Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Tips for Happy Holidays with Your Pet

Pet Column for the week of December 8, 2003

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ann Marie Falk
Information Specialist

With Thanksgiving over, many people are hauling out seasonal decorations. Pet owners should be aware that some of these can cause problems for Felix or Fido.

"Dogs and cats are like young children: on the move but not completely aware of the dangers surrounding them. It's best if possible to keep pets away from the Christmas tree, unless they are supervised," says Dr. Steven Marks, head of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.

If your dog is the type to chew up your favorite slippers and the side of your couch, then he may decide to chew on the electrical cord connected to your Christmas tree or yard light display. Biting an electrical cord can cause burns on the face and tongue. Receiving a shock can also cause pulmonary edema (fluid collecting in the lungs), a potentially life-threatening problem. This type of respiratory problem is an emergency requiring immediate attention!

"Cats like to play with feathery, shiny things. Does that sound like many of your ornaments? Cats also love string, so tinsel, popcorn on a string, and beaded string are all potential hazards. Cats that eat these things may develop symptoms that require surgical correction," warns Dr. Marks.

Hang ornaments less likely to cause problems on lower branches. Placing your tree on a pedestal is one way to try to prevent your cat from playing with ornaments. Cats are known to be very acrobatic and will try to jump on trees. Pets have tipped over Christmas trees, resulting in a potential fire hazard. Don't leave lights plugged in or candles lit unless someone is nearby.

Dogs, cats, and children have a much lower line of sight than do adults. To them, the Christmas trees stand looks like a water bowl or a fun toy to play with. If you have pets or small children, avoid using Christmas tree preservatives and chemicals, most of which have some toxicity.

"A good rule of thumb is if you think something would be a problem for your child, then it will be a problem for your pets," warns Dr. Marks.

"Around the holidays people like to give gifts to their pets. Be careful what you choose for your animal. Toys that can be chewed into little pieces are choking and obstructive hazards. Hard rubber toys are your best bet. Even things like rawhides and biscuits can become lodged in the intestinal tract," says Dr. Marks.

Treats should be given in moderation. Obesity is a huge problem in pets. Especially during the holidays when activity shifts indoors, pets are less active and people tend to give them more treats. Pets do not need to gain a few extra holiday pounds. Many pets would prefer more attention from you as a gift instead of food and toys.

If you're concerned about your pet, contact your veterinarian. The University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital is open 24 hours every day of the year and can be contacted at 217-333-5300 if your veterinarian is not available.

Season's greetings and happy new year from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine!