For me, this is one of the best times of the year. We have just had Thanksgiving with all the food, family and friends gathered to share a wonderful meal and be thankful for all the things in our lives. Next, we will begin to transform our homes into Christmas wonderlands with lights and decorations. Of course, there will also be more fabulous food to share.
If your pets are like mine, they are under foot and in the midst of all of these events. Flipper, our dog, lives under the table from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve knowing food will “accidentally” come his way. Our cats, Inky and Ollie, will curl up on the Christmas tree skirt to sleep. They always get their own stockings on the mantle, too.
Our house and lifestyle have been modified to be pet safe. As veterinarians, my wife and I, as well as our children, know what is safe and unsafe for our pets. Our cats’ curiosity makes us avoid leaving certain items out we know they cannot resist and could result in injury. With Flipper, we all now know no food is safe from his reach.
However, during the next month, we seem to all forget the rules set in place to keep our pets safe. Decorations, the cats cannot resist, are placed all over the house. The best smelling, tastiest food is placed for guests to enjoy but also where Flipper cannot resist the temptation to grab a bite. So I have to remind my family that we still have to be aware that our home is shared with three pets.
First, be careful what you feed Flipper. It is OK to give him little pieces of white meat turkey, mashed potatoes with no butter or gravy, and broccoli or green beans prior to adding the cheese sauce. Pets, as a general rule, do not tolerate fatty foods well or quick changes in their diets. At the very least, it may result in 24 hours of vomiting and diarrhea. In the worst cases, the pancreas may become inflamed, pancreatitis, requiring days in the ICU, occasionally surgery, and for some patients, it is fatal.
For Flipper, we not only have to restrain ourselves from feeding him but be careful where we set our food. He is good at reaching dishes you would think are too far back on the counter for any dog to reach. An unattended dish quickly becomes shattered glass and food all over the floor.
If your home is like mine, the cats have free reign as to where they can perch. For sanitary reasons, we keep them off of the dining room table and kitchen counters, but pretty much everywhere else is allowed.
Several Christmases ago when our long-haired cat Big Winky was still with us, we suddenly smelled burning hair. To our horror, she had climbed onto a side table and caught her fur on fire from a candle. Fortunately, it was only a mild singe of her fur and no skin burns. We all learned burning candles have to be placed in areas where the cats do not go.
We have two hooks in the wall about five feet off of the floor behind where we place our Christmas tree. Fishing line is attached to these hooks and wrapped around the tree to prevent a curious cat from pulling the whole thing down.
Puppies love to mouth everything, especially if it is something new. All the lights on the tree and around your home require extension cords for power. I have seen several puppies with severe oral burns from biting a power cord. In the most severe cases, this may also cause life-threatening pulmonary edema to develop. Do your best to place these cords out of reach and be aware of what your pets are doing when around these cords.
All of the greenery we bring inside our homes is beautiful, but it is not safe for our pets. Poinsettia ingestion will cause irritation to the mouth and esophagus and may result in drooling and vomiting. Holly is slightly more toxic, and if eaten, causes vomiting and diarrhea. Besides also causing an upset stomach if consumed in large enough quantities, mistletoe may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. Fortunately, since all of these plants irritate the mouth when eaten, most pets stop before they eat enough to get severely ill. Just avoid the problem altogether by not bringing these plants indoors or placing them out of reach.
Cats, and even some dogs, are curious about new things, especially those that move and sparkle. They will mouth them and in some cases swallow them. This time of year we see in increased incidence of foreign bodies stuck in the gastrointestinal tract. For those in the esophagus and stomach, they often can be retrieved with an endoscope. If, however, they move into the intestines, then surgery is required. As you place ornaments around the house and tree, be cognizant of those your pet may want to play with and inadvertently eat.
Your worries will change as the age of your pets change. Now that Ollie, Inky and Flipper are all past 10 years old, it is rare for them to play with and chew on ornaments. Inevitably when we get a new, younger pet, we will have to readjust what is safe.
As you decorate for the season, be aware of what is safe and unsafe for pets so you can avoid an unwanted trip the veterinary emergency room.