Is there anyone out there who's not busy? I certainly don't want to add another item to your to-do list, but I ask you to consider your pet's safety at this time of year.
For advice I looked to two prominent organizations: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals and the Humane Society of the United States. Both provide a wealth of information about all aspects of animal welfare. I've also added a few of my own thoughts based on observations and experience.
To begin, take a look around at all those seasonal decorations and you'll see plenty of opportunities for your pet to get into trouble. Let's start with Christmas trees.
What comes to my mind first are film clips I've seen on TV of trees tipping over onto people and pets. I've had more than a few laughs at their misfortunes and always hoped no one got hurt in the process.
If you have a frisky feline or bouncing bow-wow, wire your tree to the wall or nearby window or door frame to prevent it from falling over. Keep pets away from tree water. It may contain residual fertilizers, and cause an upset stomach. Stagnant tree water can also act as a breeding ground for bacteria and if ingested a pet could end up with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Retro is the rage now, but don't trim your tree with the old-fashioned metallic tinsel. If swallowed, it can cut tender tissue in the mouth and digestive tract or cause a blockage. Consider decorating with ornaments that are less enticing to pets, such as those made with dried non-toxic flowers, wood, fabric or pine cones. Switch glass ball ornaments to satin ones and place breakable ornaments toward the top of the tree.
Narrow ribbons, especially those curled and sitting atop presents, are intriguing to cats. They like to pull, play and chew them. If swallowed a cat may have a difficult time passing the ribbon. Put that type of ribbon on presents at the last minute and be sure not to leave ribbons lying around after gift opening.
Keep aluminum foil and cellophane candy wrappers away from pets. They can cause vomiting and intestinal blockage. Be careful with holiday floral arrangements. Lilies are common this time of year and all varieties can cause kidney failure in cats.
Common Yuletide plants such as mistletoe and holly berries may also be potentially toxic to pets. Should a cat or dog eat mistletoe, they could possibly suffer gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular complications. Holly can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and lethargy.
Although I've always believed poinsettias may be lethal if eaten by pets, apparently the plant is now considered to be relatively low in toxicity. However, it may still cause mild vomiting or nausea.
Liquid potpourris http://www.cfa.org/articles/potpourri.html are popular household fragrances commonly used during holidays. Cats are often exposed to liquid potpourri by direct ingestion from simmer pots or spills, or by rubbing against leaky bottles or simmer pots containing the potpourri, or from spilling the containers upon themselves. Oral exposures result following grooming. Exposing cats to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe oral, dermal and ocular damage.
Electric extensions cords abound at this time of year. Not only to avoid a home fire but for pet protection, use them sparingly and adhere to manufacturer's warnings. Ferrets, cats, and especially curious kittens and playful puppies may chew on the cords. The results could be deadly or at a minimum end with a burned mouth. Cover, hide or keep cords out of reach, but make sure you do so in a way not to cause any hot spots to form.
Batteries contain corrosives. If ingested the chemicals may cause ulceration to the tongue, mouth and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.
Holiday hazards to pets include food. Avoid feeding or allowing your pet to eat avocado, chocolate, coffee, garlic, macadamia nuts, onions, raisins and grapes, salt or yeast dough. Additional winter hazards are anti-freeze and ice-melting products. Antifreeze http://www.cfa.org/articles/antifreeze.html has a pleasant taste. Unfortunately, very small amounts can be lethal. Thoroughly clean up any spills, store antifreeze in tightly closed containers and store in secured cabinets. If you think your cat has consumed antifreeze, contact your veterinarian right away.
Ice-melting products can be irritating to skin and mouth. Depending on the actual ingredient of the ice melt and the quantity, signs of ingestion would include excessive drooling, depression, vomiting or even electrolyte imbalances.
Rat and mouse killers are used more commonly during colder weather. When using rat and mouse bait, place the products in areas inaccessible to pets.
Lastly, always be prepared. Check out your emergency options ahead of time. Call your veterinarian. Write down the hours they are available. Ask if they have a 24-hour emergency phone number. Also, get the name of the closest emergency/urgent care veterinary service, where it is located and a phone number. Be aware most emergency services are more expensive and some may require a credit card number before you are able to get information or treatment.
I called the phone number of a regional vet office after hours and a recording provided me with an emergency number. When I called that number, I got a person at an answering service. She told me they phone the doctor. I asked about the "turn-around time" to have my called returned and she said it would be within 10 minutes.
The ASPCA has a 24-hour Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435). I called late on a Sunday night and received a couple of short auto-response prompts and a message saying there was a $50 consultation fee prior to being connected to a veterinarian.
When I was connected, I asked the doctor if a vet always answered the phone and he said it might be a vet, a technician or a trained staff person. He also told me is a "fee for service" center, although occasionally a fee may be paid by one of their sponsors.
Be ready to provide your name, address and telephone number. Know what substance your pet has ingested. Have the product container/packaging available for reference. You'll also need to provide information, if you know it, about the amount ingested and the time since exposure. Know your pet's species, breed, age, sex and weight and all the symptoms it's experiencing.
Post emergency numbers near the phone, buy a pet first aid book, read more about animal emergency prevention and care and put together a pet poison safety kit.
A pet poison safety kit should include a fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide, can of its favorite food, turkey baster, bulb syringe or large medical syringe, saline eye solution to flush out eye contaminants, artificial tear gel to lubricate eyes after flushing, mild grease-cutting dishwashing liquid for the animal after skin contamination, rubber gloves, forceps to remove stingers, muzzle (an excited animal may harm you) and pet carrier.
Hopefully, you'll never need all this advice, but tis the season to be cautious.
Andrea Lee Lambrecht, naturalist and outdoors photographer, can be reached at email@example.com
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