How to keep your pet’s holiday ‘Ho-ho-ho!’ from turning into a ‘Holy shit!’ this Christmas

The irresistible lure of tinsel and ribbons, those tantalizing decorations that prove impossible for your cat to resist, because they look like easy-to-catch wiggly prey to her.

The fun soon stops when kitty swallows a long length of the material — the result is what is known as a ‘linear foreign body’ — which can be a very dangerous situation. Be sure, when decorating your tree and wrapping or unwrapping gifts, to keep a close eye on where you leave your leftover tinsel, string, and ribbons.

Linear foreign bodies

Any foreign object your cat swallows can be dangerous and could cause serious complications. However, linear foreign bodies are particularly dangerous. In many cases, what happens is, one end of the linear foreign body will anchor itself in one place while the rest of the foreign body continues to try to make its way through the intestinal tract.

Frequently, this happens when the string loops itself under the tongue as the cat swallows. However, the string may also become lodged in the passage at the end of the stomach or at another location along the intestinal tract. When this happens, the intestines can bunch up around the string and the string may actually saw through the lining of the intestinal tract, resulting in peritonitis, a severe infection of the abdominal cavity.

Warning: Do not pull on that string

A similar danger exists when an unsuspecting cat owner finds a piece of string hanging out of the cat’s anus or mouth and attempts to pull the string out. Pulling on the string can cause irreparable damage to the intestinal tract. If you do find your cat with string hanging from his mouth or anus, do not pull on the string or otherwise attempt to remove it. Instead, transport your cat to your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

How dangerous can swallowing a linear foreign body be for your cat? Unfortunately, these types of foreign bodies can be fatal, especially if the situation is not dealt with immediately.

Sadly, you may not realize that your cat swallowed a linear foreign object until it is much too late. Symptoms may take a few hours or several days to appear, and include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and decreased activity. Play it safe—keep the tinsel off the tree and collect all ribbons and strings after opening your gifts!

Holiday plants: Hideous in more ways than one

Most traditional holiday plants are not only butt-ugly and tacky to boot, but many of those dubious decorations are not just hideous, but poisonous as well. Many people have festive plants around the house for the holidays, including poinsettia, holly, and mistletoe. Aside from the mistletoe, which is usually hung high above any pet’s reach; remember to keep your furry family members in mind when choosing your holiday decor.

The horrors of holiday human nom noms

Who knew that the holidays could be so fraught with danger? Accidents happen when pet parents are preoccupied with visitors, busy with preparations, or have been hittin’ the eggnog too hard.

Let’s say that your dog (or cat) decides those tasty morsels in the garbage can leftover from that great big turkey that everyone had but him, decides that eating all those nommy bones and leftovers from the trash is a fine way to finish off his holiday dinner.

Or your dog table surfs the living room and eats some of the chocolate-covered caramels in the candy dish along with several sugar-free red and white mints.

The danger lurking in the candy dishes

Can the chocolate and mints hurt him?

You bet your ass they can.

Chocolate toxicity depends on the type and amount of chocolate your dog ate, his body weight, and if he’s extra-sensitive to the toxic compound in chocolate called theobromine. Theobromine toxicity can cause a variety of symptoms, from mild to severe, including vomiting, diarrhea, fast heart rate, restlessness, hyperactivity, increased urination, muscle spasms, and seizures. Reason enough to keep the chocolate nom noms out of reach. It goes without saying that if catch your dog chowing down on chocolate, consider it an emergency, and call your veterinarian immediately.

But the real danger is in those seemingly harmless sugar-free red and white mints languishing in a dish on the coffee table can cause life-threatening problems for your dog if the candy contains xylitol. Xylitol, an increasingly popular artificial sweetener, found in an ever-increasing number of food items such as candy, gum, and baked goods, and personal hygiene products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, can kill your dog very quickly and after eating as small amount as one or two sticks of sugar-free gum.

Symptoms occur quickly after dogs eat a xylitol-containing item. Vomiting is generally the first symptom, followed by those associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures. Some dogs develop more severe complications, including liver failure, bleeding disorders, and death. If you suspect your dog eaten a xylitol-containing product, consider it an emergency and call your veterinarian immediately!

A very boozy Christmas

Eggnog, mulled cider, and all the other boozy festive concoctions may be tempting to a dog than, say, a straight shot of Jack Daniels would be.

As if you didn’t already know it, booze is bad, not only for humans, but it is another potentially harmful human treat. While most pets won’t be doing belly-shots or playing quarters, they may decide they need some holiday cheer and drink the entire glass of eggnog that someone left unattended on the coffee table.

Although some idiots may think it funny, but pets that consume alcohol can develop serious problems depending on how much they drink. The most common symptoms in pets associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages are vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, weakness, decreased activity, difficulty breathing, and shaking. In severe cases, coma and death can occur from respiratory failure occur. If you see your pet drinking an alcoholic beverage, call your veterinarian ASAP.

When table-surfing for turkey goes terribly wrong

After Fido satisfied himself with the left-over pickin’s of your big fat turkey along with the cooked bones, and a bunch of fat and grease — he’s in for a heap o’  hurt.

If something is stuck in your pet’s stomach or intestines, such as a bone or chew toy, the symptoms are different and you may not notice for several days. He may vomit and have diarrhea, be less active, not want to eat or drink water and have stomach pain. If the blockage stays in your pet’s stomach or intestines for too long, they may become very ill. The worst-case scenario is when a hole develops at the blockage site, causing a life-threatening infection.

The wrap up (pun intended)

Just because I point to many good reasons why you should be utterly paralyzed with paranoia if you have pets, you can take a chill-pill if you just remember to follow my advice to the letter:

  • If you believe your pet is showing signs of poisoning, contact a poison control hotline immediately, follow their instructions, and seek veterinary medical help.
  • If your pet has vomited, bring a sample with you. If possible, also bring a sample (including packaging) of what your pet has ingested.
  • Limiting the opportunity for your pet to get into trouble by limiting the number of temptations. Remember: Out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

Who to call in an emergency

If your pet has eaten something dangerous, the first thing to do is to try to remain as calm as possible and follow my advice:

  • Your veterinarian will need to know as many details as possible:  How much was eaten, how long ago, and what were the ingredients?
  • Don’t wait for your pet to show signs of illness before you call for help. In some cases, by the time the pet is acting sick, irreparable damage has already been done.
  • It’s better to be safe than sorry: Even if you aren’t sure that something was eaten, the safest and wisest choice is to call for advice.
  • If your veterinarian is not available, you should contact the ASPCA’s (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 who is available 24/7. A fee may be charged for advice, but this organization has extensive information on items and substances that are poisonous to pets. To cover operating costs, the center charges a $55 US fee for each consultation. The one-time fee covers the cost for the entire consultation, which may include several phone calls over many days, as well as follow-up phone calls. However, many chemical and pharmaceutical companies pay for any consultations involving their products. Therefore, many consultations are free to you and your vet. You can also visit the ASPCA Poison Control Web page for information and learn more about pet toxins.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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