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

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"Pet Proofing" for Safer Holidays

Pet Column for the week of December 20, 2010

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

Dr. Sandra Yi, a veterinary toxicologist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, has some hints to help pet owners avoid common hazards during the holiday season.

Pancreatitis is one of the biggest health dangers at a time when rich, holiday treats and feasts abound. Many pets get fed more table scraps and "people" food than they are accustomed to, and these high-fat foods can result in an inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis. The signs include a painful abdomen, depression, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. This condition can be life-threatening and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Other foods that pose problems for pets during the holidays include chocolate, macadamia nuts, raisins or grapes, bread dough, alcohol, and xylitol (an artificial sweetener commonly found in dental products, chewing gum, and human medications). Pets can display a range of symptoms from vomiting and diarrhea to ataxia (which means wobbliness and incoordination) and seizures. In the case of xylitol, consumption by dogs can be life-threatening.

Remind your guests and family members that pets need to stick to their usual diet during the holiday season. Sharing a small amount of a lean meat will be the best way to safely include your dog in the holiday feast.

For cats a big holiday hazard is accidental ingestion of decorations that they may play with. Garland, strings, and tinsel can be a particular problem for cats. They are attracted to shiny things that are similar to common cat toys. Tinsel and string can become wrapped around a cat's tongue, causing severe lacerations of their gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, infection, shock and even death if not treated aggressively.

To keep your pet safe during the holiday season, "pet proof" your house and ask your guests not to share foods with pets. If you are the one traveling this season and you take any medications, please be mindful of where you store your medicine when visiting friends and relatives.

The holidays are a wonderful time for families, friends, and pets to come together when you take a few safety precautions.

If you have questions about holiday hazards, please contact your local veterinarian and have a healthy and safe New Year!