'Tis the season, and the big day is almost here. Houses are decorated, Christmas trees are dressed and our animal companions are walking around the house thinking about all the neat stuff there is to play with. There are a few reasonsto avoid such interaction, not the least of which is that some degree of destruction might be involved.
It is natural for dogs and cats to be curious about the wrappings and ribbon on packages, the lights on the tree, the water bowl beneath the tree, the tinsel hanging from it, etc. But with this curiosity comes potential problems.
The water in Christmas tree bases can be toxic to our companions. I personally have never seen a case of Christmas tree water toxicity, but I certainly have heard of such cases. Do not let your companion drink that stuff! This includes dogs, cats and rabbits, or, for that matter, any species of companion that might have access.
As for tree lights, I have seen a handful of cases in which an animal has chewed on a cord, resulting in electrical shock. In two cases I recall, both cats, electrocution resulted. Curiously, I have known many rabbits to chew on electrical cords without incident. That said, I would advise that no companion be allowed access to electrical cords of any kind.
Package wrapping, if swallowed, can result in obstruction of the digestive tract. I have noted this in cats, dogs and rabbits, and these cases can result in the need for surgery to remove the wrapping. This is especially the case with plastic wrapping.
Ribbon used to wrap packages can present problems, as well. A piece of ribbon of significant length, when swallowed, can become what we term a "string foreign body" in an animal's digestive tract. One end of the ribbon can adhere to a section of bowel wall up closer to the stomach, while the other end can move down the tract to a further point and then adhere. With the normal contracting of the intestinal tract, the ribbon will cause the intestine to accordion into itself, effectively blocking the tract. This condition is fatal if not addressed immediately, because the intestine's blood flow is blocked by its compression. Surgery is the only treatment. Tinsel hanging from the tree can cause the same problem and seems to be highly attractive, especially to cats.
A final hazard is best observed by glancing in the mirror. That's right, it is us! Sometimes we think we are being kind to our companions by giving them inappropriate food (think "people food"). In reality, we could be putting them at risk for health problems. There are certain foods that are outright toxic to our companions: Chocolate, for example, is toxic to dogs, while other foods can cause problems in different ways. There can be long- term issues, such as obesity.
In my experience, high- fat human foods are the biggest culprit, and the holiday season certainly brings around plenty of those. Dogs tend to be the more common companions affected by their caretakers' inappropriate generosity with such food items. Meats, in my experience, are the biggest culprit. When a dog is fed a piece of steak or holiday roast, it usually represents some of the sections that we ourselves might not be eating; usually, this involves fat. I can't tell you how often I have cringed when a client tells me they routinely pour bacon grease on their dog's food. This load of fat can lead to pancreatitis in our companions, and in a worst-case scenario, pancreatitis can be fatal, even with aggressive medical therapy. Certainly many companions are fed what I consider to be inappropriate foods and do not have problems, but I am a firm believer in the notion, "Why take the chance?"
Merry Christmas to all, and that, of course, includes those four-legged friends that can't read these words.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.