Monday, December 3, 2012

The Holiday Season

Well, it's official.  The holiday season is upon us.  This of course means that our homes are filled with decorations, food, and family.  In other words, it's a really fun time that's filled with some dangerous things for your pets.  So, in an effort to help keep your pets safe (and your vet bill low), let's go over some safety techniques.

Poisonous Plants 
There's really a lot of controversy surrounding poinsettias.  Some say they're poisonous.  Some say they're not.  The truth is, the sap of the plant is poisonous, but it's not nearly has deadly as some might have you believe.  The sap can cause skin irritation and it may induce vomiting and diarrhea in small children and in pets.  Of course, this means that you don't want your dog or cat to eat a whole plant, but you also shouldn't panic if a small piece is ingested.  Still, though, it may be best if this was a plant your pets didn't have access to.

Holly leaves are not actually poisonous, but the berries are.  Yes, those beautiful red berries that just look so festive are quite poisonous and can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.  Keep this plant away from your pet, or else you may spend your holidays in the vet's office.

Ah, that lovely parasite that induces young lovers to kiss.  Honestly, mistletoe is one of my favorite Christmas traditions (I'm an old romantic), but it's quite poisonous.  Just like holly, it's the berries that are dangerous, and boy are they!  If ingested, they can cause excessive salivating, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination, heavy breathing and a fast heart rate.  

Tree Hazards
Ah, the lights!  Lights are so pretty, and they tend to make any house or tree beautiful.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of hazards associated with them and your pet.  Forgetting about all the usual fears (lights shorting out, tree catching fire, etc), there's also the fear of having a pet chew on the lights.  Anyone who has a basic knowledge of how electricity works will know that  chewing on an electric cable is not a good idea, and pets that do so may end up with a bit of a singed mouth.

Obviously, water in and of itself is not dangerous.  However, some people put preservatives in their water to keep the tree pretty longer, and that is dangerous.  If your pets are anything like my pets, they view the water at the base of the tree as a brand new water bowl, and it's way more exciting than any other water bowl in the house.  So, in my family, preservatives stay out of the water.

There are plenty of Christmas decorations that will look like a lot of fun to your pet, but which are actually quite problematic.  The first of these is tinsel.  While it makes your tree look fabulous, it can be quite a problem if ingested.  These long bits of string can knot up in your pet's intestines and cause some serious blockages.  Even if they do end up passing, they can be quite uncomfortable in the process.  In addition to tinsel, one must pay close attention to the glass ball ornaments on a tree.  These ornaments can look like fun toys, but they break easily, and that can cause problems.  Some dogs will try to eat these balls, and that's going to cause issues with the digestive tract (i.e. surgery will be needed).  At the very least, they're quite likely to knock them off the tree with their tails, causing them to shatter on the floor and become a cutting hazard to both pet feet and human feet alike.

-The Tree Itself
Yes, the tree can be it's own hazard.  Falling pine needles can be dangerous if ingested as they could possibly pierce the intestines, or the tree could fall.  Cat owners should be particularly careful, because many cats like to climb the Christmas tree, and this could cause it to fall on them.  Of course, dogs are innocent either, and an interesting-looking ornament could entice them to jump on the tree.  Oh, and for dog owners, there's also the little issue of providing that indoor potty.  No, this is not necessarily a danger to your dog, but it's certainly a danger to you.  Make sure your dog doesn't see your beautiful tree as his/her new spot to tinkle!

So what can I do?
Well, you really have three options.

1) Keep everything that's unsafe away from your pets.  Hide the tree in a closed room, close off the plants, hang the mistletoe high.  If your pet does not have access to things that can hurt him, then he cannot get hurt.

2) Keep everything fake.  Fake mistletoe, fake holly, and a fake tree help to ensure your pet's safety.  Your pet can't eat anything harmful, there's no water to worry about, and the lights on a fake tree are much less dangerous than those on a real one  (e.g. no chords).

3) Train your pet.  Teach your cats to stay off the tree or away from the plants.  Train your dog to ignore the distractions on the tree.  If your dog's in a down-stay, she won't be eating the ornaments.

Honestly, my family does a combination of everything.  Our tree is kept in the family room which just happens to have a door to close it off.  When we're not home, the tree is closed off from the rest of house.  When we are home, we are able to monitor what the animals are doing, so we're able to open the room (and relax and watch TV in there).  We also have a few fake plants (like mistletoe).  Fake berries are not nearly as harmful as poisonous real berries.  Our tree, however, will always be real.  Lastly, we monitor the animals.  Cody and Lollie are now old enough where tree ornaments are exciting toys, but when Cody was younger, we really had to keep an eye on him.  We paid constant attention to him around the tree, and we had to teach him that eating ornaments was not the best idea.  Yes, we've lost a couple ornaments due to an over-exuberant tail, but the vacuum was able to take care of that right away.  Oh, and we had a vacuum on hand just in case! :)

Well, that covers most of the big points.  I hope you all have a lovely and fun holiday season!

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