Here we are again in late December buying gifts, planning family visits, and hopefully taking some time off work. The holidays are meant to be filled with love and good cheer, but for most of us, they can also be pretty stressful. That goes double if you’re the owner of a dog who isn’t comfortable around people, and you’re expecting a houseful. And it’s not just unfamiliar people that can be an issue for dogs around the holidays; there are foods that aren’t normally around, or at least not in such proliferation, along with other seasonal dangers. So hey, what better way to celebrate the holidays than discussing things that can stress or kill your dog?
First, visitors. If you have a dog who’s comfortable with unfamiliar people, great! But even then, regulate how much excitement he’s getting, especially around small children, as dogs can become overstimulated (as can kids). Accidents can easily happen when kids get knocked down or mouthed, even if it’s done in a happy way. And kids can behave in a less than gentle manner around dogs. Give your dog periodic decompression breaks where he can chill out in another room with a favorite chew bone or a stuffed Kong, and some nice, calm music (soft, classical music is best).
If you have a dog who’s not comfortable around new people, that decompression scenario may need to happen a lot more often. Play the calming music or provide some white noise (like a fan or those sound devices that encourage sleep) to screen out voices. If you can get your dog out for walks or to play in the yard, that will help to relieve some of his stress, as will spending time in the decompression area with him. Besides, you might both need it! And, speaking of visitors, be sure their suitcases and belongings are kept away from your dog. This is not just to protect the belongings, but to protect your dog; people often carry things like medications when they travel.
Now we move from the stressful to the truly dangerous. Back when I worked at a vet’s office, each year after the holidays we would receive reports from the emergency clinic about our clients’ dogs who had ingested things they shouldn’t have. Know what the number one item was? Sees Candies. I assume it’s because they were the most popular boxed chocolates back then, and may well still be. People would receive them as gifts and unwittingly leave them in their dogs’ reach. Chocolate contains theobromine as well as caffeine. Theobromine is the predominant toxin in chocolate, but dogs can’t metabolize it or caffeine. In general, dark chocolate has the most of these substances, followed by milk chocolate and then white chocolate. Signs of chocolate poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, and hyperactivity.
While we’re on the subject, here’s one you domestic types might not have considered: unbaked bread dough. A dog’s stomach will metabolize yeast into ethanol and carbon dioxide, which can cause bloat. Then there are grapes and raisins, like the ones found in holiday fruitcakes, which can cause kidney failure. And there’s the artificial sweetener xylitol. While many owners know about typical hazards, I find some are not aware of xylitol, which is used to sweeten some brands of peanut butter, among other things. So if you’re using peanut butter to stuff a Kong or in any way giving it to your dog, read the ingredients to be sure your brand is xylitol-free. Signs of xylitol poisoning are vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, and in severe cases, liver failure. Oh, and this last one shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but keep all alcohol out of your dog’s reach as well. Alcohol is often found not only in liquid form, but in holiday items like rum cake, for example. If you feel your dog might have been poisoned by any of these items, get him to your vet or an emergency vet immediately. There are also various pet poison helplines you can call; some are free and some charge a fee. Research them in advance and keep the phone numbers handy. Here’s one to get you started: the ASPCA’s poison control hotline is 888-426-4435.
Other holiday-related hazards include mistletoe (in large enough quantities, the berries can be fatal) and Holly. Tinsel is also very dangerous if ingested, as it can easily wrap around intestines or ball up in the stomach. If you have a Christmas tree, ornaments should be placed high up where your dog can’t reach, as the shards can be fatal if ingested. I’m not a vet and cannot offer medical advice, but I will share that I have heard of owners feeding bread after this has happened in order to help the pieces move through the dog’s system safely. Consult your vet in advance and keep whatever is recommended on hand. Getting back to the tree, the plug should be placed out of the way. If that’s not possible, either tape it down or run it through protective casing such as PVC pipe.
Well, wasn’t that cheery? Sorry to be the Harbinger of Christmas Doom! But if it saves one dog’s life it’s worth it, and besides, these are all things that are good to keep in mind and to help educate others. So please spread the word. Thanks for reading, and I wish you and your family, both four-footed and two, a very happy holiday!
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