UF veterinarians warn pet owners of holiday hazards

Published: December 12 2002

Category:Health, Research, Veterinary

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The holidays are upon us, and all through the house, lots of creatures are stirring-maybe even your pet mouse.

But keeping Fido and Fluffy happy, healthy and away from holiday hazards can be a challenge amid the season’s temptations, edible or otherwise, University of Florida veterinarians warn.

Each year, thousands of pets are treated for holiday-related injuries or illnesses, ranging from severe digestive troubles prompted by eating fatty foods or sweets to tangles with tree-trimming tinsel and other decorations. Although no national statistics are known to exist on the precise frequency of celebration-related pet health problems, UF veterinarians say it’s natural that those who eat, drink and make merry should take extra precautions to avoid pitfalls that can affect household pets.

“The most common thing we see around this time of year is pancreatitis, a sometimes-fatal inflammation of the pancreas that can result from eating high-fat foods like turkey skin,” said Chris Adin, a veterinary surgeon at UF’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and an assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea can result.”

Does this mean Rover can’t get the occasional turkey table scrap?

“Probably not a good idea,” Adin said. “Gastrointestinal problems are always a risk when animals eat things they don’t normally have in their diet.”

Save the turkey and ham bones for soup: Bones can become stuck in a pet’s throat, stomach or intestinal tract. Avoid giving animals eggnog, champagne or other alcoholic beverages. And give your pets real kisses, not chocolate ones, over the holidays. Chocolate contains a caffeine-like chemical, theobromine, that can be toxic to animals.

Certain plants, such as holly and mistletoe, also are poisonous. The sap and leaves of the poinsettia can irritate the mouth and trigger severe stomach upset, while various lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if eaten. Ribbons, wrapping paper and tinsel also attract playful pets, who may swallow them. These objects can easily become stuck in the gastrointestinal tract.

“As a surgeon, I see a lot of what we call foreign body obstruction, when cats eat tinsel or other strings, for example,” Adin said. “A linear foreign body that saws back and forth on the intestines potentially involves surgery to remove it.”

Experts offer these pet-proofing tips:

  • Firmly anchor your holiday tree to withstand cats that climb or dogs that jump-or engage in powerful tail-wagging.
  • Steer clear of using preservatives in a tree stand’s water basin, including homespun additions like sugar or aspirin, all of which can cause nausea or vomiting.
  • Place sharp ornaments or fragile decorations out of reach.
  • Make sure puppies and kittens don’t use electrical cords and light strands as chew toys.
  • Never leave lighted candles unattended.

If you’re planning on going over the river and through the woods-by air or by car-to grandmother’s house and taking Rover along, it’s probably best to acclimate him to a crate if he’s not accustomed to it. Any stress experienced by pets during travel could be exacerbated if they have to be confined to a crate, especially if they aren’t used to it, said Kris Cooke, an assistant professor of small animal medicine at UF.

“Some people will travel with their pets, and depending on where they are going, the airlines will have certain restrictions,” she added. “It’s probably a good idea not to feed animals that morning if they’re going to be flying.”

Checking with airlines ahead of time is the best way to plan ahead to minimize stress on the animals, Cooke said.

And finally, keep an eye on the door when greeting your guests and make sure your pets are wearing identification. An open door can be an open invitation for a quick escape. And consider placing pets in a quiet, secluded part of the house when festivities are in full swing.


Sarah Carey

Category:Health, Research, Veterinary