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Keeping Pets Healthy During Holidays
December 18, 2007, Volume 54, No. 16

Veterinarians at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania offer the following tips to keep pets healthy, and out of the emergency room, during the holidays.

Food: Maintain your dog and cat’s regular diet.  Table scraps from a holiday feast, especially ones covered in gravy or containing poultry skin, can cause severe gastrointestinal upset. Do not give the bones from poultry of any kind to your pets, as they can splinter, form sharp points and get stuck in the throat, gums or the roof of the mouth, causing severe problems. Dispose of all bones carefully so that pets cannot get them.

Do not give your pets onions, macadamia nuts or alcohol­—they are toxic to both dogs and cats. Never feed your pets chocolate, as it contains the heart stimulant theobromine, which can cause severe heart arrhythmias or seizures if ingested in large doses.

Space: Give your pets a quiet place to retreat to, especially if your normally quiet home is filled with guests and noise. Watch pets when doors are opening and closing frequently, as dogs and cats can easily slip out.

Decorations: Keep pets away from tinsel. Dogs and cats like to eat it, and tinsel (particularly plastic tinsel), can cut the intestines and cause severe injuries. If you suspect your animal has ingested tinsel, contact your veterinarian at once.

Electrical cords pose another hazard, particularly to puppies and kittens who may try to chew the wires. Take some extra time to tape down or cover cords to help prevent shocks, burns or more serious injuries.

Glass ornaments are hazardous as they break easily; pets can ingest the splinters, cutting their mouths or intestines.

Ornament hooks, when swallowed, can damage the mouth or esophagus and should be kept out of reach.

Dough ornaments, because of high salt content, are not good for pets.  Ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, seizures.

Mistletoe and holly berries, as well as poinsettia plants, can be poisonous to pets, causing severe upset stomachs. Pine needles can irritate or sometimes puncture a pet’s intestine.

Gifts for your pet:  Give toys that are too big to be swallowed. Don’t give anything with a string attached, and remove bells or squeakers from toys, as all these things could be swallowed.

Remember, the best gifts you can give your pet during the holidays are play and quiet time with you. And for dogs, regular walks are always welcome. 

Finally, if you are thinking of adding a new dog or cat to your household this holiday season, please visit your local animal shelter to find that new best friend and save a life at the same time.

—Penn Veterinary Medicine

Almanac - December 18, 2007, Volume 54, No. 16