Christmas decorations can cause problems for pets. While most people know about the common holiday dangers including tinsel, candles, electric cords and ornaments, few people know about a potential danger hiding at the base of the tree – Christmas tree water.
The big problem from Christmas tree water is bacterial overgrowth in the stagnant water. In warm indoor temperatures, bacteria can multiply quickly. When consumed by pets, this often causes vomiting, anorexia and/or diarrhea. Most animals will recover with supportive care including fluids to correct dehydration, antibiotics to get rid of the bacterial overgrowth, probiotics to repopulate the gastro intestinal tract and a bland diet.
Tree extenders are a mix of fertilizer and sugar to keep trees fresh. If the concentration is low, pets will suffer from gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea), irritation to their mouths, esophagus and stomach. If the concentration is high, cats may develop a serious condition called methemoglobinemia.
To keep your pets safe, I recommend blocking access to the tree stand. If that isn’t possible, use plain water for trees and change it frequently. Although adding bleach may decrease bacterial growth in the water, I certainly do not recommend it. Bleach causes gastrointestinal irritation. I have seen it cause severe ulcers in cats and dogs. Please, never use bleach in any place where animals have access.
I hope you and your pets have a wonderful and safe Christmas!
Salt is widely used in food to prevent spoiling and to provide taste. In small quantities, it is not harmful to humans or animals. But consuming large amounts can be deadly. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs and birds can become poisoned. When large amounts of salt are ingested, the salt is absorbed into the bloodstream. A sudden increase in Na+Cl- attracts fluid from other places in the body back to the bloodstream causing dehydration. Organs shrink in size due to the loss of fluid. When the brain shrinks, blood vessels inside the skull can tear and bleed. Intracranial hemorrhage is a life-threatening condition that must be corrected immediately to prevent coma and death.
Clinical signs in the early phase of salt poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and lethargy. As the condition worsens, the animal walks like it is drunk which is called ataxia then starts to tremor. Depending upon the amount of salt ingested, the animal may progress to seizures, coma and death. It is an awful way to die. Sadly, if the animal survives the initial toxicity, kidney disease may occur.
Besides the shaker filled with table salt, there are many other sources of salt that aren’t readily apparent. The list includes:
- Rock salt used to de-ice sidewalks and roadways during winter.
- Homemade playdough. Dogs love to eat ornaments made of dried playdough hung on the tree.
- Sea water. Please bring fresh water to the beach for your dogs.
- Paintballs are loaded with salt. Please clean up all the remnants after a party to prevent toxicity. Also, do not allow dogs off leash in areas used for paint ball.
- Jerky when excessive amounts are consumed.
- Sodium phosphate enemas.
- Rawhide when excessive amounts are consumed. I heard about a women who gave her Labrador retriever 12 raw hides in one day to keep him busy when she worked. The dog developed salt toxicity.
- Canned foods including soup and vegetables. Soup contains a lot of salt. Some canned varieties contain up to 60% of the recommended human daily dose of salt. Use fresh or low salt frozen vegetables with pets.
- Packaged breakfast cereal contains a surprising amount of salt. Pot bellied pigs have been known to break into the pantry and become poisoned after eating as little as two packages of breakfast cereal.
- Pretzels and crackers in birds. Birds, especially parrots, love crackers and pretzels. Please use salt free products to prevent toxicity.
-Salt, Pet Poison Helpline. www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/salt/.
-Shell, Linda. “Hypernatremia” VIN Associate, Last update 07/20/2007.
Winter holidays are fun but can present dangers for pets. Here are some of the common hazards for dogs and cats:
- Chocolate – Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which are toxic to animals. This fact surprises a lot of people because humans are fairly resistant to this class of drugs. We can drink a lot of coffee and eat chocolate without too many problems. But dogs are much more sensitive to the effects of these chemicals. The half life of caffeine in dogs is 4.5 hours while the half life of theobromine is 17.5 hours! The amount of these two chemicals varies with the type of chocolate. Milk chocolate contains the least amount of caffeine and theobromine while the bitter chocolate used in cooking contains the most. Dark chocolate falls in between. The general rule that I was taught in veterinary college is the more bitter the chocolate, the more of these chemicals and the greater the danger of poisoning.
- Lilies – Lilies cause severe kidney problems (renal tubular necrosis) within two to three days of ingestion. All parts of the plant are poisonous including the pollen. In my experience, cats are more attracted to these plants than dogs. If your pet is exposed, bring them in for veterinary care immediately! This is not something you can treat at home.
- Poinsettias – These plants irritate the mouth and stomach leading to vomiting and gastrointestinal upset. Despite the hype, I have never seen any serious toxicity from poinsettias ingestion.
- Mistletoe – At high doses, this plant can cause cardiovascular disease.
- Christmas Tree Water – Bacterial overgrowth often develops in the stagnant Christmas tree water. The water may also contain fertilizers. To be safe, use water free of additives and change it out at regular intervals.
- Batteries – batteries are extremely toxic to animals. Most batteries contain a strong acid or alkaline material that will burn any tissue it contacts. Some batteries emit an electrical current that causes severe electrical burns. Batteries may also contain heavy metals such as zinc, mercury and lead which are poisonous.
- Escape – During parties, open doors and gate provide opportunity for escape. In my practice, we see the most lost pets during holiday parties.
- Antifreeze – Antifreeze causes serious kidney damage and often death. If there is even a remote chance that your pet has ingested antifreeze, seek immediate medical care. Treatment will only help if given early to prevent kidney destruction.
- Electric cords – Electrocution is a big problem when the decorations go up. Keep pets away from electrical cords at all times.
- Tinsel and Ribbon – Tinsel and ribbon can cause serious damage to the intestines when eaten.
- Potpourris – Dry potpourris may contain toxic plants or cause obstruction when eaten. The simmer pots can also be dangerous if the pet drinks it or gets it on their fur.
- Candles – Thermal burns are common during the holidays. I see a lot of cats with singed whiskers.
- Xylitol – Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in many products including gum, mints, candy and even baked goods. When dogs ingest this compound, it causes insulin release from the islet cells of the pancreas. The insulin causes a drop in blood sugar. The drop is dose dependent which means the bigger the dose the more severe the drop in blood sugar. Dogs who ingest toxic doses of xylitol may be depressed, shaky on their feet, tremor and even seizure if blood sugar drops low enough. This effect lasts about twelve hours.
In addition to causing excessive insulin release, xylitol also harms the liver by causing necrosis. In my experience, the liver enzymes begin to rise about 12 hours after ingestion and peak about two days later. The full extent of liver damage may not be known for several days. Unfortunately, there are no antidotes for this poison in dogs. Victims of xylitol toxicity are treated symptomatically.
- Ornament Dough – Ornament dough contains high levels of salt that is dangerous to dogs and cats. Ingestion of a large amount can cause severe neurological disease including seizures.
-Lee, Justine A. ‘Holiday Dangers Poisonous to Dogs and Cats’ Midwestvet.net/resources/articles. Dec. 2016, pp 11-12. -Wisner, Tina, ‘Winter Holiday Hazards for Pets’ VIN Veterinary Partner, Published Dec. 11, 2001 and revised June 7, 2010.