In the immortal lyrics of Andy Williams, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Now, be that as it may, to continue the tithings if good cheer and prevent a possible trip to the veterinary emergency room we’ve got some precautions for you. These are especially important if you are considering a puppy as a gift for a loved one, or have recently adopted/rescued a dog and this will be the first holiday season you’ve had with the dog.
1. Keep the candy dish out of reach of your four-legged family members. Just incase you missed the memo, chocolate is toxic to dogs. Well, no… Not really. There’s a little more to it than that. Let’s get sciencey. Chocolate contains substances known as methylxanthines (specifically caffeine and theobromine), which dogs are far more sensitive to than people. Different types of chocolate contain varying amounts of methylxanthines. So technically, chocolate isn’t toxic to dogs, however, the theobromine in chocolate is. In general, though, the darker and more bitter the chocolate the greater the danger.
For example, Vincent (my 50 lb German Shepherd) could ingest 8 ounces (227g) of milk chocolate before getting sick, but can be poisoned by as little as 1oz (28g) of Baker's chocolate. The first signs of theobromine poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urination. These can progress to cardiac arrhythmias, epileptic seizures, internal bleeding, heart attacks, and eventually death.
I’ve talked to several people in the past who have bragged that they’ve given their dog chocolate and that Fido is just fine. Well, personally I’m not willing to take that chance. Need I go over the complications brought on by theobromine poisoning again? The afore mentioned are horrible ways to die. Do your dog a favor and just keep the human candy out of reach.
2. That Christmas tree sure does look nice there in the corner of the Livingroom. Keep an eye on your dog around it though. There are a few dangers herein that you may not be aware of.
Needles: Don’t let him chew or swallow fallen Christmas tree needles. They are not digestible and can be mildly toxic depending upon your dog’s size and how much he ingests. The pine tree oils can irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach and cause him to vomit or drool excessively. Tree needles can also cause a small bowel obstruction or perforation. It’s important to point out that both of these conditions will require surgical corrective intervention.
Water: Pine water can poison your dog. Preservatives, pesticides, fertilizers and other agents, such as aspirin, are commonly added to tree water to keep the tree fresh. Treated water can be harmful to a thirsty dog, so use a covered tree water dish to be safe.
Lights: Don’t string the bottom of your tree with lights unless your dog is conditioned to leave the lights alone; some types can get very hot and burn the dog. Firmly tape cords to the wall or floor and check them frequently for chew marks or punctures. Dogs who gnaw on electrical cords and lights could end up with serious electrical burns. An electrical burn cause by chewing on wire also can cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) which can be fatal.
Ornaments: If you decorate the tree with glass ornaments, your dog (especially puppies) may knock over the tree trying to get to one, or injure itself trying to play with a broken one. Swallowing an ornament also can cause a gastrointestinal blockage. Some ornaments may be lethal depending upon the materials or chemicals used to create them.
Hooks: Use ribbon, yarn or lightweight twine to hang your ornaments avoid use of traditional wire hooks which can snag an ear or wagging tail. If swallowed, they can lodge in your dog’s throat or intestines.
Tinsel: If you trim your tree with tinsel beware that your dog may be attracted to it due to its shiny and reflective nature. If they can get it into their mouth it can become an air way obstruction, or a blockage of the GI tract. Surgery is often necessary to remove the tinsel from the GI system. In the unfortunate event that your dog is choking on the tinsel and you see it hanging out of their mouth, DO NOT try to pull it out. Because you don’t know what’s on the other end of the tinsel pulling it out could make the injury far worse. The same goes if the dog is defecating and you see tinsel hanging from the rectum.
It may seem like a lot, but rest assured it really isn’t. Some basic obedience training for the dog will mitigate many of the holiday risks prevalent around the winter holidays. Otherwise, just keep an eye on the dog(s) when they’re in the living room with the tree and when you cannot realistically watch the dog, crate him until you can.
Written by: Jason Sigler. Canine Training and Behavior Specialist, and blog contributor.