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How to keep your pets safe during the holidays

While the holidays are a time of warmth and celebration, they also pose some of the biggest risks for your four-legged friends. From the extra sweets and chocolate around the house to the colorful decorations and ornaments that a cat or dog may try to play with, it’s important to take a few extra precautions to ensure your pet is safe over the holiday season.

Along with knowing the risks, it’s also important to understand what it is about certain household items, foods, and decorations that causes harm.

First, there’s the most obvious risk for pets, especially dogs, during the holiday season: the increased risk of eating candies, cookies, or chocolates that are toxic to animals.

Most pet owners are generally aware that it’s unsafe for their dog to consume chocolate of any kind. However, some chocolate and cocoa products are more dangerous than others and knowing which ones could mean the difference between a puppy with a little tummy trouble or an emergency trip to the vet.

Chocolate, just like any other sweet, is enticing to dogs, but the cocoa beans used to make chocolate contain compounds called methylxanthines which are toxic to dogs. Coffee beans also contain methylxanthines.

Some chocolate has higher quantities of methylxanthines compared to others. For example, baking chocolate and cocoa powder poses a much higher risk than milk chocolate.

While a little chocolate may not be deadly to your dog, it’s always a good idea to call your vet if you suspect your dog has eaten any. The size of your dog and the kind of chocolate consumed will factor into the type of treatments your vet may recommend.

Ingesting methylxanthines, even at low doses, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, an elevated heart rate, and seizures, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

During the holidays, the number of chocolate poisonings and trips to the vet increase because there are more chocolate and sweets out in the open.

Chocolate isn’t the only sweet holiday treat that’s bad for pets. Anything containing nuts should be avoided, as some nuts like macadamia nuts are poisonous and will cause similar symptoms as chocolate poisoning.

It’s not known which toxin causes the problem in macadamia nuts, but macadamia nuts are part of the same family as grapes which contain another toxin that can cause kidney failure in dogs.

In order to avoid unnecessary trips to the vet, always be aware of the food in your pantry and refrigerator, and if you’re baking with nuts, sweeteners like xylitol, or chocolate, keep anything potentially harmful out of reach of your pet.

Holiday hazards don’t end at food, though, and your pet’s natural tendency to chew on things can make seemingly benign holiday decorations and plants a real danger.

Chords from lights and batteries are a chewing hazard for dogs and could even cause electrocution or mouth burns. Cats are famous for knocking things off of surfaces, and the colorful glass ornaments on the tree are no exception.

Fragile glass ornaments also have a tendency to break, and shards could end up in an unsuspecting paw or worse, could cause severe damage to the digestive tract and mouth if eaten.

When it comes to the Christmas tree itself, many pet owners may not realize just how problematic holiday plants can be as well.

Christmas trees sometimes tip over and could cause an unfortunate accident if your pet happens to be nearby. Real pine trees also need water which could contain harmful fertilizers and sugar that aren’t good for pets to drink.

If a cat or dog ends up chewing and swallowing pine needles they may end up damaging the intestines or stomach.

Holly and mistletoe are two common plants that tend to pop up in abundance during the holidays, and both are poisonous to pets.

The shiny red berries of holly may be what attracts your pet, but the leaves actually pose a bigger threat. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, holly contains the same toxic substance that chocolate does, methylxanthine, and if eaten could cause vomiting, diarrhea, and continued lip smacking.

The holly plant also has sharp and pointy leaves which could damage the gums, tongue, or throat of your pet. Mistletoe is also toxic to pets, and the risks can vary depending on what type of species your pet comes in contact with.

Phoranedruon serotinum mistletoe contains a toxin called phoratoxin which is known to cause blurred vision, nausea and stomach pain in pets. Phoranedruon serotinum is an American mistletoe, but Viscus album, the European variety, is considered more toxic. Mistletoe berries also contain compounds that when ingested could be dangerous for dogs.

Poinsettias, on the other hand, pose a relatively low risk to pets and have a low level of toxicity, although it’s still not a good idea to leave your pet unsupervised around houseplants no matter how toxic.

With poinsettias, it’s the sap you need to be concerned about, as the milky, white sap of the plants contain chemicals called diterpenoid euphorbol esters which can cause mild skin irritation or digestive problems if eaten.

Another major holiday risk that is not often discussed is ensuring that house guests make sure medications are kept out of sight and safely stored away.

Lastly, while pets are social creatures and a house full of guests may be a wonderful and exciting event for some dogs and cats, it’s always important to make sure your pet has a safe and quiet space they can retreat to if things get overwhelming, or if company induces anxiety.

With just a few extra precautions and an understanding of what the risks are, you can enjoy the holidays hazard-free and keep your pet safe from harm.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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