Pet parents beware: 5 Christmas trappings that could harm your pet

By | November 13, 2013

(I wrote this article for another outlet, but I thought the information was important enough to share here, too.)

As we’re all decking the halls, cooking yummy treats, and welcoming guests, it’s a good time to take note of the holiday baubles and bites that put pets at risk.

Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, isn’t specific to the holidays, but it’s so toxic to dogs that it’s worth including. It’s thought to be 100 times as toxic to dogs as chocolate. While a lot of sweet treats made for diabetics contain Xylitol, it’s also found in everything from children’s vitamins to cough syrup to toothpaste. But the most common culprit is sugar-free gum. And it takes only a few pieces to be fatal to a dog. While a human pancreas ignores Xylitol, a dog’s pancreas releases a large amount of insulin to counteract the sugar it thinks the dog has consumed. What results is life-threatening hypoglycemia. Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Coma

If you suspect your dog has eaten anything containing even a tiny amount of Xylitol – even if he isn’t showing any symptoms – call your vet immediately. Depending on the amount consumed (again, it doesn’t take much), your dog may need to be hospitalized and treated intravenously with dextrose, liver protectants, and fluids.

The biggest danger is when consumption of Xylitol goes unnoticed – when you’re out Christmas shopping for several hours, for instance. Always store products containing any amount of Xylitol where your dogs can’t reach them. Pay special attention to purses, suitcases, and jackets brought by houseguests.

A lot of pets – cats, in particular – can’t resist playing with shiny tinsel. But not only is it a choking hazard, it can get wrapped around a pet’s intestines when swallowed. The worst-case scenario is that one end gets stuck while the rest of the tinsel keeps moving through the digestive tract. The middle part ends up slicing through the intestine, spilling the contents into the abdominal cavity. Only emergency surgery can save a cat’s life at this point, and it often costs as much as $4,000. Don’t risk it; if you have cats, don’t use tinsel.

Baked treats
Lots of Christmas goodies include ingredients that are toxic to dogs, like chocolate, currants, and raisins. Low doses of chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Higher doses can lead to seizures, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. The darker the chocolate, the greater the danger. As little as 2.25 ounces of baking chocolate could kill a 22-pound dog.

Vets don’t yet understand why grapes and currants are toxic to dogs. In fact, some dogs don’t seem to be affected by them at all. But those who are can suffer from acute kidney failure, which can be expensive to treat and life-threatening if not treated. Some vets aren’t even equipped to provide the dialysis and around-the-clock treatment dogs with acute kidney failure need.

When you’re baking, keep these items out of reach; if you’ve got a climber, make sure they’re tightly covered. And never put gifts that contain food under the tree; even the best-behaved dog won’t be able to resist forever.

Uncooked yeast
Most home bakers don’t realize that, despite how yummy rising bread dough smells, it can spell big trouble for a dog. Fermenting yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, and the carbon dioxide can distend a dog’s stomach. Not only is that extremely painful, it can reduce blood flow to the heart, leading to shock. And if that weren’t enough, a glob of dough can get stuck in your dog’s digestive tract. Try letting your dough rise in the oven – some ovens even have bread-proofing settings. If that won’t work, put it in a place your dog can’t reach.

Guests’ belongings
A lot of dogs can’t resist investigating a visitor’s purse, suitcase, or coat. They’re a great source of interesting new smells! Unfortunately, they often contain medications (even OTC pain medication can be toxic to dogs) and other hazards. Hang guests’ coats in a closet, and ask them to keep their suitcases and other belongings behind closed doors.

In the midst of the holiday frenzy and chaos, it’s easy to worry about how your pet can hurt Christmas (like when you come home to a roomful of exposed gifts and wrecked wrapping paper), but Christmas is actually more likely to hurt your pet. Taking simple precautions can save your pet’s life and keep your Christmas merry.

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