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NEWS | Nov. 5, 2020

One Health Week: Pet safety during the holidays

By Dr. (Capt.) Caitlin Sullivan Public Health Command-Pacific

SAN DIEGO - During the holidays, it’s important to remember that our favorite treats and feasts may pose dangers to our furry family members. Preventing your animals from ingesting dangerous or inappropriate substances is imperative; prevention is always easier (and less dangerous) than treating!
Here are some tips on preventing illness from the dinner table by avoiding certain menu items.
Onions and garlic: Thanksgiving dressing is often made with onions, scallions or garlic. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed. These vegetables and herbs can cause gastrointestinal irritation and can lead to red blood cell damage and ultimately anemia, which could require hospitalization.
Dairy: Some side dishes might contain butter and milk, which can cause diarrhea in pets.
Sugar and salts: Brown sugar and salts can also contribute to severe metabolic changes that can send a furry friend to the hospital. Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning in pets. Salty foods can induce vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death.
Grapes and raisins: There are many salads and side dishes that include grapes or raisins as ingredients. Grapes and raisins are toxic and potentially deadly. Grapes cause severe, irreversible and sometimes fatal kidney failure in dogs, and the symptoms may not be immediately apparent. If your dog ingests any grapes or raisins, consult your vet as soon as possible, even if your dog is currently acting fine.
Fatty meats: Ham and other pork products that are high in fat content can cause pancreatitis, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. Additionally, any caloric or fatty foods, even if they don’t cause pancreatitis if ingested, can lead to obesity in pets which can cause long-term health problems.
Bones: Bones can cause severe indigestion, vomiting, or obstruction in dogs and cats. Turkey bones in particular can splinter and puncture through the stomach or intestines, causing a potentially fatal abdominal infection which can require surgery and hospitalization to treat.
Desserts: Chocolate is highly toxic to dogs and cats. The darker the chocolate, the worse the toxicity. Chocolate and coffee contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds. Methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Call your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately if your pet ingests chocolate.
Sugar-free supplements or chewing gum: Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is dangerous to pets. It is most commonly found in sugar-free gum. It can cause profound hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, very quickly after ingestion. Signs of toxicity can be seen as quickly as 30 minutes after xylitol ingestion in dogs. Call your veterinarian or the APCC immediately if your pet ingests anything containing xylitol.
Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages and food products containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death. Under no circumstances should a pet be given any alcohol.
Be in control of what your pet eats.
Tinsel and string: Tinsel string is a popular toy for many cats. However, if ingested, it can cause a life-threatening blockage and damage in their gastrointestinal tract. Linear foreign bodies such as string frequently require surgery to remove and prolonged hospitalization for recovery. Typically clinical signs don’t start until the gastrointestinal problem is already severe. It is important to prevent cats from ingesting strings, rubber bands, tinsel, dental floss, fishing line, or any other similar item they might enjoy playing with or eating.
Ornaments: Breakable ornaments can cause cuts to the mouth, esophagus, or GI tract if ingested by an animal. Just because it looks unappetizing to humans, doesn’t mean it is to pets! Keep breakable ornaments higher on the Christmas tree, and monitor closely to ensure your pets don’t use them as toys or treats.
House plants: Poinsettia plans can be mildly toxic to animals, causing mild GI upset or ulcerations in the mouth of cats if chewed or ingested. Best to keep poinsettias out of reach of animals that like to eat plans. Mistletoe contains a toxin that can cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and in some extreme cases, possible death. Lilies are extremely toxic to cats and can cause acute kidney failure if ingested, or even if licked. Keep lily plants out of reach of cats at all times.
Toxic household items: Beware of poisonous or dangerous items such as batteries, plant food, insecticides, fertilizer, rodent bait or poison, antifreeze, and coins (especially pennies due to potential zinc toxicity) that may be around the home and yard. These items can all make your pet sick if ingested.
Clothing and toys: Some dogs love to eat used clothing such as socks or underwear. Other pets may be interested in eating the insides of their stuffed animals, pieces of rubber toys, plastic packaging of their favorite foods, and more. Keep your pet’s favorite non-food items out of reach so that you don’t risk an emergency foreign-body removal surgery.
Table scraps and trash: Put table scraps in secure garbage or refuse containers; do not feed them to your pets. Too much fatty food after eating from the garbage can lead to pancreatitis, which is a life-threatening and very painful inflammatory condition of the pancreas. Bones and rawhide chews also present a significant choking hazard and should be avoided.
Additional tips for safe and health pets.
The heat, loud noise and confusion of crowded holiday events can traumatize a pet and may cause it to want to run away or escape from the environment. Make sure pets have a quiet, safe place that they can use for shelter within the home. And, just in case one of your pets does escape, ensure they are always wearing a collar with an identification tag and a microchip, in case they are frightened by a holiday gathering and escape your home unexpectedly.
If your family plans to travel and you are planning to board your pet during the holiday season, it is recommended to call the boarding facility ahead of time to see if they have any specific vaccine requirements for boarding.
Last, but not least, maintain recommended flea, tick and heartworm medication since diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes may be life threatening. Note, not all topical medications are waterproof or even safe for pets. Just because it is winter does not mean that it is safe to stop administering preventives for your pets, especially if you live in a warmer climate.
If you suspect that a pet has ingested something that they should not have, contact your veterinarian or the Poison Control Center immediately. The ASPCA poison control hotline is (888) 426-4435.