Keeping the Holiday Season Joyous for Pets Too

During this time of year, many of us are preoccupied decorating our homes and planning for get-togethers with family and friends. While we are busy with holiday traditions, it is important to take certain precautions for our beloved canine and feline family members, because many holiday decorations, plants, and foods can be harmful to our four-legged friends.

For example, among popular holiday decorations, artificial snow can cause respiratory irritation if inhaled or gastrointestinal problems if ingested by dogs or cats. Angel hair and tinsel can lead to intestinal upset and blockages if consumed by your pet. In fact, intake of large amounts of angel hair, which is spun glass, can rupture the intestine and be fatal. In addition to these common holiday decorations, liquid potpourri oils, which are used to infuse our homes with scents typical of the holiday season are sometimes consumed by pets and may cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, and potentially, liver damage.

We know that just as traditional Holiday Season plants, such as poinsettias, American mistletoe, and American holly can be harmful to children, they may also be poisonous to our furry companions. Although not fatal, ingestion of leaves and flowers from poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) causes gastrointestinal upset, while exposure to the sap of poinsettias irritates eyes and/or the oral cavity (including painful blisters on the tongue and mouth). American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) and holly (Ilex opaca) can be fatal to dogs and cats; in particular, ingestion of the white mistletoe and red holly berries has proven to be fatal to both canines and felines.

Lastly, many holiday treats containing chocolate, macadamia nuts, and/or raisins should be kept away from dogs and cats. For example, dogs and cats metabolize the cacao bean-derived natural stimulant theobromine, which is present in chocolate, at a slower rate than humans. Rising theobromine levels stimulate the central nervous system and heart, as well as relax bronchial smooth muscles. Depending on the amount and type of chocolate (e.g., dark chocolate contains higher levels of theobromine), symptoms such as restlessness, panting, vomiting, urinary incontinence, and diarrhea are observed within two to four hours following ingestion of chocolate. If left untreated, toxic levels of theobromine induce a fatal increase in heart rate, seizures, and/or coma. Consumption of raisins or macadamia nuts may cause vomiting and kidney failure in dogs.

Keeping the holiday season a happy one for all of the family requires only a few simple measures, including placing harmful decorations, potpourri, plants, and foods out of reach of our four-legged friends.