Keep kitty away from the tinsel: A vet's top tips for a pet-safe holiday season

Veterinarian Ted Morris shared some of his knowledge and best practices around pet safety through the holidays with CBC Radio’s Saskatchewan Weekend.

From chocolate to lilies to an influx of guests, lots of holiday traditions can spell trouble for pets

Veterinarian Ted Morris offers up some tips to keep your feline or canine friends happy and healthy this holiday season. (Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock)

Many of the things humans enjoy about the holiday season — the sweet treats and decorations in particular — can be dangerous to our pets. 

Veterinarian Ted Morris shared some of his knowledge and best practices around pet safety through the holidays with CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend.

The most frequent issues he treats around the holiday season come from decorations. 

"Believe it or not, your Christmas tree is a major source of drama, especially if you have a cat," Morris said. "Your Christmas tree is the world's most amazing cat toy."

He said cats love eating the strings, ribbons and tinsel that people decorate their Christmas trees with. 

Tinsel can actually get stuck inside animals intestines.

"One end can get stuck and their intestines try to move it along, and [the tinsel] will actually saw right through them," Morris said.

"If you do see a piece of tinsel sticking out of your cat's tush and think 'I'm going to do the world's grossest magic trick and pull it out,' if you tug on it lightly and it's not moving, leave it alone because it's probably attached somewhere further up." 

For those who are unsure if their cats are "tree trashers," Morris recommends setting the tree up and leaving it bare for a few days as an experiment. He said personally, he booby traps his tree by leaving some empty pop cans on branches to surprise the cat if it jumps in the tree.

Dogs also love Christmas trees, according to Morris, since they can become "indoor plumbing" for your canine companion.

Pooches are also drawn to the water people use to keep real trees hydrated, but Morris said stagnant water or fertilizer can make dogs very sick. 

Light strings are also problematic, for dogs and cats alike. 

"They love chewing on the light cords and I've seen more than a few electrocutions and electrical burns from just chewing on Christmas lights," Morris said. 

What about other holiday plants?

Morris said many people are under the impression that poinsettias are poisonous to pets. 

"They really are not that bad. They are toxic, so they will cause some tummy upset, some drooling — but that's usually the worst of it," he said.

"Holly and mistletoe are definitely more poisonous."

He also said he's starting to see more incidents involving lilies, which are the most dangerous plants to cats that people often bring home during the holiday season.

Eating any part of a lily can cause kidney failure for a cat, he said.

Keep those sweet treats away from pets

For dogs, make sure you keep the chocolate away — any amount can potentially be deadly, depending on the dog's size. 

He said the darker the chocolate, the worse it is for dogs, with baking chocolate being the worst.

"If they eat a little bit they'll have some vomiting and diarrhea; if they eat too much of it, it is a deadly poison," Morris said. 

"I just keep all chocolate out of reach. If your dog gets into something and you're not sure how much they ate, it's always safer to bring them in and we can make them barf it all up."

He said in other cases involving food, overindulgence is the biggest issue. That can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. 

Giving dogs fatty foods, like a piece of turkey covered in gravy, can lead to pancreatitis, which he described as an upset stomach on steroids, which can lead to dehydration.

If you really want to treat your pup, he recommends giving them only little pieces of non-fatty foods, rather than a full plate.

"Your dog does not need to know that gravy is a thing and will be quite happy to live their lives never knowing that gravy exists."

He noted that xylitol, a substance that is used in some sugar-free gum and is incredibly toxic to dogs, is starting to show up in more and more foods, and so recommends people be very cautious about giving foods with artificial sweeteners to pets.

As for treating your pooch with a big bone, Morris said that can actually cause a range of problems — from an upset stomach to issues requiring surgery to remedy. 

"Bones are definitely the most natural way for dogs to clean their teeth, but they're also the No. 1 cause of broken teeth in dogs," Morris said. "My dog does not get any bones."

Company, travel can be stressful 

The holidays are also about visiting with others. But while humans can prepare for the arrival of company, our pets cannot. 

Morris recommends creating a quiet place your pets can retreat to, where no one is allowed to visit.

"Make sure all their basic needs are met [in this space]," Morris said, and let your guests know to keep out. 

For cats or dogs that get stressed out by new faces or extra company, Morris suggests trying pheromone products to soothe their nerves. 

Those can come in a variety of forms, but Morris recommends plug-in varieties, since they don't carry any smell for humans and they take the edge off for pets.

Reduce your pet's stress by making sure they have their own space to retreat to if you have company coming, suggests Morris. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

For particularly anti-social pets, boarding might be the best option to prevent anxiety. Medication also exists for pets who require it. 

"There's some really nice options for mild sedatives and anti-anxiety medications, and you can chat to your vet about whether those would be appropriate," he said. 

If you're planning on travelling with your pet for the holiday season, Morris says planning ahead of time is crucial. 

For those who are flying, he notes airlines are changing their regulations around travelling with pets. Call ahead of time to make sure you understand those rules, he says.

If your pet is going to be in a carrier to travel, getting them used to the environment beforehand by feeding them in it, or putting some blankets in it so they can sleep in it are good ways to prepare them for that adventure, says Morris. 

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend


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