Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Howl-iday Hazards

Pet mischief and mishaps are a traditional part of the holidays. Here are some things to avoid

The 6-month-old Lab puppy grazed on the Christmas tree, gorging on glass bulbs, shimmery tinsel and more. When his owners brought him to the veterinary hospital, swollen with swallowed ornaments, he resembled a four-legged black tick with a pink tongue. A dose of barium to illuminate the intestinal tract on radiographs and force out the intestinal contents worked quickly, and before long, the dog was pooping out pieces of glass, string and wire hooks. As a big wad of tinsel emerged, it gave him the appearance of a giant New Year's Eve party blower.

No doubt all of us have memories of a cat scrambling up a Christmas tree, a swooshing dog tail overturning a lit menorah or a canine or feline counter cruiser tucking into the roast beast. As we enter the holiday season, it's time to bone up on pet-proofing our homes to prevent pet mischief. After all, no one, least of all our dogs and cats, wants to spend any of the days between Thanksgiving and New Year's in the veterinary ER. We've gathered some cautionary tails -- er, tales -- to help you adapt your holiday traditions to the realities of life with pets.

A pointer we know made the news when he ate a child's pushpin craft made with marshmallows to form a snowman. The dog ate the entire thing and required emergency surgery to remove the pushpins. This year, the family will be surrounding the Christmas tree with a pet gate to prevent unauthorized ingestion of ornaments or presents.

Cats, famed for their ability to leap tall counters in a single bound, and their partners in crime, dogs of all sizes, are notorious for stealing food off plates, tables and counters, sticks of butter left out to soften, chocolate-covered espresso beans and marshmallow Santas (ask us how we know this). And we're not the only ones with larcenous animals.

Dexter, a parson Russell terrier, lives with a family who made the mistake of leaving a box of holiday chocolates sitting on their coffee table. They came home to find the contents strewn all over the floor, with much of it eaten. Dexter, apparently a discriminating dog, picked out his favorite varieties from the box. Fortunately, the only outcome was a case of diarrhea, but now family members make it a point to put unsafe food items (or anything they don't want him to eat) well out of their dog's reach.

In another case, curiosity didn't kill the cat, but it did cause him to get an unusual bath. Amanda Graves recalls the time her husband noticed that their Abyssinian kitten, Peyton, was looking a little greasy. Upon closer examination, he discovered Peyton was covered in chicken broth.

"He had pushed aside the silicone lid on a cooling stockpot of homemade chicken bone broth and had gone for a swim," she says.

Strategies that can help you head off holiday trouble include decorating with unbreakable ornaments, forgoing tinsel and putting unsupervised food out of reach.

To protect her cat Kismet, Sharon Melnyk gave up using ribbons to wrap presents.

"He would try to eat any kind of ribbon and once bit my finger trying to get at a ribbon I was holding," she says.

Choose pet-safe plants, too. Poinsettias have a reputation for being poisonous, but at most they cause mild stomach upset. Of greater concern are lilies, which can be lethal, and amaryllis bulbs and holly.

Our pets don't mean to cause trouble during the holidays; they just want to help us celebrate. These simple precautions make it easier and less stressful to enjoy the season.


Pain, scratching

signal ear problem

Q: My cavalier has something called "glue ear." Is this common in the breed? -- via email

A: That's a sticky problem. Glue ear, more formally known as "primary secretory otitis media," is a common problem in cavalier King Charles spaniels. It's not your typical ear infection: The dog's middle ear becomes blocked with a gooey plug of mucus. If it gets really full, the tympanic membrane can begin to bulge, causing pain. While it is seen most frequently in cavaliers, it has been noted in rare instances in boxers, dachshunds and Shih Tzus. In cavaliers, the condition may be hereditary, but as of yet, there's no definitive evidence of a genetic component other than its frequency in the breed.

We don't know what causes PSOM. It may be a problem related to the eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear and the back of the nose, which is how air enters the middle ear. Another theory is that it is related to the shape of the tympanic cavity. Signs of the problem include pain, especially in the head or neck area; or neurological signs such as head tilt or rapid eye movement. Dogs with the condition may scratch frequently at their ears, rub their heads, yawn excessively or cry out in pain.

In severe cases, PSOM may be visible via radiograph or even when the veterinarian takes a look with an otoscope. Other times, diagnosis may require a CT or MRI scan. Treatment involves removing the mucus plug and flushing the middle ear (a procedure called a myringotomy), followed by medication with corticosteroids and antibiotics. Treatment may need to be repeated more than once before it's successful, but generally PSOM has a good prognosis. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Pets with diabetes

can live normal lives

-- It's National Pet Diabetes Month. The goal of the occasion is to raise awareness of the disease among pet owners. Both dogs and cats can develop diabetes. The incidence in cats and dogs is the same -- between 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 -- and middle-aged or older animals are usually at higher risk. The cause in dogs, who typically develop Type 1 diabetes, is unknown but may be genetic. Risk factors in cats, who usually develop Type 2 diabetes, include a genetic predisposition, chronic pancreatitis or hyperthyroidism, obesity and an inactive lifestyle. Take your pet to the veterinarian if you notice him drinking more water than normal, having housetraining accidents, acting hungry or losing weight even if eating normally, and being unusually lethargic. With treatment, he can live a normal lifespan.

-- Have you met the pumi? The Hungarian herding dog -- don't confuse him with his cousin the puli -- has a gray coat with wavy and curly hair (he can also come in black, white or fawn with a dark mask) and cute, erect ears that bend over at the tips. The pumi coat should be combed regularly and trimmed every two to four months. The smart, lively and vocal dogs are on the smaller side of medium, weighing 18 to 33 pounds. Typical of most herding breeds, pumis have a protective personality when it comes to their people and property, and they require plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.

-- A Maine coon cat named Ludo is one for the record books. The massive feline measures three feet, 11 inches, making him the longest cat currently living, according to Guinness World Records. That's just shy of the world record, held by the late Stewart Gilligan, also a Maine coon. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.