December 2, 2009

One of the most common things seen by veterinarians over the holidays is cats that like to eat tinsel. Photo: iStock

Ask The Professor

How can we keep our pets healthy during the busy holiday season?

This month’s expert, Claire R. Sharp, assistant professor at the Cummings School and an emergency and critical care specialist at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, responds:

First of all, don’t share the turkey bones or other “people” food with your dog or your cat. You also need to watch out for plants that can be toxic to cats and dogs—including poinsettias, holly berries and lilies. Dogs might get into the holiday chocolate, and that will cause them gastrointestinal distress and potentially neurologic signs and heart rhythm disturbances. Dark chocolate is especially toxic to dogs, even in small amounts.

You also need to guard against pets getting out when you’re having parties where people are coming and going and you’re not paying a lot of attention to the cat or the dog.

An added danger to pets that run away—beyond getting hit by cars—is the cold. During the holiday season we have seen animals with bad frostbite and very severe hypothermia, which can be life-threatening.

One of the most common things we’ll see over the holidays is cats that like to eat tinsel. Some cats are very attracted to the decorations on the tree, and they’ll swallow tinsel that will get stuck in their stomach, or a ribbon will go through the intestines and cause a blockage. Every Christmas we take animals to surgery to remove tinsel and things like that from their stomach and intestines. Once it’s there, it’s a $4,000 piece of tinsel to remove—and potentially a life-threatening situation.

During the holidays, we also see many animals given as gifts. While an animal is a wonderful gift to receive and brings joy to so many people, it’s a huge commitment. If you don’t know that you’re getting an animal and you have so many other things going on, often those puppies and kittens are not given the attention they need. There is also the potential for new pets to be handled by children without adequate adult supervision. As a result the new kitten may get stepped on or a child may drop a new puppy on its head. Young puppies, particularly small breeds, often need to be fed four to six times a day, and this can be very time consuming. It’s better to bring a pet into the family at a less stressful time of year or ensure that you have planned ahead adequately.

Article Tools

emailE-mail printPrint