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Winter holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy 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. We spoke with Dr. Justine Lee, Associate Director of the Pet Poison Helpline and Specialist at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, to discuss 10 common winter holiday hazards she and her colleagues encounter. Some of the items may surprise you.
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 pets can get into during the holidays — chocolate coins, baking chocolate morsels, 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. Lee points out that it's just 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.
Now it's highly unlikely any of your household guests would dare to give Fido or Fluffy 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 their dried cousins, raisins, are other common hazards for pets during the holidays. It may sound unusual, but any candied raisins found in fruit cake 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."
You may be stickler when it comes to pet-proofing your house, 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 found Zip-loc bags. Suddenly you have a pet that can get into 20 different medications all at once.
Anyone who has a cat needs to really watch out for 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.
It may sound like some exotic instrument, but xylitol is just a sugar substitute found in some sugar-free candies, gum and recipes. When ingested by pets, xylitol may cause vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, and in severe cases, liver failure. Don't let your sweet tooth accidentally become hazardous to your pet's health.
Winter holidays wouldn't be the same without mistletoe and holly. Unfortunately, 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. For a more extensive list of harmful plants, read our article "Dangerous Winter Holiday Plants for Pets."
8. Liquid Potpourri
Much like "regular" potpourri, liquid potpourri can freshen up any room. However this concentrated fragrance, which is typically simmered in a pot and then placed in a bottle for later use, can cause severe damage to your pet if ingested. "Cats," Dr. Lee says, "are super curious about [simmering] potpourri and drink the liquid, which then poisons them." Liquid potpourri also contains a cationic detergent, which is corrosive and can cause burns on a pet's tongue, difficulty breathing, and even excess liver enzymes.
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 holiday ornaments can bring, but please safeguard them for the sake of your pet.
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.
As you can see, the dangers for your pets are numerous. But with a little common sense and a lot of preparation you can minimize the danger. 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 vet, nearest emergency hospital and the Pet Poison Helpline (855) 213-6680." So, what are you waiting for? Do it now!