Keeping Pets Healthy and Happy During Christmas
With the Christmas season fast approaching there is no doubt that your home will be filled with an array of Christmas decorations, noisy guests and tempting delicious treats. However, all this festivity can pose significant health risks upon your pets if not managed accordingly. The following list details the few Christmas decorations that can pose major health related issues upon pets during the Christmas season.
Tinsel is often a very attractive toy for cats because of its shiny, sparkly and dangly nature. However, tinsel’s dangerous properties should not be overlooked as it is a very common cause of digestive obstruction and pain in cats. As when cats play with tinsel, they often end up swallowing some of it or getting some wrapped around their tongue. Since, tinsel is plastic and non-digestible it will inevitably promote digestive upset and therefore, it is highly recommended that tinsel should be kept out of homes with pets to prevent any digestive upset that it can cause.
Objects that cause obstruction when ingested for pet’s digestive tracts are called ‘foreign bodies’.
Tinsel is a very common linear foreign body found in cats during the Christmas season. Linear foreign bodies are string like materials in which one end of the strand becomes entangled or caught at some point of the digestive tract whilst the other end is free to be moved along by the normal rhythmic movements of the intestines. The middle portion of the strand along with the portion between the entangled end and free end create a ‘sawing type’ movement which becomes embedded within the intestines and eventually cuts through it. This causes great pain for the animal and also results in the spillage of intestinal contents into their abdomen.
Any other materials that pets ingest that cause complete or partial obstruction of their digestive tract through a means other than that described for foreign bodies. All linear foreign bodies typically require surgery or endoscopy for the removal of the tinsel as a result of the damage that they cause within the digestive tract.
When cats do swallow tinsel it will likely display symptoms of vomiting, being lethargic or not eating their food. If a cat is demonstrating these symptoms it is important to ensure they are taken to the nearest vet as soon as possible for veterinary evaluation. Any delays in the cases of linear foreign body obstruction can cause greater degrees of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and damage to the intestines.
Fruitcake is a popular traditional holiday dessert that is enjoyed extensively by people during Christmas celebrations. However, this holiday delicacy can actually cause a great deal of harm to your pet’s health. Currants and raisins are both commonly used in fruit cakes which can cause a devastating, permanent, expensive and potentially fatal acute renal kidney failure in pets. Treatment of acute kidney failure varies with how quickly treatment is provided as well as the pet’s response to the treatment. If your pet does become in contact with the fruitcake, it is essential that you contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. Additionally, if your pet is staggering, attempting to vomit without success or has collapsed then veterinary assistance and consultation is critical.
Another extremely popular holiday treat is alcohol which can be extremely dangerous for pets if consumed. Alcohol has the potential to lead to both neurological and metabolic problems, resulting in vomiting, coma, breathing problems and in some cases even death. Therefore, alcohol glasses should be kept away from pets to avoid any spillage and unnecessary consumption that could lead to a very sick pet.
Batteries are essential to almost every Christmas decoration now days during Christmas time and therefore should be kept out of reach of pets because of their hazardous composition. Whilst alkaline batteries can bring about burns if chewed and obstruction of the oesophagus if swallowed whole, it is the smaller “button” or “disc” type batteries that can bring about the more severe and more likely to be fatal burns in a cat’s or a dog’s oesophagus.
Although traditionally lilies are not considered a Christmas festivity, it is still very important to know the danger that they pose for cats. Lilies are very toxic flowers, that any consumption of lilies by cats including just a few nibbles, a drink of spilled vase water, or the ingestion of a small amount of pollen could be enough to place a cat into a debilitating and potentially fatal acute kidney failure.
Cats that have consumed lilies must be taken to the vet immediately for veterinary evaluation and treatment straight away. The benefits of early and aggressive diagnosistics and treatment typically bring about an improved prognosis for full recovery and a decrease in overall treatment costs. The ultimate goal for vets during such a situation is to prevent acute renal failure from occurring or to at least mitigate its severity if it were to occur.
Ornaments, Wrapping Bows and Ribbons:
Ornaments, wrapping bows and ribbons are all essential Christmas festivities that are used throughout the house to promote the holiday cheer. Broken glass, swallowed ornaments and the hangers from the broken ornaments can all create a great deal of harm upon a pet’s digestive system and therefore should be eliminated or placed in an environment that a pet cannot come in contact with to prevent the possibility of such harm from occurring.
Chocolate is a delicacy that is continuously associated with holidays and is very widespread during the Christmas season. However, to pets digestive systems chocolate is a nightmare, causing severe harm to the health of pets which could result in fatality. The primary concern with chocolate is the chemical compound, theobromine which can have a wide variety of dangerous effects upon the pet’s body. The greatest concern is theobromine’s ability to cause hyperstimulation of both the central nervous system (including the brain) and the heart. This excessive stimulation that can be caused by theobromine leads to potentially fatal health risks in pets with symptoms of seizures, cardiac arrest, abnormal heart rhythms, rapid heart rates (tachycardia), hyper-excitability and anxiousness. The amount of theobromine in chocolate will vary significantly with the amount of cocoa content in the chocolate. Thus, the darker the chocolate the greater the risk of health related issues if consumed by pets.
If pets do consume chocolate veterinary doctors should be contacted immediately so that a veterinary evaluation and treatment can be conducted.
Poinsettias are a widely used plant for Christmas decoration and can cause some mild digestive upset in pets if consumed. They are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs but should still be kept away from them as when ingested pets are expected to display mild signs of vomiting, drooling or sometimes even diarrhoea. Additionally, poinsettias can cause eye irritation and skin irritation including redness, swelling and itchiness.
How to Keep Your Cat Off the Christmas Tree
With the holiday season and new year approaching your cats may also want to get around the excitement and festivity of shiny decorations, large Christmas trees and sparkly tinsel. For cats, a Christmas tree is not only a playground galore filled with lively ornaments and dangly, shiny tinsel but also is riddled with free snacks in the form of pine needles that can cause severe digestive upset within these cats. The best ways to prevent such digestive upset in eager pets that love the holiday season from occurring, is to follow the following steps that depict ways of minimising the potential hazards that decorations present for our furry friends.
Making the Tree Less Attractive for the Cat
Unfortunately, the consumption of tinsel can cause a linear foreign body digestive obstruction within cat’s intestines which causes severe digestive disruption and damage. Therefore, removing any tinsel from the tree or any other environment that the cat is allowed in will prevent such digestive upset from occurring as cats are very attracted to tinsel’s dangly and shiny appearance that looks like a perfect play toy. Additionally, ensure ornaments are hung towards the middle and top of the tree rather than low where cats can easily get to them. Ornaments should preferably be large in size, sturdy (non-glass/breakable) and composed of wood, plastic, burlap or even felt to prevent ingestion, puncture and paw injury risks. Additionally, ornaments should not be hung by regular metal ornament hooks as they’re not very secure and can pose an ingestion, puncturing and paw injury risk if in contact with a cat. A great way to spice up your christmas tree with some festivity would be to add some jingle bells to the tree decorations as the ringing noise of the bell can deter and scare the cats away from the tree as well as alerting you that the cat is in the tree, allowing you to retrieve them before any more damage is done to the tree.
Defend the Base of the Tree
Tree bases are usually sharp and can pose a paw injury risk if stepped on by cats. A solution to this would be wrapping the base of the tree with aluminium foil as many cats hate the feeling of foil on their paws and the loud crinkling noise that it makes when they walk on it. A christmas tree skirt can be placed on top of the foil to conceal its appearance if you are worried that its appearance will take away some of the holiday spirit away from the tree.
Securing Your Tree
Cats love climbing trees and your colourful, shiny and sparkly christmas tree will be highly attractive for cats to undertake their rambunctious climbing pursuits. Therefore, it is critical in ensuring that the tree has a strong and steady support. A tree stand with a wide and steady base will be less likely to topple over from the added weight of ornaments and the enthusiastic tree climbing cat. Additionally, it is important to ensure the tree is placed away from furniture, perches or staircases that your cat could use as a launching pad to jump from.
Use Smells that Will Keep the Cat Away from the Tree
Cats detest the smell of citrus fruits, so a citrus spray can be used on and around the tree to prevent them from going near it as it can be overpowering to a cat’s sensitive nose which would discourage them from getting to close or nibbling on the branches. However, this citrus spray should never be sprayed directly on a cat and should not be used at all if you have an asthmatic cat as it can cause respiratory irritation. Oranges and orange rinds can also be used in your tree decorations to keep cats away from the tree.
Provide Better Perches for Your Cat
Although you have taken every precaution in minimizing the cat’s exposure to the tree, curiosity will often get the better of a cat who dosent have anything better to climb or play on. Therefore, providing them with a stimulating environment where they get the scratching, playing and climbing time that they need is essential. Cats will instinctively go towards tall perches where they can lounge safely and survey their environment, ensuring that these perches are away from the tree and are safe for the cat to use will be critical in minimizing its exposure to the tree.
When All This Fails:
When cats refuse to leave the Christmas tree alone despite the procedures taken to minimize their exposure as outlined above, it is best to consider moving the tree to somewhere that they cannot access. Closed doors or baby gates can be used to block off that area of your home from your cat. Alternatively, exercise pens or adjustable gates can be used to block and protect the tree away from the eager cat.
Other Safety Tips for Natural Christmas Trees:
Do not use tree preservative that contain high concentrations of fertilizer which can be dangerous and damaging for the cat’s digestive system if consumed by licking or drinking of tree water. Aspirin is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) that should not be used to extend the life of the Christmas tree if you have cats as it is highly destructive upon a cat’s digestive system as they can suffer bleeding and ulceration to their stomachs and intestines if inhaled or consumed by cats. Additionally, anti-tick products should be used if you have a natural Christmas tree to prevent any tick infestations that could otherwise infect the cat’s fur.