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

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Tell Fido to 'Play Nice' This Holiday Season

Pet Column for the week of November 24, 2008

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

With a long list of potential hazards pets face during the holidays, one of the biggest problems veterinarians see is not the result of your Labrador stealing a turkey leg, though that certainly can cause trouble. In the spirit of the holidays, family and friends usually do their best to create family harmony, but sometimes our pets don't get the message.

Dr. Mauria O'Brien is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana who spends a lot of her time in the emergency room. She has seen several different problems over the holidays, however "the biggest problem I see is bite wounds," says Dr. O'Brien. "We are suturing a lot of wounds during that time of year."

She explains that many people bring their pets with them when they travel to a family member's home that also has another pet. Despite the holiday spirit, many animals do not get along, and fights break out.

Dr. O'Brien recommends slowly introducing dogs that do not normally hang out together. "Initially," she suggests, "keep all pets on a leash until you know they get along." Because the last thing you need over the holidays is to make a trip to the emergency room after a fight; keep animals separated if they can't mind their manners.

While most owners are aware that chocolate, raisins, grapes, and macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs, there are a few items that are not as well known. Bread dough toxicity is particularly a problem in small dogs. After ingesting the dough dogs can become intoxicated since the substance ferments in their stomach. If your pooch starts acting lethargic don't hesitate to take its keys and seek out veterinary care.

Dr. O'Brien also mentions that she has seen several dogs that have gotten into presents with food in them left wrapped under the tree. "Dogs can easily smell the food under the wrapping paper and unfortunately they sometimes end up ingesting the food as well as the container it's in," which, she goes on to explain, can lead to a foreign body.

One of the newer toxicities that have come to light is Xylitol poisoning, thanks to "sugar-free" products. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that causes dogs to have very low blood sugar levels and can lead to liver failure. This product is most commonly found in sugar-free gums and if your dog snatches just one piece it can be toxic.

While many of the above toxicities seem to be found only in dogs, there are a few items that you should be careful with if you have cats around. "Liquid potpourri can cause ulcers in the mouths, gastrointestinal and dermal irritation," mentions Dr. O'Brien.

Lilies are also toxic to cats. "If you receive a bouquet of flowers just be sure to pull out the lilies," recommends Dr. O'Brien. She goes onto explain that many cats will chew on the leaves and petals and this can lead to fatal acute renal failure.

Although the emergency room at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana is open 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year for any pet emergency, it is best to prevent our four-legged friends from getting into trouble.

If you are at all concerned for your pet's health contact your local veterinarian, University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital Emergency Room at 217-333-5300, or in the case of any toxic ingestion call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888/426-4435.