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posted: 12/16/2012 6:28 AM

Holidays can be a dangerous time for our pets

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  • Izzy, a male, 3-year-old Chihuahua, weighs about eight pounds.

    Izzy, a male, 3-year-old Chihuahua, weighs about eight pounds.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Beat

  • Wrangler, a male, black Shepard is about 6 years old and weighs about 60 pounds.

    Wrangler, a male, black Shepard is about 6 years old and weighs about 60 pounds.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Beat

By Ellaine Kiriluk
The Buddy Beat

The Christmas season surrounds us with memories and traditions. One of our family traditions includes decorating two-thirds of our Christmas tree. The bottom third of our tree has lights but is devoid of any ornaments.

After 17 years, out cat Nutmeg is still fascinated by shiny orbs that move when he paws at them. He also lays under the tree, surveying the living room. He "hides" under the tree until the dog "finds" him, and the game of chase is on.

As we decorate, bake, visit and celebrate during the holidays, it's good to remember some of our holiday festivities can be hazardous to our pets.

According to Dr. Steven Marks, chief of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, "Having pets around during holidays is like having small children around -- you have to think of all the things they can get into."

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Animal Hospitals Association, Dr. Marks, and the Orange County Health Care Agency offer holiday safety tips for pets.

Dr. Marks notes, "Animals shouldn't eat foods during the holidays that they don't eat normally."

Certain foods are potentially dangerous to our pets. According to the ASPCA, our companion animals face serious consequences if they ingest chocolate.

"In any form, ranging from one-ounce baking squares to hand-dipped truffles, chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, both methylxanthines that can cause stimulation of the central nervous system, an increase in heart rate and tremors."

Other foods are also dangerous to pets. Onions are toxic, inhibiting an animal's ability to coagulate blood. Holiday foods such as turkey, ham and other fatty foods can cause pancreatitis, resulting in stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea.

If your pet gets a stomachache that doesn't improve in 24 hours, contact your veterinarian. Grapes and raisins can lead to loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and acute renal failure in dogs. And, sugar-free sweets containing xylitol can make dogs ill. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports a link appears to exist between xylitol ingestion and liver failure in dogs.

If you suspect your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call your veterinarian, your local emergency animal hospital or the APCC's emergency hotline at (888) 426-4435 for 24-hour assistance.

Holiday decorations may also pose a danger to our companion animals. Since cats love to climb trees, subsequently knocking them down, and dogs like to chew wires, Christmas trees may pose a danger.

Moving the wires out of reach or out of view will reduce the attraction. The Christmas tree should sit on a flat, wide base. Common practice is to anchor the tree with fishing line tied to a drapery rod or a ceiling or wall hook. If your Christmas tree sits in a pan of water, the water may contain preservatives. Using a tree skirt may limit the possibility of pets drinking the tree water and reduce the chances of him getting stomach problems.

Dr. Marks notes tinsel, garlands, ribbons, and other strings are particularly attractive to cats and pose a strangulation risk if they get wrapped around a pet's neck. If strings are swallowed, they can cause a serious blockage in the intestines, since they will not pass easily through the digestive system.

Plastic or Mylar gift wrap, Mylar balloons and plastic bags can become a suffocation hazard if left lying around. Cleaning up immediately after wrapping or opening gifts to picking up gift bags, gift wrap, ribbons and strings removes the hazard.

We also need to think of our pets during holiday parties and festivities. To reduce their anxiety and to keep them safe, separate them from the party in another room. Opening and closing doors with visitors coming and going provide an opportunity for a pet to get out of the house. This might be a good time to make sure our pets are wearing a current ID tag and are microchipped.

As you plan your holiday celebrations and outings, include a visit to the Buddy Foundation shelter. You can see the spirit of giving taking place in real time every day.

• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit us at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights; or online at