A Holiday Tale

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.


It sure is an exciting, busy and eventful time of year. Along with the excitement and celebrations, though, there can be some stress as well. Here are some tips on holiday foods, plants and decorations to help avoid the added stress of a pet's illness.


We use lots of decorations in our homes to give them that Christmas feeling. There are some, however, that may pose a significant pet health risk. Tinsel, especially for cats, ranks high on the danger list. While tinsel itself is not poisonous, it can result in serious intestinal injury if it is eaten. Ribbon, string, yarn, thread and fabric can cause similar problems when ingested. Veterinarians call these materials possible linear foreign body threats for their patients. When a pet swallows such items sometimes they wrap around the base of the tongue or become anchored in the stomach making it impossible for them to pass through the intestines. The normal movement and motion of the intestine then causes it to bunch up in an accordion fashion along the linear foreign object. Eventually, potential fatal damage occurs as the material cuts through the bowel. Surgery, if the problem is recognized early enough, is the only treatment.


Liquid potpourri can fill your house with the delightful smell of nutmeg or pine. However, remember heating scented oils in a simmer pot can be dangerous for pets. Only a few licks of such oils can cause serious chemical burns in the mouth and other problems for a cat. Use non-toxic candles, instead, kept safely out of the reach of feline family members.


In most homes, the season offers many opportunities for some holiday feasting. A variety of baked goods, chocolate treats and other rich, fattening foods are usually found at such events. Please try to share these food items only with human family and friends and keep your pet eating its regular diet. Don't hesitate to tell others to skip the treats for the pets in the family. Any change in diet can cause stomach upsets for a pet. Foods containing grapes, raisins and currents (including fruit cakes) can cause kidney damage if consumed by dogs. Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical that can be toxic for dogs and cats. Even small amounts when eaten may cause vomiting and diarrhea, but large amounts can cause seizures and irregular heart rhythms. Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood pressure and liver failure. Pancreatitis is a serious illness that can affect both cats and dogs. Ingestion of leftover fatty meat scraps can be a cause of this possibly fatal disorder.


Plants and beautiful flower bouquets decorate our homes for the holidays. Although most people are aware of poinsettia plants as a risk for pets, they are only mildly toxic. More threatening are holiday bouquets that contain lilies, holly or mistletoe. Lilies, often a real favourite in such bouquets, are a particular danger. Only one or two bites from a lily can cause acute kidney failure in cats. In fact, even the pollen is thought to be poisonous. When Christmas or English holly is ingested it can cause significant gastrointestinal upset. In addition to the problem due the toxic substances they contain, the spiny leaves can mechanically injure the lining tissues of the mouth, throat and gastrointestinal tract. Finally, the Japanese Yew is now more commonly being used to make holiday wreaths. All parts of this evergreen - including the succulent red berries - are very poisonous to pets.


Pet owners can learn more about the possible dangers to their pet from plants, products, medications and other substances by asking their veterinarian or by visiting www.petpoisonhelpline.com


May I take this opportunity to wish pets everywhere, and their human family companions, a happy, peaceful and safe Holiday Season. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca