Holiday can be dangerous for pets

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 16, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 14, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.
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Cats love to hide under Christmas trees and sometimes in them, and local veterinarians said cats like to chew on branches that are toxic to the animals. Cats will also eat tinsel and ribbons around trees, and that can cause major internal obstructions that could require surgery or be fatal.

For Arkansans, the food, decorations and wrapped presents are all part of the fun of the holiday season. Yet those things can be hazards for the four-legged members of families.

Veterinarians in the region said all of those things are potential hazards for pets. Table foods, ornaments and many other holiday items, combined with an owner’s good nature, can be harmful for cats and dogs.

“Rich foods and a lot of the foods that are used as gifts should be kept away from pets,” said Dr. Carol Entricken of the Benton Veterinary Clinic. “And remember, just because it is wrapped and we cannot smell it, the animals can.”

Entricken said her clinic is already seeing pets being brought in with gastric problems because their owners have been giving the animals scraps while preparing holiday meals.

Dr. Richard Hughes of Hughes Animal Hospital in Malvern said pork is especially bad for pets.

“Much of it is high in fat, and it also contains chemicals from the curing process, especially in bacon and sausage,” he said. “When you are cooking a ham and trimming away the fat, you are not doing your dog or cat any favors by giving them a piece.”

Hughes said turkey is better, but he said it can still be harmful for the pets when it is being prepared for human consumption.

“And remember, if you drop something, the dog will be standing by to get it fast,” Hughes pointed out.

The wrapping for meats can also be a health hazard, Entricken said.

“Be careful how you dispose of the wrappings, especially the netting used to bag turkeys and hams,” she said. “The pets will go into the trash to get them because they carry the flavor of the meat. They can cause serious obstructions in the intestines.”

The same advice goes for all food wrappers, including the foils used to wrap chocolate and other candies that are so often around the house during the holidays.

“Because they smell good, the animals will eat them,” Entricken said.

The holidays are a great time for enjoying chocolate. Perhaps the favorite treat for the rest of the family, chocolate is very toxic to pets.

“Chocolate has too much caffeine for animals,” Hughes said. “Oh, a big Lab might be able to eat a chocolate Kiss [with no harm done], but a 3-pound Yorkie would get very sick.”

Chocolate can cause gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological disease in a pet, causing it to be sick, have a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and even seizures.

The dangers extend beyond food. Cats love to hide in Christmas trees, and some even try to climb them. The decorations can also be a problem for an animal.

Cats also like to chew on the trees, especially if they are real.

“Most ornamental plants are toxic to animals,” Hughes said. “That includes poinsettias that are very toxic, mistletoe and holly.”

Any small decoration or toy that is a swallowing hazard for a child can also choke the family dog or cat, according to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Louisiana State University.

“We don’t see them as much anymore, but cats eat the aluminum tinsel, what we used to call icicles,” Entricken said. “They are long, shiny and move in the breeze. What’s not to love? But if eaten by a cat, [tinsel] can bind into a rope and cause what we call a linear obstruction. That can be terrible and would require surgery.”

With the decorations for the tree come electrical cords.

“If you have a new puppy for Christmas, be sure to keep him away from the cord that runs from the tree to the wall socket,” Entricken said. “It can burn their mouths, as well as give them a severe shock.”

With colder weather outside, be sure your dog has a warm, dry place to get out of the weather.

“Make sure there are old clothes or plenty of straw inside to be warm,” Hughes said. “I have known people who have put heat lamps in a doghouse, but they can fall over and cause a fire or even just burn the dog’s hair because they are so hot.”

He suggests that dog owners also make sure the pet’s water is not frozen. It is recommended that outside pets come into the house when a hard freeze is forecast.

The holidays should be a good time for everyone, including pets in the family.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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