In a normal year, the holidays are a time for family and friends, festive good cheer — and the normal dangers for pets. They eat too much people food, snack on poisonous plants and try eating a ribbon or two. In this most abnormal of years, add Covid-19 and pet parent burnout. In short, the holidays in 2020 should be a poster child for heeded cautionary measures.
Covid-19 for cats and canines
Although the virus is the most dangerous to other humans, it can affect animals too. Lorraine Corriveau, DVM, and professor at Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine , explained in a college communication that while there is limited information regarding coronavirus transmission from pet to person, there is evidence that people can transmit the virus to animals. “It appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations,” said Dr. Corriveau, “So, people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife.” It is the virus that leads to Covid-19.
As if the stress of the last 10 months hasn’t been enough, let’s add holiday stress to it. In the Before Covid times, animals could get into trouble in myriad ways — their owners are taking coats at the door, preparing a roast dinner, playing games after dinner. For a clever pet, a distraction is all it needs to steal a garlicky hors d’oeuvre or make a run for the glass Baby’s First Christmas ornament that hangs at paw’s reach on the Christmas tree.
In an article on Covid-19 panic, Elissa Epel, PhD, who studies stress, talked about Covid-19 and her work at University of California at San Francisco. “While some anxiety helps us cope, extreme anxiety can become coronavirus panic. When we are in a panic state … we stress out our children, we are more likely to make mistakes and engage in irrational decisions and behavior.”
While a little overindulgence can be okay for a human, it can spell trouble for a dog. The FDA explained that especially for pets who receive gifts of food for Christmas, allowing too much too fast could be an issue. “ Unchewed pet treats can get stuck in the trachea (windpipe) or gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, and intestines).” Some of the warning symptoms are obvious. The FDA listed “drooling, choking, or vomiting” and suggested calling a vet immediately.
Some food dangers can be harder to detect. “If a bone or chew toy lodges in your dog’s stomach or intestines, the symptoms might not be immediate,” the agency said. In this case, owners should look for vomiting, diarrhea, inactivity or loss of appetite. These symptoms may show up days later, but it is still important to get in touch with a veterinarian.
Deck the halls (just keep it out of reach)
Holiday guests bring all kinds of lovely gifts into the home that are not edible. The FDA singled out salt dough ornaments and decorative plants. According to the FDA, the amount of salt in salt dough ornaments could be deadly for pets. The agency has suggested keeping salt dough ornaments out of reach and explaining to children that the ornaments are strictly for decoration and should never be given to pets.
In fact, many ornaments can pose a risk to pets. Dogs should be discouraged from playing with glass ornaments, which can break. Glass balls are particularly worrisome because they look like a toy but can shatter into many sharp pieces.
Holiday plants are another area of concern. The big worry is poinsettias, festive red-leaved plants. Mistletoe and holly berries are also possible dangers. Pet owners should keep this festive greenery away from curious animals and if a leaf or two is chewed, they contact a veterinarian, or the ASPCA’s poison control number, (888) 426-4435 at any sign of vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, even the Christmas tree can be a risk magnet. Pets may drink the water in a live tree’s stand, so people should not add anything to the water. If their pet goes near it, owners should discourage pets from drinking it.
The tree itself can be a hazard, and a big one. Pets, especially kittens, might see this indoor tree as a chance to practice its climbing skills. The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests using fishing line to tie the tree to a door frame or the ceiling.
Human food can pose a risk to furry friends. Even though a bit of fatty turkey skin might seem like a treat, it is not. The FDA warned that “Not only can rich foods cause an upset stomach, they can also cause a potentially life-threatening and painful disease called pancreatitis.”
Even food that’s no longer on the table can be a risk. Beware curious canines getting into garbage and scraps.
Beyond meat and scraps, other foods like chocolate, artificial sweeteners and alcohol can all cause serious issues. In fact, researchers found that Christmas and Easter have the highest rates of vet visits due to dogs eating chocolate. It is probably best to get animal friends specific treats made for them. After all, few humans would be happy with milk bones and catnip; pets are no different. Getting the appropriate present is important.
The ASPCA also warns against cinnamon and nutmeg as well as garlic and onions, all of which are poisonous to animals. Garlic and onion, both the whole plant and in powdered form, are part of the allium family. According to the ASPCA, “ Cats are particularly sensitive to these spices. Garlic and onion can damage red blood cells, leading to anemia.”
The star on the tree
Poisonous greenery, unhealthy table scraps, well meant but inappropriate stocking stuffers — add to them the Christmas morning aftermath. Wrapping paper, string and tinsel can pose real problems. Like all decorations, they are designed to go outside the body, not in it. But, that won’t stop some pets, especially cats from trying to snack on them. According to the FDA, although ribbon and tinsel can be “…irresistible because they look like easy-to-catch, sparkly, and wiggly prey…they can cause serious stomach and intestinal damage.” The FDA suggests picking up ribbons and strings after a gift is opened.
Dealing with an accident
Of course, accidents happen. Turkey is left on the kitchen counter, ribbon is pushed under a chair, plants are moved from a table to make room for glasses and cookies.
This year, the FDA put together a special video because “at FDA we too consider our furry friends important members of the family.”
So, what are the risks to Fluffy and Fido?
If your pet succeeds in eating something poisonous, remember to keep calm. Even though office veterinarians may not be open on Christmas eve or Christmas day, emergency animal hospitals are usually open. It might be worth having phone numbers on hand, just in case. In addition to veterinarians, the ASPCA runs a 24-hour poison control line (although there is a charge). There are also online chat sites that can help you decide on the right course of action for your pet.