Holiday safety tips for your pets

Dr Samantha Scott -
Dr Samantha Scott -



AS WE ARE entering the Christmas season with all its festivities, let’s keep in mind some important safety tips for our furry and feathered family members. Yes, we know as part of your family you want to include them in all the activities of this joyous time, but we need to be careful of what we expose them to – the food and drinks, the decorations and new plants, toys left lying about, the loud music, fireworks and visitors.

We need to be proactive because our pets may not be able to resist the urge to steal food from tables or garbage cans, play or chew on decorations and Christmas lights, and eat things they are not supposed to. Here are some holiday tips to keep your pets safe during this season.

Food is a major part of a Trini Christmas. We consume more than we normally do. Who can resist the ham and hops, turkey, the pastelles, the fruit cake and sweets/chocolates? As delicious as these foods are, a lot of them have high fat, salt and sugar content and are not particularly healthy for us, far less for our pets. Pet owners should avoid feeding their pets these rich foods and bones from leftover dishes.

The rich fatty foods such as the fat trimmings and skin could cause an upset stomach and even pancreatitis (a painful and potentially fatal condition) in dogs and cats. Signs to look out for are vomiting, diarrhoea, not eating, painful abdomen and lethargy.

Bones could become stuck along the digestive tract or the windpipe causing suffocation. The bones could also splint easily, producing sharp edges that can damage the digestive tract. If any blockage or damage occurs, your pet may exhibit vomiting, not eating and bloody stool.

Ingestion of new foods could also cause allergic reactions; signs include excessive scratching, hives and facial swelling. Make sure animals do not have access to the garbage, as they might help themselves to the leftover scraps of food.

Moderation is key for both us and our pets.

Other foods that are extremely harmful to your pets are alcohol, chocolate (especially for baking and dark chocolate), xylitol (which is an artificial sweetener and found in some sugar-free candies and gum, and some peanut butters), onions, garlic, chives, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts.

Cats and young animals are mischievous and like to play and chew on things. The Christmas decorations, the tree including ornaments, lights and tinsel, and ribbon on gifts might look like easy-to-catch shiny prey for cats. Children’s toys tend to be irresistible to young animals and some naughty adult dogs. If these objects are ingested, foreign body obstructions and damage to the digestive tract can occur. Electrical burns and fatal electrical shocks could occur if the decorative lights are chewed on.

A few other objects that can potentially cause obstructions and damage to the digestive tract are batteries, potpourris and wrapping paper. Batteries, when swallowed, can cause obstructions and if punctured can leak caustic material which burns the mouth, throat, stomach and other body tissues. They can be found in many items such as toys, watches and decorations. Certain types of batteries contain metals such as zinc, lead and mercury, and can cause heavy metal poisoning if the battery remains in the digestive tract for more than two-three days.

As owners, be mindful of where these items are placed and how much access your pets have to them.

Thinking of adding festive plants to your décor? Try to keep them out of your pets' reach so that they don’t chew on them. Poinsettias are common during this time and if chewed on, the sap from them can irritate the mouth and stomach of your pets and cause vomiting. Mother-in-law’s tongue is a fairly common house plant seen year around. If ingested it causes gastrointestinal discomfort such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and drooling.

Keep plants, especially ones with milky sap, away from inquisitive pets.

Loud noises tend to affect some pets. It is a joyous time and we might want to celebrate with loud music and fireworks. Dogs particularly have a wide range of hearing and some noises can be potentially painful. These loud sounds might cause unnecessary stress, anxiety and fear to your pets. Some common signs dogs might exhibit are cringing, trembling, retreating and cowering. Pets might want to run away from the source of the loud sounds and could escape and get lost or even hurt.

Dr Indira Pargass -

As an owner you can, whenever possible, try to avoid or minimise the loud noises, distract your pets with alternative sounds (eg white noise, music therapy), assure your pets that they are safe and be present with them, have a secure or safe area or room for them, and in extreme cases give sedatives after consulting with your veterinarian.

Oh a cute, fluffy puppy or rabbit or guinea pig would be a great gift! Do some research first and seek advice from a veterinarian prior to getting one to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. They are living beings that need to be taken care of properly, and you would need to ensure that they get the appropriate care, housing and nutrition.

Everything in a puppy’s or kitten’s new environment can be a potential hazard as they are inquisitive. Make sure they are kept safe. Other animals like rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs are usually housed in cages and so their exposure to hazards are reduced.

For pet bird owners, there are certain foods that can be harmful to birds such as avocado (especially the leaves), tomato leaves, dried beans, mushrooms, chocolate, onions, garlic, xylitol, caffeinated drinks, and salty and fatty foods. Avoid giving seeds and pits from fruits such as apples, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums as these contain small amounts of cardio-toxic cyanide.

Be vigilant when purchasing toys and even cages for your feathered babies to ensure that they are suitable for birds and free of heavy metals such as lead, copper and zinc that can cause heavy metal poisoning.

Who does not love candles and the aroma they bring in our homes? Bird owners should be weary that the aerosolised chemicals from the candles could irritate a bird’s sensitive respiratory tract and flying birds can accidentally burn themselves.

The kitchen should be off limits to birds period! The fumes from cooking, smoke and vapour from Teflon-coated (non-stick) cookware and appliances (such as stoves and toaster ovens) could cause respiratory distress and death when inhaled by birds. Teflon vapour can kill your bird instantly. Poinsettias are also potentially toxic to birds.

Decorations, Christmas trees and ornaments could also cause harm to birds. Loud sounds and strange people could cause fear and anxiety. For some birds the stress is too much and could lead to death.

We wish you a joyous and safe Christmas and all the best navigating this season with your furry and/or feathered babies. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, so have an emergency contact number for a veterinarian at hand.

Dr Samantha Scott is a teaching assistant in veterinary clinical pathology at the School of Veterinary Medicine, UWI

Dr Indira Pargass is a lecturer in veterinary clinical pathology at the School of Veterinary Medicine, UWI


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