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How To Protect Your Pets From Holiday Hazards

How To Protect Your Pets From Holiday Hazards

The holidays are often a time of coming together with friends and family to celebrate. Keeping your pets safe during the holiday season can be challenging with extra busy schedules and changing routines. The holidays usually increase the accessibility to “Human” food and drinks that may be hazardous to your pets.

Did you know that in addition to food dangers Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, wrapping paper, and other decorations all can also be hazardous to your dogs and cats? Not to worry, though. Below are some often overlooked simple techniques to better pet proof your home for the holidays. Awareness of these potential hazards will make it easier to prevent them as you go.

How to protect your pets from their new “Christmas Tree” toy.

If your dog or cat is fascinated with your Christmas tree and won’t leave it alone, you might consider placing it in a corner where they will have less access to it. If that isn’t an option or they still won’t leave it alone, you may want to place a small wind chime or a similar noise maker on the bottom of your tree so there will be an audible alarm when your pet goes for the tree. This will at least allow you to react quickly and better monitor their behavior so you can redirect them or just make sure they don’t damage the tree or hurt themselves.  Another idea is to place a pet playpen fence around your tree to block them from getting to the tree. This might be a good solution while you aren’t celebrating Christmas directly or are away from home with your pets home alone.

Consider not putting lights near the bottom of the tree within your pet’s reach. Dogs and cats have been known to chew  Christmas lights and electrical cords.

Pets occasionally eat tinsel which can cause intestinal blockages.  These situations usually require surgery to resolve.

Live Christmas trees present a different hazard than artificial trees in that they require water.  This standing water in the tree stand can be toxic as it often mixes with harmful sap or contains poisonous fertilizers.  To reduce this risk, cover the water reservoir. You can make a shroud out of aluminum foil and cover the reservoir like you would cover a bowl, taking care to work the foil tightly around the base of the tree.

Cats and dogs sometimes  view decorative ornaments as toys to be played with and chewed on. As you can imagine, this leads to choking, intestinal blockages, injured paws, and mouths.  Hang more pet-friendly ornaments on the bottom of the tree and put the more dangerous ones high up on the tree if possible.

Naughty kitty playing with a Christmas ornament under a tree

Poinsettia, holly, and mistletoe plants are considered poisonous to cats and dogs. Putting these plants up high out of your pets reach is suggested.

Remember dogs and cats have an amazing sense of smell. When you hang food decorations on your tree such as gingerbread ornaments or popcorn on a string, they will smell it and be attracted to it.

Has your dog or cat ever knocked something off a table with their tail or nose? Lit candles can easily cause a fire when knocked over so it’s a good idea to place them on high shelves out of reach of your pets.

Lastly, when wrapping gifts, keep in mind that dogs and some cats find the wrapping paper, bows, tape, and other wrapping decorations fun to chew on. As with the other Christmas decorations mentioned above, ingesting any of these items can lead to vomiting and/or intestinal blockages

With these tips and techniques in mind, you can make this the best holiday season ever for your entire family!

For more information on foods to protect your pets from this holiday season, check out our previous blog article on  holiday safety tips for pet owners.

All of us at Deerfield Vet want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for making this another great year by allowing us the privilege of caring for your pets.

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Good Tidings

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Frosted windowpanes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the tree… The holidays are a time to eat, decorate and celebrate. However remember those same treats and trimmings can be potentially dangerous to our pets.

Sweets and chocolates can be poisonous. Chocolate contains theobromine –a potent cardiac stimulant. The highest doses of theobromine are found in unsweetened baking chocolate. Fortunately, milk chocolate has been “diluted” with sugars, creams and milk and contains much less theobromine. Milk chocolate ingestion can result in vomiting and diarrhea; it usually does not cause toxicosis unless a large amount is ingested. However, seizures and a dangerously elevated heart rate can easily occur when a 10 lb dog or cat ingests as little as ¼ ounce of baking chocolate. Xylitol containing sugar free chewing gum and candy can be hazardous. Xylitol ingestion can result in a sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures. There may also be a link between xylitol ingestion and liver failure. There was a 140 % increase in reports of xylitol poisoning from 2004 to 2005 at the Animal Poison Control Center.
Uncooked, yeast dough can cause alcohol poisoning in your pet. Alcohol is a breakdown byproduct of yeast and sugar fermentation. Rising dough can also bloat in your pet’s stomach causing severe abdominal pain. Many cases will require surgical removal of the dough and hospitalized supportive care.

Grapes and raisins when ingested can cause kidney failure in certain animals. Veterinarians don’t yet understand the causative agent or the exact mechanism of the kidney injury nor the exact amount ingested needed to result in kidney damage. Not all animals that ingest grapes or raisins become affected, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Take grapes and raisins off of your pet’s menu.

Holiday leftovers are often fatty, rich foods that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and lead to inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis is a serious disease that usually requires extensive hospitalization. Never feed your pet left over bones. Bones can lodge in the roof of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and the intestinal tract. Smaller poultry bones can splinter and lacerate the gastrointestinal mucosa similar to glass shards.

Mistletoe and Holly berries are especially dangerous plants. Be sure to keep these out of reach of pets and children. Don’t forget that your cat can be a sneaky climber and reach unthinkable heights when drawn to a new plant. Use artificial substitutes of both of these instead. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not toxic. Their leaves and branches can be very irritating to mucous membranes and thus may cause excessive salivation and vomiting but not toxicosis. Christmas tree tinsel, ornaments and needles can pose choking hazards. Ribbon and tinsel can cut the intestines and cause the loops to accordion onto themselves resulting in emergency surgery. Consider anchoring the Christmas tree to prevent curious cats from toppling the tree as they climb to the top. Remember most pets will help themselves to the Christmas tree water so don’t use additives or preservatives in the water.

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Is a Grain Free Food Right for Your Pet?

As a society, we have become very concerned about our diet and a number of health issues related to our consumption of various foods.  Gluten sensitivity in people is just one example and it has lead to many looking at “whole food” diets or even eating only foods that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed.  Naturally, pet owners will translate these concerns to their cats and dogs and look for more natural diets for their four legged friends.

Pet food marketers have been quick to respond to the public’s desire for grain free options in their lines of food.  Catchy brand names like “Taste of the Wild”, “Natural Balance” or “Earthborn” tempt the human shoppers.  But, are these pet owners choosing a diet simply based on marketing hype and the sales pitch in the store?

Many believe that the gluten sensitivities common in people are also a widespread problem in pets and chose a diet based on a lack of specific ingredients, such as wheat.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these particular problems occur regularly in dogs or cats.  Gluten-sensitive intolerances are documented in Irish Setters, but, to date, we simply don’t know if other breeds are affected and the problem has not proven to be widespread.

Jack Russel pups eating from bowl - Veterinary News NetworkAnother frequent reason for choosing a grain free pet food is that the owner believes that wheat, corn or some other grain is highly allergenic and causes food allergies for their pets.  The fallacy here is that many dogs are actually allergic to the proteins in the food.  In a review of 267 cases, wheat actually was responsible for fewer canine allergy cases than beef and dairy and corn comes in at a distant 8th, behind chicken, egg and lamb.

Some owners mistakenly believe that “grain-free” equates to low, or even no, carbohydrates.  Dr. Susan Wynn, a well-known speaker on clinical nutrition and integrative medicine, remarks that “if the pet food is a dry kibble, it contains carbohydrates.”  The manufacturing process to produce the dry diets (known as extrusion) won’t work unless a minimal level of starch is present.

Dr. Lori Huston, a Certified Veterinary Journalist and author of the Pet Health Care Gazette blog concurs.   She even mentions that many of the popular replacements for grains, like potatoes, can actually increase the carbohydrate content of the food.

Finally, a common myth is that our pets are unable to effectively digest the grains present in commercial diets.  The reality is that dogs do quite well digesting grains and starches.  Not only has decades of research proven this, but new genetic information shows our domesticated canine friends have many more copies of a gene for amylase than their wolf cousins.  This important enzyme helps cut starch molecules and enables dogs to effectively use grains as an energy source.

All of the above reasons aside, is there a downside to feeding grain free foods?  Overall, the consensus from veterinary experts is that these foods are generally safe and will also provide a complete and balanced diet for your pet.  In some cases, the levels of fat or protein may be higher than necessary for some pets and that could cause health issues.  To quote Dr. Wynn, since “excess protein is not stored by the body, high protein diets are often simply good for producing expensive urine.”

If grain free is an option that interests you for your pet’s diet, talk with your veterinarian.  We can help you sort through the myths and misconceptions that so often abound when it comes to pet foods.  This is especially important when it comes to food allergies.  Over the counter (OTC) “hypoallergenic” foods can often confound a food allergy diagnosis.  Studies have shown that these OTC foods may often contain the very allergens the owner is trying to avoid and cross contamination in the manufacturing process is a common occurrence.  In addition, one well known OTC pet food manufacturer was reprimanded by the FDA after lab analysis showed their lamb diet contained no lamb, but beef instead!

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The Silent Epidemic Affecting Our Pets

Veterinarians have estimated that more than 88 million pets are far too heavy and this tendency towards chubbiness is causing injuries, illnesses and even shortening life spans.  Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnection between what veterinarians tell owners and what the owners see in their pets.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) surveys veterinarians and owners each year to find just how overweight our pets are.  Recent surveys have shown that 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians, but 15 to 22% of owners see those same pets as normal weight!  In the words of APOP founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, pet owners have now normalized obesity and made fat pets the new normal.

What’s even worse is that despite veterinarians’ warnings, the numbers of fat pets continues to grow.  In recent years, pets classified as obese (greater than 30% above normal body weight) have increased after each survey.  This means that more and more pets are at higher risk for a variety of weight related problems.

Carrying excess pounds can cause pets to develop breathing problems, kidney disease and aggravate arthritis.  Cats are extremely prone to acquiring Type 2 diabetes when they are overweight and any anesthetic procedure for your pet is automatically more of a risk because of  increased body fat.

Above all, excess weight will shorten a pet’s lifespan.  A landmark study has shown that pets who intake a limited amount of calories actually live almost two years longer than pets without calorie restriction.

Pet owners are the major gateway to both preventing our pets from becoming obese and in helping them lose the excess fat.  After all, it’s the owner who controls the pet’s access to all foods!

So, if your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet as overweight, first, don’t despair.  Your veterinarian is happy to develop a plan that will safely and effectively lose the extra pounds.  Next, use tools like a Body Condition Score chart http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html to more fully understand what an overweight pet looks like.

Involve your whole family in the pet’s weight loss process.  Assign one person to be the pet’s primary feeder and make sure that no one else in the family is providing non-approved treats or snacks on the side.  It may not seem like much, but even a couple of dog biscuits each day can add an extra 50-100 calories.  That’s almost 25% of a small dog’s total daily requirement!

For obease pets, your veterinarian will recommend a prescription weight reducing diet for your pet.  Although you might be tempted to continue feeding the previous brand of food at smaller portions, this practice could actually lead to nutritional deficiencies.  Reduction diets are specially formulated to provide the right amount of all nutrients while still limiting the amount of calories.

You may need to change your pet’s feeding schedule too.  Most pet owners leave food out for their pets all day (free choice feeding) and that often leads to the obesity problem or they only feed a large amount once a day.  By feeding a the right amount twice or even three times a day, you can actually help your pet lose more weight.

Increasing your pet’s exercise is also a crucial component to weight loss.  Once your veterinarian gives the okay, try to work up to two 20 minute walks per day or even one hour long walk.  The extra benefit is the positive effects on your health also!

For cats use kitty toys to encourage play and movement.  Teasers on strings and even laser pointers can keep your cat moving and a couple of twenty minute sessions each day will help your feline burn more calories.

Once you have started the process, your veterinarian will want to see you for regular weigh-ins and consultations to make sure you are meeting goals and adjusting as needed. .

This is a serious issue and has proven affect on longevity.  We all want our pets to be with us for as long as possible, so helping them lose excess weight is just one way we can help make that happen!

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Feeding Bones is an Expensive Gamble.

We have all seen the cartoons and commercials depicting dogs burying bones and stashing them away for later.  Unfortunately, most pet owners are completely unaware of the significant risks and problems that are associated with feeding these treats.  The situation has gotten so bad that even the FDA has warned consumers to avoid giving bones to their dogs.

Advocates of raw pet foods and other so-called “natural diets” claim that, given properly, bones are a great way to clean your pet’s teeth and provide an instinctive means of stress relief. Some even state that bones provide important nutrients and should be included in your pet’s daily routine.

So, is it okay to give a dog a bone?

Most veterinarians answer that question with a resounding “NO” for several reasons.  One of the most common problems for a dog with regular access to bones is fractured teeth.

Attrition of canine incisorsVeterinarians will see unusual patterns of enamel wear, cracks in the teeth and even painful fractures of the canine teeth or large molars and premolars.  Even if the fracture doesn’t look serious, the connection of the inside of the tooth with the outside environment can lead to abscesses that show up on the muzzle or under the eye.  These conditions will require a veterinary dentist to extract the affected tooth or perform a root canal.  Either of these procedures will also cause pain to the owner’s wallet as root canals can start at $700 – $1000 and even extractions are rarely less than $500.

The American Veterinary Dental College’s website (avdc.org) states that dried natural bones are “too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass.”

Another common problem seen with dogs who chew on bones is an obstruction of the digestive tract.  These treats can become lodged in the esophagus, the stomach or anywhere along the intestines.  Blockages in any of these areas will require emergency surgery and several days of hospitalization.  A typical exploratory surgery to remove an obstruction caused by a bone or bone fragments can exceed $2000 or $3000!

Bones in a basket at pet store - Veterinary News NetworkCooked bones are especially dangerous as they have the potential to splinter.   These shards then can poke through the digestive tract or even lacerate other delicate structures, such as the tongue.  A pet who experiences a perforation of the stomach or the intestine may be at risk for a deadly case of peritonitis and an expensive trip to the animal ER.

Beyond these very common dangers, veterinarians will also see pets with bones lodged in their mouth, encircling the lower jaw or even serious constipation caused by bone fragments.  These conditions are not only painful, but just imagine how scary it would be to have a bone fragment lodged in the roof of your mouth!

Proponents of giving bones to dogs downplay these risks, citing the importance of matching the right type of bone to the dog.  They state that uncooked bones are much safer, decrease the risk of obstruction and provide more nutrients.

However, veterinarians routinely see the problems listed above with ALL types of bones.  It doesn’t matter if it is a large beef cattle femur or a poultry wishbone, the risks are still there.

With respect to the nutritional argument, bones are composed of minerals that are commonly found in many other foods and dogs can’t properly digest uncooked collagen, the main protein component of bones.  Your pet can get all the beneficial nutrients in other foods with a much lower chance of problems.

So, before you decide to follow the dubious information provided by these so called “experts”, spend some time talking with your veterinarian about these potential hazards.  They have seen the bad cases and can fully explain the very serious risks.

Many safer alternatives to bones exist for dogs and your veterinary team can help you find the right match for your pet.  It’s important that owners always supervise their dogs when giving them any chew item, especially one they have never had before.

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