Christmas Cautions

Written By Dr. Gary Holfinger

It’s that time of the year when we’re all busy with gifts, decorations, relatives, and celebration. It’s important to recognize that the holiday season brings potential problems for pets that we normally don’t worry about the rest of the year. Here are four specific situations to be aware of:

Chocolate Toxicity – Dogs are susceptible to the toxic effects of our chocolate treats. Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine; both are toxic to dogs as cardiac stimulants. Milk chocolate is the mildest, followed by semi-sweet, while baking chocolate is the most dangerous. Signs include vomiting/diarrhea, a tense abdomen, and a racing heart rate.

Linear Foreign Bodies – Cats love to play with ribbons, thread, string, and the icicles on the Christmas tree. Once ingested, these linear foreign bodies wreak havoc on the intestinal tract by “sawing” through the intestine much like a rope burn on our hands. Watch for a lack of appetite and depression. Sadly, surgical removal is our only option for this problem.

Christmas Tree Water – Many of us put the stump of our live Christmas trees in a bucket or pan of water to help keep them fresh. Be sure to cover the bucket or pan with a blanket, or cover the container with aluminum foal. Sadly, the water can cause gastrointestinal upset should a pet drink it. Water additives and trees vary, but we usually see vomiting/diarrhea and lack of appetite. Checking liver and kidney functions are important to watch for permanent damage.

Toys and Ornaments – Each year after Christmas, we see dogs that have ingested a Christmas ornament, or a child’s toy, or the owner’s slipper. It’s natural for dogs, especially hunting breeds like retrievers, to pick up things and swallow them. Unfortunately, most items are unable to pass, and require surgery for removal. Soft foreign bodies, such as socks and cloth, do not show up readily on radiographs and add to the diagnostic problem. Be sure to keep track of such items, and watch for anything missing.

It’s a time of the year to relax and enjoy the season but keep an eye out for changes in your pet’s habits, eating patterns, and behavior. Let us know if you suspect a problem such as these four examples.

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year from all of us at the East Suburban Animal Clinic.