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

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Happy Holidays for Pets and People

Pet Column for the week of December 10, 2012

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

It’s that time of year again. A season of indulgent food, drink, and merriment is under way. Pet owners should be aware that with the good times come potential dangers for dogs and cats.

Dr. Tina Wismer, a veterinarian at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center who lectures at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, gives some advice on how to keep pets safe from holiday hazards. She cautions that some of the most life-threatening calls to the poison control center can be categorized under “grandma’s purse.”

“This is when a pet gets into a purse, which can contain anything from medications to sugarless gum. These are the most difficult cases to treat because of the infinite possibilities of what a purse can contain,” explains Dr. Wismer. She recommends that guests’ purses, luggage, and coats be kept behind closed doors and away from pets to avoid this scenario.

Dr. Wismer recommends telling guests the rules for your pet. Pancreatitis, a potentially deadly inflammation of the pancreas, can be caused by animals eating fatty treats or other inappropriate foods, and it happens more frequently during the holidays. Protect your pet by telling guests not to share table scraps with Bowser or Tabby. Even a small scrap can cause problems when each person at the party hands one out.

Drinks also cause problems. Alcohol poisoning is very serious, especially for a pet. It takes only a small amount of alcohol to make a dog or cat ill.

“Don’t leave the eggnog unattended,” Dr. Wismer warns, “because pets like its sweet taste as much as people do. If an animal has ingested alcohol, it needs to be seen by a veterinarian for fluid therapy and to be monitored for vomiting.”

Is there chocolate under your tree? If so, move it. A curious pet could unwrap the gift and consume the toxic candy inside. According to Dr. Wismer, the poison control center received an average of 21 calls per day regarding chocolate intake in animals last year, and during the holiday season that number went up to 23 calls per day.

While you are busy decorating for the holidays, Dr. Wismer warns about trimming the tree with tinsel or strings of popcorn. These are especially tempting for cats, who naturally want to play with them. If ingested, these decorations could cause a serious obstruction that requires surgery to correct.

The decorative plants common during the holidays also cause problems for pets if ingested. According to Dr. Wismer, mistletoe and holly can cause vomiting.

However, one holiday favorite is less worrisome than you may have heard.

“The toxicity of poinsettias is often exaggerated. Poinsettias are not really going to cause serious problems,” Dr. Wismer advises, “but if a pet ingested a large amount of poinsettia leaves, that could lead to an upset stomach and possibly vomiting.”

For more information on how to “pet proof” your home during the holidays, speak with your local veterinarian.