COLLEGE PARK – Meejee Lee isn’t fazed by her 8-month-old cockapoo, Pepper, chewing up her shoes.
But when she starts in on some other things, the 25-year-old cellular phone specialist from Columbia gets worried.
“She loves to chew on electrical cords,” Lee said, knowing that oral fixation could get Pepper electrocuted.
To minimize that possibility, Lee said she is opting to keep her holiday decorations simple this year and nix the Christmas tree.
Tree lights and electrical cords are just two of many common holiday hazards that Susie Kernan, a client relations specialist at the Bradley Hills Animal Hospital in Bethesda, said pet owners should use with caution in order to prevent a potentially tragic accident.
Pets will want to drink from the basin of water that some people keep at the base of the tree, Kernan said, and they risk getting poisoned by additives and plant food.
Dr. Marie Suthers-McCabe, associate professor of human-companion animal interaction at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va., warns that puppies could chew on ornaments, shattering them and cutting their mouths on the shards. Similarly, if cats swallow tinsel, it could cause intestinal spasms that could be life-threatening, she said.
Thicker material, like gift-wrap ribbons, also can cause internal damage.
“The edges of it can get really sharp,” she said. “We find strips of that ribbon cut into the mucosa of the intestines.”
Mistletoe and the leaves and berries on poinsettia plants can be poisonous, depending on how much the pet ate and the pet’s size, said Kernan. Owners should remember than even if they keep them up high and out of their pets’ reach, those leaves and berries could still fall to the floor and be ingested.
Owners should also resist feeding their pets human food, particularly holiday turkey, Kernan said.
“We’re cooking things we don’t normally cook, so they’re more rich (turkey skin, fat). . . . These are things that animals don’t normally get. Don’t give them the pate. They don’t have the same stomachs as we do.”
Suthers-McCabe said too much rich food could easily lead to pancreatitis. “It’s okay to give them turkey, but dole it out in small amounts.”
She also cautions that chocolate, which contains a caffeine-like substance, is very dangerous for dogs. A 20-pound dog would die after consuming just two squares of baking chocolate, or just over a pound of milk chocolate.
Activated charcoal is used by veterinarians to deactivate the toxins in the chocolate, Suthers-McCabe said.
Pet owners should also know better than to give their pets alcohol, she said.
“If somebody thinks it’s funny to give the dog a drink . . . that can make them sick. I would think that you wouldn’t have your cockatiel flying around over your Thanksgiving dinner.”
Ingesting inappropriate foods or decorations tends to cost owners the most money in terms of veterinary care, according to a recent analysis of 2004 accident-related claims by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co./DVM Insurance Agency.
The average cost to operate on a pet after it ingested something foreign was $825.41. Bandage treatment for areas including the skull, jaw or rib ran around $234.07. And it cost owners, on average, $207.83 to treat pets for methylxanthine (chocolate toxin) poisoning, said company spokesman Brian Iannessa.
Among the first signs that a pet has eaten something it shouldn’t have are vomiting, diarrhea or blockage, said Kernan. In that event, the owner should immediately contact a veterinarian.
“If it’s the middle of the night and your vet’s not open, call the emergency clinic,” she said. It’s faster in finding something to treat the pet and in keeping medical problems minimal for the pet and costs minimal for the owner.
Kernan and Suthers-McCabe both said that Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a stressful time, particularly because the pets will be around people they don’t know.
“If the owner is stressed, the animal is going to sense that and also be stressed. So if you are going to have large amounts of people who may or may not like (your pet), keep that in mind,” Kernan said.
And Suthers-McCabe advised, “Make sure there’s a quiet place the animal can go.” She cautioned that visitors may inadvertently let animals out of a home when coming and going. Consequently, she said she sees more animals hit by cars during the holidays. – 30 – CNS-11-18-05