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Holiday Traditions Can Endanger Pets
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When families get together for the holidays, it's easy to forget the furry members of the group.
Dr. Richard Hopper, extension veterinarian at Mississippi State University, said the holidays can be traumatic for house pets. Decorations offer a wide range of potential dangers.
"Be prepared for odd behavior because sometimes guests in the house upset the pet," Hopper said. "Pets can become jealous and aggressive towards children, quit eating or have bad behavior such as soiling the carpet."
Some pets enjoy the noises, people and excitement of the holidays. Others don't. Pet owners should consider their pet's temperament and history when the holidays arrive.
"Smaller dogs owned by older, retired people often tend to get upset or nervous when children are around," Hopper said. "These dogs resent losing the attention of their mature owners."
Hopper said if a pet has a history of being agitated around guests, owners should consider consulting their veterinarian about a low dose of tranquilizers for a few days.
Tranquilizers also help some pets who have trouble traveling. Short of using these, owners could board pets who have trouble with holiday guests.
But even if the pet adapts to extra people in the house and a disturbed routine, the holidays present many dangers to pets.
Dr. Pat McCoy, toxicologist at the veterinary college, said chocolate, part of many holiday celebrations, should never be given to pets as it is toxic to them.
"One ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight or one ounce of baking chocolate per 10 pounds of body weight can be fatal to a dog or cat," McCoy said.
With the holidays come leftovers, some of which can be fed to pets. Hopper said dishes like turkey and dressing can be fed to dogs, but don't use dogs as a garbage disposal.
"Animals can suffer from food poisoning," Hopper said. "Dogs are more tolerant to food poisoning than are people, but if you leave food around too long, don't feed it to your pets."
Other no-no's for pets are poultry or small bones and spicy dishes.
Holiday decorations offer another potential danger for pets. Cats are fascinated by tinsel on Christmas trees and tend to play with and eat it. However, tinsel can obstruct the animal's intestines causing the cat to vomit repeatedly.
If this happens, immediately take the cat to a veterinarian who can remove the obstruction.
Many pets enjoy watching Christmas lights and may want to play with them, but electrical cords can electrocute pets that chew on them.
"Watch your pets carefully to see if there will be a problem with any of the Christmas decorations," Hopper said. "Many pets do not bother decorations, but others are attracted to them and should be kept away for their own safety."
Holiday plants are a beautiful seasonal item potentially dangerous to pets. Few are fatal, but they can cause problems.
"Holly and poinsettia are mildly toxic to pets, usually causing vomiting at worst, but mistletoe berries are more toxic," McCoy said. "One berry is not a problem, but if a pet eats a cluster of mistletoe berries, they need to be treated."
Symptoms that a pet has eaten these berries are vomiting, diarrhea and convulsions. Dogs with their less discriminating taste eat more mistletoe berries than do cats.
Cats, however, face a danger from drinking Christmas tree water or eating pine needles, which are toxic to cats. This causes vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and trembling, McCoy said.
"In any case where an owner suspects a pet has eaten something they should not have, call your veterinarian and tell them what they ate and how much," McCoy said. "The veterinarian can tell them what action they should take for their pet."