Tinsel, pet treats, plants and other holiday hazards can harm pets

Make sure your pets are not hurt by holiday hazards.
Make sure your pets are not hurt by holiday hazards.

From stocking stuffers to tinsel and ribbons, the holidays are full of things that have the potential to harm dogs and and cats. Human treats such as chocolate can also  be dangerous.

Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has lots of advice about to keep pets safe.

If your dog received a stocking full of pet treats, make sure he doesn’t gobble them all up at once. According to Stamper, if he eats the treats whole, or eats too many at once, he may not be able to digest them. Unchewed pet treats can get stuck in the trachea (windpipe) or gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, and intestines), particularly in small dogs.

If your dog is in obvious distress from eating too much too fast, says Stamper, contact your vet immediately. Some telltale signs are drooling, choking, or vomiting.

Take note of timing. If a bone or chew toy lodges in your dog’s stomach or intestines, the symptoms might not be immediate. Hours to days later, he may vomit and have diarrhea, be less active, not want to eat, and have stomach pain. If the blockage stays there too long, your dog may become very ill. The worst-case scenario is when a hole develops at the blockage site, causing a life-threatening infection.

“When in doubt, contact your veterinarian, who may need to take x-rays or use an endoscope to see what and where the problem is,” Stamper says. Your dog may even need surgery to remove blockages in the intestines.

Tinsel and Ribbons

When decorating your tree and wrapping or unwrapping gifts, keep a close eye on where you leave your leftover tinsel, string, and ribbons.

“Your cat may find these decorations irresistible because they look like easy-to-catch, sparkly, and wiggly prey,” Stamper says. In fact, they can cause serious stomach and intestinal damage.

Symptoms may take a few hours or several days to appear, and include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and decreased activity. Play it safe by keeping tinsel off the tree and collecting all ribbons and strings after gifts are opened.

Holiday Plants

If you have holiday plants such as poinsettias, holly, or mistletoe around, take care. When you display (or dispose of) these plants, your cat may decide they’re good to eat, Stamper says.

Poinsettias, for example have a milky white, latex sap that can irritate your animal’s mouth and stomach and may cause vomiting and diarrhea. “If your cat has snacked on poinsettia leaves, you can help him by picking up his food and water dishes for a couple of hours to let his stomach settle,” Stamper advises.

The National Animal Poison Control Center  states that the major toxic chemicals in mistletoe are lectins and phoratoxins. These chemicals affect the heart, causing low blood pressure and slowed heart rate.

“Fortunately for your cat, severe mistletoe toxicity is uncommon and usually occurs only if your pet eats a large amount,” Stamper explains. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, and odd behavior.

While holly isn’t as harmful, you should still discourage your pets from eating the berries and leaves, Stamper says. In both dogs and cats, the plant’s toxins can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and decreased activity.

Table Scraps

Resist the temptation to give your pet table scraps that are high in fat, such as fat trimmed from meat or skin from your roasted turkey or chicken.

“In addition to the typical gastrointestinal upset, rich, fatty foods can cause a potentially life-threatening and painful disease called pancreatitis,” Stamper says. The most common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, stomach pain, restlessness, shaking, diarrhea, fever, and weakness.

In cats, the symptoms are less clear and harder to notice, such as decreased appetite and weight loss.

And be careful what you put in the trash can, Stamper warns. Dogs, especially, are notorious for helping themselves to the turkey carcass or steak bones disposed of there. As with too many treats, bones can get stuck in your dog’s esophagus, or trachea. Sharp pieces of bones can also injure your dog’s mouth, esophagus, and stomach, and can cause severe internal injuries.

“Don’t forget, once dinner is done, dispose of the leftovers and bones somewhere where your pets can’t get to them,” Stamper says.

Other Human Treats, Including Alcohol

As many pet owners know, chocolate can be dangerous to your dog or cat. Chocolate toxicity depends on the type and amount of chocolate your dog has eaten, his body weight, and if he’s extra-sensitive to the toxic compound in chocolate called theobromine, Stamper says.

Moreover, the seemingly harmless mints common in the holiday season cause life-threatening problems for your dog if they contain xylitol, also found in food items such as candy, gum, some peanut butters, and baked goods, and personal hygiene products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash. Symptoms occur quickly after dogs eat xylitol-containing items, Stamper says. Vomiting is generally first, followed by symptoms associated with the sudden lowering of your dog’s blood sugar (hypoglycemia), such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, incoordination, collapse, and seizures. Check the package labels to see if they contain xylitol.

After eating chocolate, some pets develop more severe complications, including liver failure, bleeding disorders, and death. If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate or xylitol-containing items, consider it an emergency and call your veterinarian immediately.

Finally, there’s alcohol. Depending on how much they drink, pets that consume alcohol can develop serious problems. The most common symptoms in pets associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages are vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, weakness, decreased activity, difficulty breathing, and shaking. In severe cases, coma and death from respiratory failure (lungs stop functioning) can occur.

“Don’t accidentally leave your eggnog on the coffee table,” Stamper says.

 

Don’t eat the mistletoe and other holiday plant advice from UF expert

It's okay to kiss under the mistletoe.
It’s okay to kiss under the mistletoe.

Those plants you bought to beautify your home during the holidays may look lovely, but they can pose dangers to your pets and children, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences expert says.

Wendy Wilber, statewide master gardener coordinator for UF/IFAS Extension, warns of four types of holiday plants that could bring peril to your dog, cat or small child, if they eat parts of them:

  • Poinsettia: These are not toxic, but they can be an irritant, if consumed. Symptoms include a mouth rash and upset stomach in children or pets who eat too many leaves or bracts. The milky sap in the plant can irritate the skin. Pets and kids would be attracted by the colorful foliage.
  • Holly berries: These cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and drowsiness if a child eats as few as two berries. Most of the time, the berries fall off a decoration and onto the floor, and that is where a child or pet might find the red berries and eat them.
  • Mistletoe: All parts of the plant are toxic if consumed. The white berries seem to be the most attractive to kids or pets. Consumption of mistletoe can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, changes in blood pressure and death. Wilber urges you to seek medical attention immediately if someone consumes parts of mistletoe.
  • Amaryllis: The bulb has the toxin Lycorine in it. One would have to eat a lot of bulbs to become sick from it. “But having been the owner of a Labrador retriever, I know these things are possible,” Wilber said. “So amaryllis is more of a concern for pet owners.” For the dogs or cats who eat a lot of bulbs, one would see diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. She urges you to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Wilber’s advice is simple.

“Keep holiday decorations out of reach, and make sure no pieces fall on the floor,” she said. “Or skip mistletoe and holly until the kids are a little older.”

For information about keeping your children and pets safe from the potential perils of holiday plants, go to: http://bit.ly/1TnyoyD.

Low gas prices could spur some consumers to spend more in stores

Some consumers say they will spend more in stores because gas prices are low.
Some consumers say they will spend more in stores because gas prices are low.

Two in three gasoline customers report that gas prices in their area are lower than they were last month, and the continued drop in prices could spur last-minute shopping at stores over the holiday season, according to the latest Consumer Fuels Survey results released by the National Association of Convenience Stores.

More than one in four consumers — 27 percent — say that they will increase their spending this month, an increase from the 24 percent who said so a year ago in December 2014, the survey found.

Two in five (40 percent) of  Millennials, people age 18 to 34,  say that they will increase their spending this month, an increase from 33 percent in December 2014.

Younger consumers also will be driving more: 39 percent say they will be driving more this month than last month, significantly higher than the 22% of Americans overall who expect to drive more this month.

Nationally, consumers report a median gas price of $2, 20 cents lower than last month and 70 cents lower than they were in December 2014.

Looking forward, consumers continue to grow more confident that gas prices will stay low over the next month. Only one in three fuel consumers  say that they expect prices to be higher in thirty days, the lowest number that have predicted increased prices since January.

“The rise or fall of gas prices is one of the best predictors of overall economic optimism — 71 percent of Americans said gas prices affect their feelings about the economy — but the link has been much weaker the past few months,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “The current political climate may play a role — the last time we saw a similarly weak link was in October 2013 with the federal government shutdown.”

NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80 percent of the gas sold in the country, conducts the monthly consumer sentiment survey to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The NACS survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,104 gas consumers nationally were surveyed December 8-11, 2015. Summary results are available at www.nacsonline.com/gasprices.