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pets and the holidays

Holiday plants like mistletoe and holly are poisonous to your pets.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Why do pets like holidays? There are many reasons.

Lots of extra attention!!!!! 

Family is home more and friends come over to celebrate. This means lots of extra attention. Most pets enjoy this but some can have some anxiety. Make sure that if your dog or cat tends to get scared with a lot of people around they have a safe haven: a separate room, kennel, etc. 

If your pet tends to get so fearful that they might snap or scratch at a guest, it might be best to find a friend to watch them or consider boarding them for a day or two. We commonly board at our clinic not only for vacations but also for a day or two during the holidays. 

If relatives are visiting, gently remind them of the danger of leaving medications out. Not just prescription medications pose a holiday hazard; over-the-counter medications are dangerous as well. A single ibuprofen or acetaminophen tablet could cause serious illness in a large dog and be potentially fatal to a small dog or cat.

Lights and decorations 

Whether you celebrate the Festival of Lights or “Oh Holy Night,” everyone loves holiday lights and decorations (including dogs and cats). Just make sure that they don’t have access to wires (risk of electrocution), tinsel (GI obstructions) and plants. Plants like mistletoe and holly can cause severe GI problems and sometimes cardiac dysfunction; so make sure they are away from curious paws and mouths. If you have a live tree, the water can become stagnant and bacteria will grow in it; so keep your dog or cat away from it.  

Gifts, gifts, gifts 

Even pets like gifts and, if your cats are like mine, the boxes gifts come in are more fun than the gifts themselves. Check these toys to make sure toys don’t have strings, ribbons or yarn that could come off and potentially be swallowed. If you like to give bones as treats (and what dog doesn’t love bones), make sure they are not turkey, chicken, pork or fish bones. These bones tend to splinter and present choking hazards, as well as perforate the stomach or bowels.

Food, glorious food!!! 

There’s lots of food around and usually on tables within reach of opportunistic dogs and cats. Be careful of leaving food around, especially chocolates. Chocolate has two chemicals: caffeine and theobromine, and both are powerful stimulants. Small amounts cause panting, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination. Larger exposures of chocolate trigger irregular heart rhythms, seizures, coma and death.  

Chocolate is also very high in sugar and fat. Minimally, this will give your pet a tummy ache, but I have personally seen a few cases of serious gastroenteritis, pancreatitis and liver disease from ingestion of large amounts of chocolate and other candy. Any leftover food will tend to grow bacteria and mold on it if left out. Try to make an effort (even after a long night of reveling) to clean up so that you do not have to worry about your pet ingesting leftover treats.    

I hope everyone has a joyous and safe holiday season and a Happy New Year. Special thanks to Heidi Sutton and all the staff of the Arts and Lifestyle section for making my column possible and another great year. 

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.