Nfld. & Labrador

Protect your pet from holiday hazards with tips from a vet tech

Ornaments and food can be enticing to cats and dogs but they can also be dangerous, or even fatal.

Your cat climbing the tree isn't the only thing you need to worry about

It's not just inconvenient when your pet gets into the Christmas tree. It can also be dangerous. (Terri Coles/CBC)

They say curiosity killed the cat — and at Christmas, that can actually be true.

Many of the things humans love most about the holidays, from sparkling decorations to sweet treats, can be hazardous, or even fatal, for our furry family members.

Taking extra care with decorations and food can save an expensive visit to the vet, or even your pet's life, says Heather O'Connell, a registered veterinary technician with the Animal Health Centre in Corner Brook.

Hang the ornaments with care

Cats, in particular, are interested in the shiny ornaments dangling from Christmas trees, but pets of all kinds can get too curious about the decorations for their own good.

Tinsel and ribbon are hazards for animals who might eat them, O'Connell said.

"Any animal is capable of eating tinsel and ribbon, but cats we most often see playing with it," she said.

When eaten, tinsel and ribbon can bunch up in the digestive tract and cause an obstruction that may require surgery, she said.

Edible ornaments are also a potential source of harm, O'Connell said, especially if your pet tends to eat things that you'd rather it didn't. (Looking at you, dogs.)

Edible ornaments that have a metal hook attached should be hung out of the reach of hungry mouths that could swallow them up, hook and all. The salt dough ornaments that often come home with kids from school are one surprising risk.

"The salt dough ornaments are really high in salt and it can cause salt intoxication, which can throw off their electrolytes," she said.

Snow globes are another surprising hazard, O'Connell said, because they sometimes contain ethylene glycol, better known as antifreeze, which can leak out if the globe breaks.

"It only takes a couple licks of that liquid and it can be toxic to them."

And keep an eye on your cords for lights and decorations. If chewed by a curious kitten, puppy or rabbit, they can cause electrical burns or electrocution and also are a fire hazard.

If the concern is simply ensuring that a treasured, but fragile, ornament survives until next Christmas, the solution is simple: hang it up high.

And if your animal is interested less in the ornaments than in trying to scale the tree itself, make sure it's set up sturdily and consider tying it to the wall with fishing line for extra security.

Keep treats out of paw's reach

"Dogs can be hungry and curious," said O'Connell. These traits can backfire on pets during the holidays, when more dangers than usual are around the house.

Chocolate is not good for any pets, but it's particularly dangerous for dogs. If you know or suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate, call your vet immediately, she said.

Less obvious holiday treats can be a problem as well, O'Connell said. For example, foods like turkey, ham and fatty trimmings might seem fine for a small treat but if several people in the home share a bit of scraps — or if your pet gets into the garbage and has an after-hours feast — they can be dangerous.

"That can build up in the body over time, rich high-fat foods. It can cause stomach upset or it can also lead to life-threatening pancreatitis," she said.

"That's an emergency that we do see a lot."

Watch out for greenery

If you like to add plants like poinsettias, lilies, holly, mistletoe and amaryllis to your holiday decor, make sure you keep it out of reach of your animals — cats especially.

"Some of these plants are toxic and some will just cause stomach upset," O'Connell said.

Lilies are very dangerous to cats, she said, who can die if they eat any part of the plant.

"All a cat needs to do is chew on one or two leaves or a petal and it can cause sudden onset of kidney failure," she said, adding that a vet should be contacted immediately if you do suspect your cat has gotten in contact with a lily.

The number for the Pet Poison Hotline is 1-800-213-6680.

New thinking on getting pets during the holidays

If you don't yet have a pet in your home, the holidays can be a great time to introduce one — with caveats.

For years many shelters have limited or even banned animal adoptions during the holiday season, for fear that the animals were being chosen on the fly or given as pets to unprepared owners.

However, that line of thinking is changing, says Ken Reid, who is on the board for the SPCA in St. John's.

"Research has shown though that pets that are adopted over Christmas or given as gifts over Christmas, they're no more likely to be returned than any other time of the year," Reid said. 

Don't give a pet as a gift to an unsuspecting recipient — among other issues, they're very hard to wrap. But Ken Reid of the St. John's SPCA says the holidays can be a great time to adopt one yourself. (Provided by Mary Parsons Cole)

The St. John's SPCA has animals available for adoption over the holidays just as they do any time of year, he said, though they do stick to the same criteria as at any other time of year and do not release animals to people intending to give them as gifts.

"We're very strict on people who come in and interviewing the people to make sure that we set the animals up with the best home."

Keep in mind that the extra holiday stimuli discussed above can make a new home stressful for some pets but may not faze others — a lot depends on their individual personalities, Reid said. 

But if you feel prepared to bring a pet into your home, the holidays can be a wonderful time to do it, he said — and the need is there year-round.

"We've had some real success stories that have come out of the Christmas season."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning and the St. John's Morning Show


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