Mendocino Animal HOspital
By Dr. Tara Venezio
It’s holiday time again! Time for good comfort food and decorating the house and the yard! And if you’re like me, time to scroll through Amazon and Chewy for special gifts and snacks for the furry kids!
We love the holiday times, but working in the veterinary hospital also brings pets in who get themselves into trouble with the novel items in and around the house to explore. We wanted to get some information out to you so you can watch out for some of the common problems that can occur in dogs and cats through the November and December holidays, so that they can remain safe and feeling good. I know they would rather be home on the couch instead of here in the clinic!
1. Holiday Decorations
Both dogs and cats are susceptible to the lure of shiny twinkly good smelling ornaments and decorations. A common presentation of pets around this time are involving bad run-ins with decorations.
In the case of dogs, chewing on ornaments can be problematic. We have seen pets coming in with metal ornament hangers stuck in the teeth or mouth. This can sometimes necessitate sedation to remove these sharp objects lodged in the gums and between the teeth. Dogs can also swallow both the metal pieces or swallow ornaments whole – especially those that are scented (they can’t always tell the difference between a real cookie and a ‘cookie scented’ ornament). These ornaments can cause gastric upset, broken pieces or glass can traumatize the stomach and intestines, and larger ornaments can even get stuck, causing an obstruction that could need surgery.
Cats, due to their natural prey and play instincts, are often seen in the vet hospital during holiday time. Cats love to climb, and the stories of cats climbing up into Christmas trees are numerous. One big problem many people don’t think about is how much cats like to play with strings. To a cat, tinsel hanging from a tree limb is just about the best thing they can imagine. Unfortunately, many cats will play with the tinsel and swallow long strings of it. Once ingested, the tinsel segment (linear foreign body) gets stretched along in the small intestine, and as the intestines try to work it through the gastrointestinal tract, it will cause the intestines to bunch and crimp up along the length of the tinsel. This and the pressure of peristalsis (the smooth muscle contractions in the intestines that makes the food move through) causes the tinsel to ‘saw’ through the delicate intestinal tissue and cause severe damage and ulceration, often times causing leakage of intestinal material into the abdomen. When this occurs, a severe infection, or a ‘septic abdomen’ occurs – which is a life-threatening situation requiring immediate emergency surgery. So if you have kitties in the house, don’t use tinsel at all! It is too much of a temptation to the cats with possible serious consequences.
These common household plants should be avoided when you have pets in the home, especially pets that have a habit of eating plants. Poinsettia, when ingested, can cause nausea/vomiting or diarrhea. They can also act as an irritant to the mouth and gums, causing excessive salivation. They are not likely to be life-threatening, and the signs are self-limiting, but it is better to avoid the discomfort for your pets.
3. New Treats and Table Scraps
A common reason for a post-holiday veterinary visit is an upset stomach following eating strange/new foods, like a new marrow bone or getting fatty table scraps. Vomiting and diarrhea are common responses to dogs and cats getting into foods that their body isn’t used to. Sometimes these upset stomach problems are mild and easily cured with some bland foods and medications, but some pets have a larger issue that requires days of hospitalization with IV fluids and medications. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is a common disease process following dietary indiscretion sometimes requiring intensive care in the hospital. Best to avoid feeding human food, especially those high in fats, as well as avoiding fatty dog treats like marrow bones.
4. Holiday Lights
Something often overlooked are holiday lights, both indoor and outdoor. Many pets are curious about the strings of lights and many pets assuage their curiosity using their mouths. Pets chewing at electric cords are a common cause of electric shock. Electric shock consequences in pets can vary – some pets will suffer oral burns and ulceration with pain. A severe electric shock can be life threatening. Watching pets when appliances and lights are plugged in is important, especially if you have young animals in the house who may be more apt to chew on them. If you are not supervising your pets, the lights should be unplugged to avoid problems.