The Holidays Are Not Unsafe for Pets
The holiday season, the time when my veterinary and non-veterinary blogging colleagues go to great lengths to convince you that everything about the holidays is toxic or fatal to your pet.
Millions of words will be shed misleading you into thinking that the ingestion of one M&M needs immediate stomach purging and hospitalization with fluids. You will be reprimanded for not being a more responsible pet owner and ordered to substitute more “pet correct” plants for the “deadly” poinsettia, holly, and mistletoe. And the pages will rale with tales of pancreatitis if your pet consumes even one piece of the turkey’s leg or steals a few bites of string bean casserole. After all, it is a double threat with the fat and the toxic onions. And god forbid that you are one of those fiendish cat owners who puts tinsel on your tree.
Relax. Enjoy the holidays and don’t spend every waking moment worrying if all in the household is “pet safe.”
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in safety, but some of the health threats of various holiday rituals are completely overblown. For example:
The cacao bean, from which chocolate is made, contains theobromine, which is a stimulant very similar to caffeine. An overdose of theobromine can cause a rapid heart rate and cardiovascular collapse. Is this likely to happen from holiday chocolate? Probably not, and here’s why: Very few holiday chocolates are made with pure cacao or baking chocolate, the most concentrated source of theobromine. In fact, baking chocolate is quite bitter and must be diluted with milk, sugar, and other ingredients to produce the “milk chocolates” you serve and exchange for the holidays.
These are not nearly as toxic as pure cacao or baker’s chocolate. The petMD Chocolate Meter is a great way to judge the toxicity of chocolate. A 20 lb. dog could eat ¼ lb. of milk chocolate and a 50 lb dog could consume a pound of milk chocolate and both would only suffer a moderate toxicity. It would probably cause vomiting and severe diarrhea, but not death.
Dark chocolate, baker’s chocolate, and semi-sweet chocolate all contain more theobromine and are about four times as toxic as milk chocolate. And white chocolate is completely non-toxic. A few M&M’s does not necessitate a trip to the vet for stomach purging and coal tar administration.
Plant toxicities are the most overblown of all threats to pets. The amount of toxins in most plants is so dilute that the pet needs to consume a large amount of the plant material. For most plants this just doesn’t occur, and poinsettias are not nearly as toxic as most believe. Although holly and mistletoe are more toxic than poinsettia, the amount ingested is the important factor, not the mere presence of the plant.
If you examine the thousands of plants considered toxic to pets you’ll find that most only cause vomiting and diarrhea. Guess what? The ingestion of grass causes vomiting and diarrhea in pets and nobody considers it toxic. Even though we identify chemical in plants that are toxic, it may just be the plant fiber that causes the symptoms, just like with grass.
Can onions cause anemia in pets? Yes, if the pet consume enough. Is that likely to happen from the green bean casserole? Not likely. Is the anemia reversible when onions are removed from the diet? Absolutely.
Tinsel, Pancreatitis, etc.
Yes, tinsel can cause intestinal obstruction. So can yarn, thread, or fishing line. Yet most cats pass these in their feces. We vets only see the small percentage of cats that become obstructed with tinsel, yarn, etc., so we overreact to the danger. Just as you try to be careful with other stringy things in the house, keep tinsel use to the higher tree branches.
Everybody likes to spoil their pets for the holidays. Mine get turkey with skin. I just moderate the amount and cut back on their regular diet. Pancreatitis is generally caused by large quantities of fatty food at a single sitting or in a short period of time.
Holidays should be enjoyable to all and free of fretting over hidden dangers. Toxicity is always about quantity.
Let me pose a question to you: Cats are sensitive to pine tar. Pine tar is on the trunk and branches of Christmas trees. It is also in the water in the tree stand. Does this mean the only responsible cat owner is one who uses an artificial tree?
Enjoy the holidays. Take sensible precautions and RELAX.
Dr. Ken Tudor