Holiday Hazards

By: Henry Cerny, DVMImage

Some of the things humans enjoy can be dangerous for your dog. Unfortunately, the holidays can be a distracting time, and in a single moment of human inattention, a dog can get into and eat things she shouldn’t have.

Here’s a list of what to watch out for and keep away from your dog.

Meats, Sweets, Treats, and Chocolate               

It’s tempting to give our four-legged friends a taste or even a generous helping of what we like to eat. But remember: Some of the things we eat can cause serious illness in dogs. Ham, prime rib, and roast beef and their fat trimmings can lead to life-threatening pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), as well as vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

How about holiday cakes, pies and cookies? Well, maybe nothing will happen, or maybe the next morning you’ll find your dog had blowout diarrhea on your carpet from all the sugar in the sweets.

What if the dessert is sugar-free? If the artificial sweetener is xylitol, it can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and severe liver damage (hepatic necrosis).

And then of course there is chocolate, which contains compounds such as theobromine and caffeine. These can cause a range of health problems, from vomiting and diarrhea to an irregular heart rhythm, seizures, and, in rare cases, death.

Avoid the temptation to give your dog any of these things and remain vigilant, as children may drop something on the floor or give a dog a treat they shouldn’t.

Alcoholic Beverages

Although most people would not intentionally give a dog alcohol, alcohol poisoning is more common than you think. Sources are not limited to beverages spilled on the floor or a glass left where your pet can reach it. Poisoning from desserts containing alcohol is also common around the holiday season.

Bread Dough

Dogs have a knack for getting into things they shouldn’t, and that bread dough you left to rise on the counter is now rising in your dog’s stomach. As the dough expands it can cause painful stomach bloat, which then may progress to gastric dilitation and volvulus (GDV), which is a twisted stomach). Bloat and GDV are life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Lights, Christmas Trees, and Electrical Cords

Whole neighborhoods are decorated with lights inside and out for the holiday season, and despite all the books written for dogs on the subject of electricity they don’t know the first thing about it.

That hanging cord or string of lights looks like it would be fun to bite and tug around, but that could result in severe burns of the mouth and tongue, as well as permanent heart damage. I once treated a dog that ended up losing three-fourths of his tongue after he bit down on an electrical cord.

Things Lurking Under the Tree

Children love toys and trinkets, of course, but some of these gifts may appear to be edible to your dog and can lead to a bowel obstruction requiring emergency surgery.

Secondhand Smoke

This is not a problem just during the holidays but year round. Besides being an irritant to your pet’s respiratory system, secondhand smoke, according to several scientific papers, has been linked to increases in nasal and lung cancers in dogs. Not only can the nicotine and toxins from the smoke be inhaled by animals; these chemicals adhere to hair and skin and can be ingested when they lick and groom themselves.

Henry Cerny, DVM, MS serves on the board of directors for the Lincoln Emergency Clinic and the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. He practices at Yankee Hill Veterinary Hospital in Lincoln, NE.


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