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Ten Winter Holiday Pet Hazards

Winter holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy being with family and friends. But with all the extra hustle and bustle, you may forget to abide by the same pet-proofing measures you follow the rest of the year. Here are ten holiday pet safety hazards that you should be aware of to help keep your pet safe and happy through this holiday season.

1. Chocolate

As tasty as chocolate can be for us, it can be plenty dangerous for our pets. Worse yet, there are many seemingly innocuous forms of chocolate that pets can get into during the holidays—chocolate coins, baking chocolate morsels, and even chocolate-covered espresso beans and macadamia nuts can dispense an unhealthy dose of methylxanthines to pets.

Cats, it's important to note, can also be adversely affected if they ingest chocolate. But Dr. Justine Lee, board-certified veterinary specialist in emergency critical care/toxicology, points out that most cats have no interest in it. In fact, over 90 percent of chocolate toxicity calls to the Pet Poison Helpline are for dogs.

2. Alcohol

It's highly unlikely that any of your household guests would dare to give your pet a sip of their alcoholic drink, but they may not think twice about a piece of rum cake. Pets may also inadvertently become poisoned if they eat any unbaked bread dough.

Once ingested, Dr. Lee says, "the stomach acts as an artificial oven that basically metabolizes the yeast [from the unbaked dough] into ethanol and carbon dioxide." This can then cause the animal to bloat from the excess carbon dioxide and suffer from alcohol poisoning from the ethanol.

3. Grapes (and Raisins)

Grapes and raisins are also common pet safety hazards for pets during the holidays. Any candied raisins found in fruit cake, yogurt-covered raisins or grapes found on appetizer platters could spell bad news for your pet.

"The other reason we get a lot of [grape and raisin poison] calls, Dr. Lee says, "is because holidays are a time when family [and friends] visit—and they are sometimes unaware that grapes and raisins are poisonous to dogs and cats."

4. Medications

You may be a stickler when it comes to pet-proofing your house for holidays with pets, but once the holiday guests arrive, that all goes out the window. Traveling household guests often leave open suitcases on the ground, where pets can easily get into prescription medications.

Suddenly you have a pet that can get into 20 different medications all at once. Over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol can be equally dangerous to pets. If you think your pet ingested any medications or supplements, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control (888) 426-4435 right away.

5. Tinsel

Anyone who has a cat needs to really watch out when using this shiny object around the house, Dr. Lee says. In fact, you may be better off forgoing using tinsel on trees, wreaths or garland this year. Tinsel is thin and sharp and can easily wrap itself around the intestines or ball up in the stomach once ingested.

6. Xylitol

It may sound like some exotic instrument, but xylitol is a sugar substitute found in some sugar-free ​candies, gum and recipes. Recently, xylitol is being included in more and more sugar-free products, including peanut butter! When ingested by pets, xylitol may cause vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, and in severe cases, liver failure.

7. Plants

While mistletoe and holly are mainstays when it comes to winter holiday plants, these are also two of the more toxic holiday plants to pets, causing severe gastrointestinal disorders, breathing difficulty, even heart failure in extreme cases.

The dangers of poinsettias, on the other hand, are overhyped, in Dr. Lee's opinion. Of course, while they are not safe for your pet, often the worse that happens to a dog or cat that ingests a small portion of the poinsettia is a bit of mild indigestion. However, you should still use caution, especially around puppies and kittens.

8. Liquid Potpourri Much like "regular" potpourri, liquid potpourri can help freshen up any room. However, this concentrated fragrance can cause severe damage to your pet if ingested. Dr. Lee says, "Cats are super curious about [simmering] potpourri and drink the liquid, which then poisons them." Liquid potpourri also contains a detergent which is corrosive and can cause burns on a pet's tongue, difficulty breathing, and even liver damage.

9. Holiday Ornaments

Although not poisonous, many ornaments have sharp edges that can cause perforations and lacerations to pets that try to chew on the decorations. We wouldn't dare ask you to strip the house of all the joy that holiday ornaments can bring, but please safeguard them for the sake of your pet’s safety during holidays with pets.

10. Electrical Cords

Winter holidays bring with them plenty of connected devices—lights, lights, and more lights—along with the electrical cords and outlets needed to power these devices. Curious puppies and kittens are especially intrigued by the exposed wiring, Dr. Lee says, and are therefore most in danger of the burns or fluid accumulation in the lungs associated with electrical shocks. Take care where you place electrical cords and outlets, and when possible, place them out of reach from your pets, tape them down or cover them in protective casing.

Be Prepared

While spending holidays with pets can be wonderful and enjoyable, it is always important to be mindful of these pet safety concerns. With a little common sense and a lot of preparation, you can minimize the dangers.

One of the most important aspects of being prepared is knowing what to do if an emergency should occur. Dr. Lee has some advice for that as well. "I always tell people to preprogram the contact numbers for your veterinarian, nearest emergency hospital and the Pet Poison Helpline,  (888) 426-4435.”

NOTE:  Our blog articles are intended to provide helpful insights and information for your consideration.  They clearly identify original sources for their content, including links.


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