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Holiday Hazards

As the holidays approach, there are several specific hazards that your pet will be exposed to. Visiting family members, holiday foods, and decorations all present unique hazards at this time of year. In this blog I will cover a few of the more common emergencies we see around the holidays.

One of the most common toxicities we see is ingestion of chocolate. Understandably our pets often love chocolate just as much as we do! Both the amount and type of chocolate ingested change the prognosis. Cocoa beans, baking chocolate, and dark chocolate are the most toxic to your pet. Milk chocolate is still toxic, but requires a larger amount to have the same effect. The most common signs of chocolate toxicity are hyper excitability, tremors, a fast heart rate, and even seizures. Severe or fatal doses produce a drop in blood pressure, a slow heart rate, and can even lead to a coma. Some animals develop secondary pancreatitis after chocolate ingestion. If your pet has recently ingested the chocolate, vomiting can be induced to help them clear it. In addition activated charcoal with a cathartic can help to bind and move the toxic components of chocolate out of your pet. Further treatment consists of intravenous fluids, gastric lavage, and serial ECG monitoring.

Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in small quantities in certain fruit, sweets, and gums. Because it is sugar free, xylitol has been used as a sweeter in many foods. When ingested, xylitol causes a sudden drop of blood glucose due to an increase in insulin secretion. Effects can often be seen in as little time as fifteen minutes after ingestion. Clinical signs include collapse, lethargy, vomiting, and weakness. Treatment consists of inducing vomiting, serial blood glucose monitoring, and intravenous fluids +/- dextrose.

As people have become more focused on healthy foods, many people make their own bread. Ingesting bread dough can be a potentially life threatening emergencies. The dough expands after ingestion in the stomach. This can cause the blood supply to the stomach to be cut off in severe cases or form a blockage on the intestinal tract. In addition, the yeast in the bread dough ferment as the dough expands. This can cause an alcohol toxicosis. Make sure that you place your dough in safe areas where your pets cannot get to it. In the case of ingestion call your local veterinarian immediately. Treating early in the disease course improves both the prognosis for your pet and the damage to your pocket book.
Many of us love the holidays because of all the decorations we get to put up. In my neighborhood alone there are some pretty impressive displays, both inside and outside. Electrical lighting can present a hazard to your pet. Many pets like to chew on electrical cords. If your pet is currently being electrocuted, do not grab the pet; unplug the device from the wall. If this isn’t possible use a piece of wood or other low conductivity material to remove your pet from the cord. If your pet is still breathing, cover them with a blanket to prevent heat loss. Electrocution can cause several life threatening problems. First, the shock itself can cause the heart to stop. Secondly, the current can cause burns. Lastly, in the hours after the electrocution, animals can develop pulmonary edema or fluid in their lungs. If your pet electrocutes itself, call your veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment may save its life.

Several decorative plants can be toxic to your pet. Lilies, poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly can all cause toxicities. Lilies are toxic to cats. If ingested, they can cause kidney failure. Poinsettias can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but are not usually life threatening. Mistletoe can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and cardiovascular problems. Holly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. If your pet ingests any of these or other items that concern you, it is wise to call the poison control helpline. Their phone number is 1800-213-6680, and they are available 24 hours a day.

Lastly, half of what we see during the holidays are cases of pancreatitis. This is usually caused by animals getting into people food. High fat treats such as ham, fat scraps, chocolate, and gravy can predispose your pet to this condition. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is the organ that produces digestive enzymes for the GI tract. When it becomes inflamed, these enzymes can leak into areas they are not supposed to. In severe cases the pancreas can begin to digest itself causing pancreatic abscesses, pancreatic scarring, and cause pets to develop secondary diabetes mellitus.

These are just a few of the common holiday hazards. It is always better to prevent a trip to the veterinarian than to have to rush them there in the middle of the night. Make sure that visitors to your house are aware of these risks to your pet. Have a safe and wonderful holiday season!!!!

Dr. McKenna

VETSS is the ONLY 24 hr Emergency Vet in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We now offer General Practice! Schedule an exam for your pet today!

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