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Holiday season can pose risks for furry friends

POSTED: December 12, 2013 11:51 p.m.

The Christmas season usually brings fun outings, delicious food and festive decorations. However, these merry perks can be hazardous to furry friends. 

Everything from Christmas tree ornaments to that leftover turkey wishbone poses potential dangers to pets, if not monitored carefully.

“Things to be thinking about are some of the decorations, ornaments and stuff like that on trees,” said Dr. John Sundstrom of Animal Medical Care in Gainesville.

Animals, especially younger puppies, kittens and cats, are often easily attracted to these types of decorations and will want to play with them, which presents the risk of swallowing the item.

“(These items) can act as a foreign body where they’ll have to have surgery to take those out,” Sundstrom added.

Trimmings and other supplies used to wrap presents and decorate holiday packages can also be hazardous, especially ribbons and strings, as they can “go through the (gastrointestinal) tract and have the potential to obstruct,” he said.

Electrical cords and wires from lights and decorations are other threats. 

“You’ll want to keep those hidden and out of the way where they can’t be chewed on or played with,” Sundstrom said. “Those can be fascinating to animals, so hide wires as much as you can.”

Those using live Christmas trees should take extra care to prevent animals from drinking the water or chewing on branches, as they can contain preservatives or fertilizers that can be toxic. Mistletoe is also toxic.

Human foods can also be a danger to animals, and people may be tempted to treat their pets with leftovers or scraps from family meals, not realizing these “treats” can be harmful.

“People are cooking a lot during the Christmas season, and there are lots of desserts and candies and stuff,” Sundstrom said. “Chocolate is a toxicity that can hit (both dogs and cats), and the animals do love it ... they’ll eat it, and it doesn’t take a lot (to cause harm).”

He added that baking chocolate is about five times more potent than milk chocolate.

“If you leave anything out, they can certainly get into it, and it gets their heart racing,” he said. “They get wired, hyper, jumpy, and theoretically if it gets high enough, it can definitely kill them.”

Foods containing bones should also be kept away from pets, especially those from popular holiday meat choices like turkeys and chickens. These bones tend to be fragile and can splinter sharply, Sundstrom pointed out, which can cause puncturing if the animal were to swallow them. Additionally, bones can block the GI tract, which could require surgery.

Fatty foods should also be avoided. 

“Fatty foods, such as sausage balls and what have you, especially to middle-aged dogs, are very bad for the pancreas,” Sundstrom said.

Other holiday party elements, such as alcoholic beverages left in places accessible to pets, and hors d’oeuvres, should be monitored both for food content and sharp accessories such as toothpicks.

Additionally, colder weather with noticeable temperature drops at night is common during this time of year. Leaving pets outside during these weather conditions can be especially dangerous to their health.

“In general terms, they will need shelter no matter what, so they can get out of the wind and rain,” Sundstrom said.

“For many (animals),” he added, “(when temperatures) hit the 30s and certainly as we drift into the 20s and teens in regards to when they’ll need to be inside. The very young thin ones are more prone to cold than adults with a coat and layer of fat, and older pets will need that warmth more than an active young healthy pet. Just like people, they can get stiffer and move slower.”

Sundstrom also warned of any access to antifreeze, a common chemical used in vehicles during colder weather. Even a seemingly small amount can kill pets if ingested, as they are often attracted to the sweet taste.


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