Special to GUIDON
Yes, it’s that holiday time of year again. While busy cooking, decorating, baking and preparing the household for guests, remember to watch out for holiday temptations for the pets.
Here are some tips from the Food and Drug Administration to keep pets safe this holiday season.
It’s hard to ignore Fido’s sad puppy-dog eyes when we’re eating holiday meals, but resist the temptation to give him a piece of turkey or chicken, or some other type of fatty holiday comfort food.
In addition to the typical gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea), rich and fatty foods can cause a potentially life-threatening and painful disease called pancreatitis.
The most common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, stomach pain, restlessness, shaking, diarrhea and weakness. In cats, the symptoms are less clear and harder to notice, such as decreased appetite and weight loss.
Let’s suppose that neither the dog nor the cat received any table scraps during holiday meals. Yet, disappointed Fido took the opportunity to help himself to the turkey, chicken and steak bones in the trash can.
Eating bones is dangerous to Fido, and the dangers are like those that can happen with unchewed pet treats. Bones can get stuck in his esophagus, leading to gagging, or they can get stuck in his trachea, leading to life-threatening choking.
If Fido chews them up, the bones can break into sharp pieces, which can injure his mouth, esophagus and stomach. As the sharp bone pieces travel from the stomach through the intestines, they can cause punctures and injuries along the way, potentially leading to a life-threatening infection. Bone pieces can also get stuck in the stomach and intestines, creating blockages that must be removed.
Be firm at dinnertime and resist the urge to feed pets table scraps. Don’t forget — once dinner is done, dispose of the leftovers and bones somewhere Fido and Tigger can’t get to them.
Fido, being the big dog he is, decides that eating the bones and leftovers from the trash can isn’t enough for his holiday dinner. So, he table surfs in the living room and eats some of the chocolate-covered caramels in the candy dish along with several sugar-free red and white mints. Can the chocolate and mints hurt him?
It depends. Chocolate toxicity depends on the type and amount of chocolate Fido ate, his body weight and if he’s extra-sensitive to the toxic compound in chocolate called theobromine. Theobromine toxicity can cause a variety of symptoms, from mild to severe, including vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, hyperactivity, increased urination, muscle spasms and seizures.
Heads up: seemingly harmless sugar-free candy can also cause life-threatening problems for pets if they contain xylitol.
Xylitol, a popular sugar alcohol sweetener, is found in food items such as candy, nut butters, gum, low-calorie ice cream and baked goods. It can also be found in personal hygiene products, like toothpaste and mouthwash, dietary supplements like gummy vitamins and prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Symptoms of xylitol toxicity can occur in as little as 20 minutes. Vomiting is generally the first symptom, followed by symptoms of low blood sugar like decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse and seizures. Some dogs develop more severe complications, including liver failure and bleeding disorders, which can be fatal.
If pet owners suspect their dog or cat has eaten chocolate or xylitol-containing items, they should consider it an emergency and call a veterinarian immediately.
Alcohol is another potentially harmful human treat. Example: Fido and Tigger decide they need some holiday cheer and drink the entire glass of eggnog that Aunt Susie left unattended on the coffee table.
Although that could seem funny at the time, pets that consume alcohol can develop serious problems depending on how much they drink. The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, weakness, decreased activity, difficulty breathing and shaking. In severe cases, coma and death from respiratory failure occur. If pets drink alcoholic beverages, call a veterinarian.
Food bags, especially the mylar-type potato chip, cereal and snack bags, can be dangerous for pets. Dogs are more likely than cats to sniff out food bags. These bags are thin enough that if a dog puts his head far enough into one and breathes in, the bag can wrap around his nose and mouth, suffocating him. The more a dog breathes in, the tighter the bag gets around his face. He can’t easily pull the bag off with his paws because it’s tightly stuck to his face, like shrink wrap.
Don’t let the information in this article result in paranoia about family pets and holiday celebrations. Relax and enjoy the holidays by preventing temptations for pets. Keep holiday decorations, people food, alcoholic beverages and holiday plants out of reach of furry friends. If pets get into things they shouldn’t, don’t panic. Call a veterinarian immediately instead of waiting for serious symptoms to develop.
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the FDA.)