Every Christmas, here at Broad Lane Vets, we are busy with problems caused to pets by the festive season. This is an unusual time, with their normal home environment becoming overtaken with unfamiliar visitors, strange trees, bright decorations, interesting packages, odd noises and enticing food aromas.
Here we hope, is a guide to avoiding the common festive pitfalls and poisons, and help keep your pet safe:
CHRISTMAS TREES are of low toxicity, though eating bits of them could obviously cause an upset tummy and injury from the sharp needles. A more likely problem is that your cat will view the tree as fair-game to climb, or your dog will find the lights or tinsel an irresistible tug-toy, with obvious consequences! Even a rabbit, and guinea pig, will often find an indoor tree hard to resist, giving it a little nibble.
FESTIVE PLANTS need to be identified. Holly is best avoided, as the spines may cause physical injury. And whilst ivy ingestion might only result in a bit of drooling from our dogs and cats, it can cause muscle twitching, paralysis, convulsions and even death in rabbits. Mistletoe, however, is best kept away with more concerning vomiting, diarrhoea and changes in blood pressure with large ingestions. To be on the safe side, keep your Mistletoe out of reach of your dogs in the holidays and if you suspect your pet has ingested mistletoe, contact us at the practice. Poinsettias are very over-rated as a toxicity. Worst case scenario with ingestion of this colourful plant is oral and gastrointestinal upset, and in most cases it is mild and relatively limited. If the milky sap is exposed to skin, dermal irritation (including redness, swelling, and itchiness) may develop. Rarely, eye exposure can result in a mild conjunctivitis (“pink eye” secondary to inflammation). Signs are self-limiting and you will be pleased to know, generally, don’t require medical treatment unless severe. Lilies are often received as in a Christmas bouquet. Our advice would be to remove the Lilies, and sadly never have them in your house. These are highly toxic to pets with minor signs such as tissue irritation to the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and oesophagus. Clinical signs of drooling, pawing at the mouth, foaming, and vomiting may also be seen. The more dangerous, potentially fatal Lilies are ‘True Lilies’. Examples of some of these dangerous Lilies include the Tiger, Day, Asiatic hybrid, Easter, Japanese Show, Rubrum, Stargazer, Red, Western, and Wood Lilies – all of which are highly toxic to cats! Even small ingestions (such as 2-3 petals or leaves) – even the pollen or water from the vase – can result in severe, acute kidney failure. Other types you need to be aware of include Lily of the Valley. This type does not cause kidney failure, but can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias and death when ingested by dogs or cats.If your cat is seen consuming any part of a Lily, bring your cat (and the plant) immediately to a practice for medical care. The sooner you bring in your cat, the better and more efficiently the Lily poisoning can be treated.
ANTIFREEZE used in the radiators of most motor vehicles to prevent freezing, may easily be spilled into the environment as drivers top-up their cars ready for wintertime. Unfortunately its sweet taste is very palatable to cats and dogs, who often lap it up from puddles and discarded containers. Ethylene glycol is the toxic ingredient, which can cause heart, breathing, urinary problems, weakness, incoordination and convulsions, even in small quantities. Kidney failure leading to death is often the sad conclusion, especially in cats.
BATTERIES are another common item pets may eat this time of year. The strong acid/alkali they contain may cause burns and caustic injury, and they can become lodged in the intestine.
CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING may become obvious in the pets living in an affected house before the people, due to their tendency to sleep right next to heating appliances and their higher metabolic rate. Look out for vomiting, drowsiness, incoordination, hearing and eye problems, buy a carbon monoxide detector, and get yourself checked-out by a Doctor!
CHOCOLATE, either hanging on the tree or contained in gifts under it, is the most commonly-reported cause of poisoning in pets this time of year. Theobromine is the toxin, which can cause tummy upset, heart problems, shaking, incoordination, weakness and collapse. Even one small bar of milk chocolate, or half a bar of dark chocolate, can be enough to be poisonous in a small dog or cat. Keep chocolate-containing presents well-away from those sensitive noses!
CHRISTMAS DINNER might be the highlight of our big day, but it could all too easily be the downfall of our furry friends. The fat-laden scraps we are tempted to treat them with, can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and lead to pancreas problems. Peanuts and macadamia nuts may cause an upset tummy and neurological signs. Grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas are also potentially toxic, with some cats and dogs seeming particularly susceptible to kidney failure after eating just a few grapes or a handful of raisins, so guard your Christmas cake, mince pies and Christmas pudding! Even cakes and sweets marketed as “healthy” for humans, often contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which can be very dangerous in dogs, causing liver failure. Turkey carcasses and bones from other meat may fragment and splinter, and become lodged in the mouth, throat or stomach, requiring surgery. Onions and garlic, which might get forgotten but are in your gravy and stuffing, can cause anaemia in dogs, destroying their red blood cells. And alcohol, though many pets like the taste of it, can unfortunately cause heart arrhythmias, seizures and even death, so keep your half-empty glasses and cans out of reach.
Early intervention may save your pet’s life - if you think your pet has been poisoned, never just “wait and see”!
· Remove your pet from the source
· Seek veterinary advice by phone ASAP
· Gather as much information about the potential poison as you can – type, amount, when it happened – this information will help the vet
· Follow your vet’s recommendations