The holiday season is upon us - and the decorating frenzy has begun! But few things can spoil the holiday spirit like a trip to the veterinary emergency clinic. Here are some of the most common culprits behind pet-related decorating disasters.
Hanukkah starts this weekend, and if you’re celebrating, you probably know to let the Hanukkah candles burn themselves out. What you may not know, however, is that pets start roughly 1,000 house fires every year! Sadly, many pets do not survive house fires, so keep the menorah and all other holiday candles well away from swishing tails and curious paws.
We’ve all known that one cat who will happily risk one of her nine lives to reach the top of the Christmas tree. But for many pets, the base of the tree can be just as dangerous. Christmas trees are often treated with preservatives and pesticides which can leach into the water in which they are contained. Pets who drink said water often become ill. A standing tree skirt goes a long way towards blocking a curious critter.
The milky white sap inside poinsettia leaves and stems is mildly toxic to both dogs and cats. Holly, mistletoe, lillies and amaryllis are actually far more dangerous to our furry friends. Keep natural greenery away from pets, and be certain to clean up debris as it begins to drop leaves and berries. If you’re decorating with artificial greens, bear in mind that pets often chew them out of curiosity. Styrofoam berries and plastic fronds are some of the most common causes of holiday surgical emergencies for pets.
Since South Florida’s chances of a white Christmas are slim, many of us make do with artificial snow. Some such products are specifically labelled as safe for use around children and pets. Others warn against such exposure, while others still are annoyingly ambivalent. Just the same, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest these products can be a problem for pets who inhale or ingest them. At Casa Kupkee, we err on the side of caution and enjoy our natural, green Christmas.
Clay dough, bread dough, and raw macaroni are often used for DIY holiday crafting projects. While the finished products may look like decorations, to our pets, they smell like food. And as far as our pets are concerned, if it smells like food, it gets treated like food. Once these materials are ingested, they can expand in the stomach, causing blockage or life-threatening bloat. Any holiday decorations made from edible materials should be displayed well out of a pet’s reach.
Those strands of lights on the Christmas tree are irresistible to pets. Each holiday season, veterinarians treat pets who have been shocked or burned while chewing Christmas lights. If you’re putting up a tree this year, consider blocking it with a baby gate.
Essential oil sprays and diffusers do a great job of filling our homes with the festive scents of the season. Like many other substances, essential oils are processed in the liver, using a particular enzyme called glucuronyltransferase. Simply put, cats naturally lack this liver enzyme.
For this reason, it is not currently recommended that cat owners apply any essential oils directly to their cats, or use essential oil diffusers in their homes. While many cat owners report having used diffusers without incident, bear in mind that the effects of toxicity can be cumulative, as opposed to sudden and dramatic. Cats may choose not to leave a room where a diffuser is being used, and their interest in sticking around can easily lead to a false assumption that they instinctively know what is best.
While all essential oils can present problems for cats, products high in 1,8-cineole, camphor, pinene, limonene, methyl salicylate, ketones, and phenols are especially dangerous. These include, but are not limited to, some of the more popular scents associated with the holidays. Clove, fir, most species of frankincense, peppermint, pine, spearmint, spruce, wintergreen and cinnamon should all be strictly avoided.
Clinical signs of essential oil toxicity in cats include respiratory distress, vomiting, tremors, unsteadiness, drooling, or low body temperature. The cat may appear to be coughing up a hairball, or attempting to vomit, but may only stay crouched in this position. Cats showing any of these signs require immediate veterinary intervention.
While tinsel is not poisonous in and of itself, this shiny, dangly wonder can be deadly for our dogs and cats. When tinsel is ingested, it often becomes what’s known as a linear foreign body. Linear foreign bodies occur when pets swallow stringy material which wraps around soft tissue, and becomes anchored in such a way as to prevent complete movement through the intestinal tract.
As the intestines naturally move and contract, a linear foreign body can slowly cut through the intestinal tissue. Linear foreign bodies can severely damage or rupture the intestines, and treatment involves complex - and expensive - abdominal surgery. For this reason, tinsel is yet another item which is banned from Casa Kupkee.
Many holiday emergencies result from the combination of bored pets and frazzled humans. Next time, we’ll talk about how to keep Fluffy occupied during the hustle and bustle of a busy holiday season.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.