With just a few weeks to go to Christmas, this is a busy time for many of people. And the last place anyone wants to spend the holidays is in a veterinary clinic with a sick pet.
So pet owners are being reminded to keep the health of their furry friends in mind as several of the things that make the season bright can also pose dangerous to dogs and cats.
Dr. Taryn Cass, who works in the emergency department of Kelowna’s 24-hour Fairfield Animal Hospital, says Christmas goodies like chocolate, table scraps from human holiday meals, household items, some plants and flowers and even the tinsel and other decorations on the Christmas tree can be cause problems for pets.
So people need to not only use common sense, they need to be vigilant too.
“I would advise people to be very careful leaving out yummy treats if they have a cat or dog,” said Cass.
She advises people to keep food items, such as chocolate, in the cupboard until it’s time for the humans to eat it, or to give to someone else. She said without meaning to do so, owners can expose their pets to problems by leaving boxes of chocolate, even wrapped, under the tree where pets can get at them.
“They will eat them, paper and all,” said Cass.
Depending on the size of the animal and the richness of the chocolate—dark chocolate is particularly dangerous—dogs can become very sick if they eat it because of an ingredient called theobromine. It is poisonous for dogs. While it may not kill every animal that eats it, chocolate can make a pet very sick.
Similarly, table scraps—particularly fatty foods like ham—as well as turkey because of the small bones it may include, can pose their own dangers. Fatty foods can cause vomiting or diarrhea, and in some cases pancreatitis. Small bones, or bone fragments, in turkey can become stuck in an animal’s intestines or perforate the bowel.
But it’s not just human food that pose a threat.
A Kelowna woman had to seek Cass’s assistance recently when her 12-year-old Peekapoo named Tyson swallowed an unchewed piece of chicken jerky and it became lodged in his esophagus.
The woman, who wanted her experience to act as a warning for other pet owners, said she checked the treat’s ingredients carefully before feeding it to her dog and felt comfortable doing so.
Cass was able to dislodge the blockage and push it down into the dog’s stomach where it could be digested properly. But not before some very tense moments for Tyson’s owner. She said the procedure likely saved her dog’s life.
“When it was stuck, his little tongue was hanging out of his mouth and he was panting, having a problem breathing. It was terrible,” she said.
An animal lover who has two other dogs, she said it prompted her to look at other hazards around the home that could hurt a pet, especially at this time of year.
According to Cass, food is not the only danger.
Cats, for instance, are fascinated by tinsel and ornaments on Christmas trees. They like to play with them, and given the chance in many cases, will also ingest them. Like ribbon, tinsel can be choking hazard and it can twist around the intestines and lead to expensive emergency surgery.
Experts say if you have a pet at home, it’s best to quickly discard ribbons and bows so as not to place temptation in the path of your pet.
Everyday household items can also provide health hazards, items many people would not think of.
Cass said one of the most digested items by dogs is, of all things, socks. She said dogs love socks and don’t even chew them. Once ingested, they can ball up, cause blockages and obstructions and are hard to detect on x-rays. In may cases surgery is required to remove them. Small toys can also create a problems as they can be chewed and swallowed.
Some plants are also dangerous for pets. Lilies are highly toxic for animals, even if they are part of a larger floral arrangement with other, more harmless flowers. Poinsettias, while not the pet killer some have made them out to be, can make pets very sick if ingested. Pine needles from a Christmas tree can also be harmful if swallowed.
But one of the biggest culprits of pet poisonings in the past, anti-freeze, is not as big a danger as it once was, said Cass. She said between manufacturers replacing the main ingredient one less harmful and attractive to dogs, and growing public awareness, she sees few cases of anti-freeze poisoning in Kelowna now. She said during her days working in northern B.C. it was far more frequent.
Cass advises owners to keep an eye on their pets for any strange behaviour and signs of illness during the holidays.
It they feel something is wrong, they should first phone their veterinarian, or, if unavailable a 24-hour animal clinic.
“(Vets) ask a lot of questions that can determine if a pet needs to be brought in right away,” she said. “Timing is often the question. So it’s best to make the call first.”
As for Tyson, he’s back to his old, playful self. And his owner is both delighted and thankful her dog survived his pre-Christmas ordeal.
“The folks at the clinic were just amazing,” she said.
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