you feel when you go over to your crowded in-laws' house!). Even pets that are used to each other may interact differently with other people or pets in the mix.

It is wise to separate cats altogether from dogs not in their own family (even if those dogs live with cats, they are different cats, which does matter when it comes to prey drive). If a dog growls or snaps, or the cat hisses or swats, they are actually giving a warning that they are uncomfortable. The best thing is to remove them from the stressful situation and give them space, rather than to chastise them. 

We here at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital sincerely hope we do NOT see you for any unexpected visits during this busy time of year! Hopefully, with some precautions, many of the above can be avoided. Accidents do happen to the best of us, so please call or come in if you have any concerns at any time.


Article written by Holly Droske, DVM

PVH offers 24/7 emergency care every day of the year, including holidays: 360.568.9111. Read more about our veterinary ER service in Snohomish for dogs and cats.