By Dr. Justine Lee
There are many hidden dangers to pets at this time of the year, reports the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, IL.
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If you’re not careful, decorations, candy, flowers, and plants can cause serious harm to animals. Here are common ones to watch out for.
1. Flowers and plants
Poinsettias get the bad rap, but the plant you actually need to worry about is the fragrant lily (such as tiger, Asiatic, and Stargazer), which is commonly found in holiday arrangements and is highly toxic to cats.
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Just one chewed leaf can result in severe, acute kidney failure. Yuletide plants (like holly and mistletoe) can easily be mistaken for food, resulting in gastrointestinal upset and even heart arrhythmia. Silk and plastic arrangements are your safest bets; if you prefer real flowers, however, choose bouquets made of nonirritating choices such as roses, marigolds, orchids, or daisies.
2. Festive foods
Baked goods and boxes of chocolate are abundant this time of year, but if ingested, they can result in gastrointestinal upset, heart arrhythmia, and seizure. Certain desserts can be deadly too—especially those containing grapes, raisins, or currants (like fruitcake), which can lead to kidney failure. Refrain from tossing meat scraps and bones to your dog (and ask your houseguests to do the same).
It may seem like a treat, but pets just aren't built to digest meat prepared for humans; eating it can lead to pancreatitis. To keep your dog healthy, stick to her normal diet.
3. Liquid potpourri
Filling your house with the smell of pine or peppermint may seem inviting, but if you're partial to heating your scented oils in a simmer pot, know that it can cause serious harm to your feline.
These oils are toxic to cats, and even a few licks can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. Dogs aren't as sensitive, but it's still wise to scent your home with a nontoxic candle kept safely out of pets' reach.
If you find your pet chewing on a string of bubble lights, get her to the vet. The dangerous chemical methylene chloride (which bubbles when heated) can cause irritation to her eyes, skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. There's also the risk of broken glass ornaments cutting her paws. So avoid hanging any ornaments at pet level—and try to keep lights and delicate decorations out of reach.
If you own a cat, toss the tinsel—she's likely to mistake it for a chew toy, and eating tinsel can cause severe damage to the intestinal tract.
It can get wrapped around the tongue or caught up in the stomach while the rest of it continues to pass through the intestines, which may require expensive abdominal surgery. If you think your pet may have eaten something toxic, call pet poison animal control immediately. Keep these numbers programmed in your phone:
• ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435, $60 fee per incident
• Pet Poison Helpline (800) 213-6680, $35 fee (pay by credit card) per incident
6. Other Holiday Decorations
First, avoid mistletoe, ivy, and holly berries in your home -- all can be poisonous to your dog or cat. Contact the vet if she nibbles on any of these plants or suddenly starts vomiting after being near one of them.
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Although Christmas trees themselves are generally safe, the water in the tree stand may contain unhealthy tree fertilizers and is a breeding ground for bacteria. Cover the bottom of the stand with a skirt or a cloth to keep pets from taking a drink.
Wrapping paper, ribbons, foil, and other holiday packaging can also be potentially hazardous to a curious pooch or kitty (aluminum foil and metal are the most dangerous). Pets may confuse these items with toys, which could lead to choking, vomiting, or intestinal blockage. Keep all wrapped presents out of your pet's reach or block off the room with gates. When you unwrap gifts, bag the waste immediately. Finally, tape all loose Christmas tree lights to baseboards and hide wiring as much as possible.
Next: Five Hanukkah Pet Safety Tips
7. Holiday Guests
A high volume of holiday visitors can be very stressful for pets, resulting in bites and scratches and other antisocial behavior. Unless your pet is used to the holiday hubbub, keep him separate from your guests.