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Holiday Decorations and Plants Could Create Pet Emergencies

Posted Friday, November 30, 2012, at 1:45 PM

All over the country, and the world, people are celebrating the holidays with family and friends. An important part of the celebration is spending time decorating your home with traditional ornaments and plants. Many of these decorations certainly look nice, but they also pose some serious danger to our pets.

Everyone has their own special holiday traditions. Whether it's the decision to use a live Christmas tree, lighting Hanukkah candles or hanging mistletoe, families will spend a lot of time and effort creating the perfect holiday atmosphere. Understanding how those decorations might affect your four-legged family members can help you avoid a holiday pet emergency.

Christmas trees are certainly beautiful and are truly the icon for this time of year, but many of the various ornaments and other decorations we use pose significant risks to both our dogs and cats. First, glass ornaments hanging off the branches seem to be an irresistible magnet for mischievous felines. A few playful bats and suddenly the festively colored globe shatters on the floor. Glass fragments can cut sensitive paws, noses or even end up in the feet of our human family members.

Tinsel, ribbons and even lights are also dangerous for cats, but our dogs are not immune to the attraction either. The string-like nature of these decorations can be very troublesome if the pet swallows the material. One end of the string might lodge in the intestines, causing the organ to gather upon the material and actually generate a severe sawing like motion, leading to perforation and peritonitis. Veterinarians refer to this as a "linear foreign body" and many times the outcome can be deadly.

Dr. Melanie Marsden of Pikes Peak Veterinary Clinic recalls an incident in which a miniature poodle was seen for vomiting and lethargy in early December. After x-rays showed some sort of obstruction in the intestines, surgery was performed and tinsel was removed from the dog. The patient was sent home but came back soon after Christmas because he had eaten tinsel again! Dr. Marsden says, "Nope...no tinsel on my tree."

Dr. Jennifer Hennessey, an emergency veterinarian at Sugar Land Veterinary Specialists says that one of her most memorable cases was a Great Dane mix who ate the entire string of Christmas lights. "Thankfully, no surgery was needed as the dog passed every single light and recovered without any problems," said Hennesey. "Those would have been some very cool x-rays though!"

Be sure to place real candles and the kind that use light bulbs up out of pets' reach. Curious or active pets could knock over a candle, sparking a fire. Likewise, keep extension cords covered or hidden. An inquisitive bite could not only electrocute the pet, but also spark a fire hazard.

Decorative holiday plants pose some degree of risk for both dogs and cats. The ASPCA Poison Control Center receives about 8,000 calls each holiday season relating to poisonous plants. Pet owners with live Christmas trees should take care with any preservatives they might add to the tree's water. Stagnant water in the tree stand is potentially a breeding ground for bacteria as well. In either case, stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhea could occur.

Holiday favorites, poinsettias, are often made out to be extremely deadly. In reality, their danger is highly exaggerated. Mild irritation of the GI tract along with excessive drooling is the most common problem in pets that nibble on this plant.

Holly and mistletoe, on the other hand, do offer a much higher degree of danger. Consumption of large amounts of holly can result in stomach upset along with depression of the central nervous system. Mistletoe can actually cause cardiovascular problems.

Lilies, although more popular at Easter, offer serious risk to cats. A single leaf or even just the pollen of most lilies can send a cat into kidney failure.

Finally, be careful with what type of gifts you put under the tree. Presents that contain any sort of food will be irresistible to some pets and, in their efforts to find the delicious treats, an enthusiastic pet might also eat ribbon, bows and wrapping paper.

Also, when giving your pets their presents, be sure to monitor them with their new toys or chews. Dr. Tony Kremer of Animal Clinic of Plainfield says that "excited pets will often de-stuff toys or even remove squeakers." He mentions his most memorable holiday surgery was removing a toy fire hydrant from a dog's stomach!

Hopefully, your holiday celebration will be merry and without any pet problems. But, if an animal emergency occurs, remember your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital is the best source of information. Don't wait around for an online "pet forums" to give you help...it could end up costing you valuable time or even your pet's life.

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