Whether naughty or nice, pets may face holiday hazards

Holidays are just around the corner. For me, that means lots of food and lots of people — friends, family, sometimes strangers, sometimes people I think are strangers but are really just family I met a long time ago. Let’s stick with food … It means gravy and blueberry pie and sweet potato covered with sugared pecans. The thought of it makes me drool, so can I expect any less from my dog Oreo? (Absolutely not.)

And the holidays are about giving, are they not? Think again … at least, when it comes to giving to your pets.

Oreo getting into the holiday cookie jar. (While his hat says "naughty," he's actually being quite "nice," posing for the photo. In all fairness, I put his dog treats in the jar and it took me several minutes to convince him it was OK to climb onto the table.)

Oreo , a pit bull from Brewer, gets into the holiday cookie jar. (While his hat says “naughty,” he’s actually being quite “nice,” posing for the photo. In all fairness, I put his dog treats in the jar and it took me several minutes to convince him it was OK to climb onto the table.)

In fact, pet owners need to take special precautions around the holiday season, according to a recent press release by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“This is the time of year that many veterinary hospitals report a significant increase in emergency calls particularly those relating to digestive tract disturbances resulting from exposure to foods pets simply should not have received,” said AVMA President Dr. Clark K. Fobian in the press release.

While I’m fortunate there’s an emergency veterinary clinic located near my home in Brewer, I don’t relish the thought of visiting it when I could be slugging nog and watching a Christmas claymation. So here are some tips, courtesy of the AVMA and reiterated by yours truly:

  • “Keep the Thanksgiving feast on the table — not under it.” Some human eatables don’t sit well in a dog’s stomach. In fact, many human foods are poisonous for dogs and cats, including onions, garlic, grapes and raisins (which are just dried up grapes, donchaknow.)
  • “Put the trash away where your pets can’t find it.” Not too long ago, a reader emailed me a story about his dog getting into the trash and eating a bunch of corn cobs, which had to then be surgically removed. If corn cobs can do damage, think about what a turkey carcass could do. AVMA warns that a pet feasting on a turkey carcass can result in pancreatitis, which can lead to death fairly quickly. The veterinarians of animalcarevets.com support that claim, warning that buttery and fatty foods can wreak havoc on a dog’s intestinal tract.
  • “No pie or other desserts for your pooch.” Chocolate is toxic for dogs. It’s serious. As in, it could be your dog’s last meal. How sick a dog gets from eating chocolate depends on the amount and type of chocolate and the dog’s weight. But dogs don’t know this; in fact, they love the smell of chocolate. So keep it well out of reach. And here’s something I didn’t know: AVMA warns that an artificial sweetener called Xylitol, common in baked goods and chewing gum, can also be deadly if consumed by dogs.
  • oreoholiday1113-1“Quick action can save lives.” Mistakes happen, especially when you’re in the middle of festivities. Between pleasing the in-laws, battling with gift wrap, basting a giant bird and remembering the rules of Dreidel, you just might forget about your pet — just for a moment. If while sweeping up a shattered tree ornament, you notice your pup Sparky isn’t looking so great, call your veterinarian or the closest emergency veterinary clinic immediately. Signs of trouble include: vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, shivering, fever and a painful abdomen.
  • “Visitors can upset pets.” Recently I threw a Halloween party. And instead of subjecting my dog Oreo to a night of confusing costumes, I brought him to the local dog kennel, where he could chew on his bone and sleep in peace. Another option is to keep your pets in a separate room with food, water, toys and a comfortable place to rest.
  • “Watch exits.” If your pets are cool around house guests, they still may try to sneak outside. Don’t underestimate the sneakiness of your pet. Make sure your pets are registered and wearing proper identification before the party starts.
  • “Watch your pets around festive decorations.” Pets often take notice when you make changes in their natural surroundings. For example, for Halloween, I hung a fake severed head from the light fixture in the hallway of my home. A few minutes later, I heard Oreo barking frantically. I entered the hall and found him fixated on the head. So I took the head down and held it in front of his nose. At first, he shied away, then he approached, took a few chews at the rubber decoration, and walked away. I put the head back up, and he didn’t bark at it again. My interpretation of the event is that Oreo thought the head was real or alive because of the hair; then, when he realized it was just plastic like his toys, he wasn’t afraid of it anymore. But I digress. Just be mindful of what decorations you put up and where. For example, some plants are toxic or just plain hazardous to pets. (Pine needles can cause intestinal blockages.)

oreoholiday1113-3One more thing: just because pet owners need to be extra careful around the holidays doesn’t mean they can’t treat their pets to a few treats in the spirit of Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, etc. Some safe holiday snacks for pets are carrots, green beans, apple slices, blueberries and small amounts of plain turkey. Or you could take your pup on an extra walk or purchase him a new toy. I’m sure Oreo will be pampered, just a little bit.

AVMA, founded in 1863, is more than 84,000 members strong. For information, visit www.avma.org.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.