Dr. Tony Johnson
As pets take on a more important role in our lives, they are increasingly a part of our holiday festivities.
I love the holidays, but emergency veterinarians like me definitely see more pets in our ERs as people cook, bake and visit their way toward the new year. I hope this information helps keep your pet safe during all the fun.
-- Plants: Some folks think that their pet being anywhere within a three-block radius of a poinsettia will cause Mr. Whiskers to spontaneously explode, but you can rest assured that this is not the case. Yes, if eaten in sufficient quantities, the poinsettia can cause a mild and usually temporary stomach and intestinal upset, but this is more of a risk for your carpet than it is for your pet.
On the other hand, among the plants that do pose a hazard are mistletoe (causes more serious gastrointestinal and potential heart issues) and lilies (which can cause lethal kidney failure in cats at very small amounts).
-- Chocolate: If your 95-pound Great Pyrenees eats two M&M's, he's going to be fine, trust me. It takes quite a bit of milk chocolate to cause problems -- somewhere around one pound of chocolate for 30 to 40 pounds of body weight.
Remember, though, that dark chocolate is worse, and baking chocolate is even more toxic than dark chocolate. So if you are cooking with chocolate this season, save it for the revelers and not the retrievers.
-- Other food: Vomiting and diarrhea are common after eating too much food that's meant to be served to human guests, and this can trigger a serious condition called pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas -- the same gland that makes digestive enzymes as well as insulin. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it releases enzymes and begins digesting itself -- a serious and painful condition that often requires hospitalization.
Keep pets confined during any holiday parties, or make sure guests (especially kids) know not to give treats to your pets. Dogs have been known to drag an entire turkey off the counter when the owner's back is turned, so make sure you're aware of their whereabouts during meal preparation.
If you do want to include your pet in the meal and fun, stick to a bit of lean turkey and low- or no-fat veggies (no onions, though -- these can cause problems for dogs).
-- Tinsel: This stringy, silvery and not-at-all-edible stuff can get twisted up in the intestinal tract (usually in cats -- proof that feline smarts only go so far) and cause real problems. Keep it above cat-level on the tree and definitely consider not using it at all.
-- Alcohol: Talk about a buzzkill! First, I am telling you that chocolate and food are no-no's for pets, and now I am warning about drinking, too. But it's warranted, so don't get your Doberman drunk. Make sure that all the boozy party leftovers are well out of reach, and that no lampshade-wearing guests try to give your pug a mug of beer. No one wants to see a basset hound with a hangover -- it's just too sad.
-- The open door: People come and go more during the holidays than at other times of year, and all that traffic can lead to plenty of opportunities for escape. We see many pets who make a break for freedom when Uncle Floyd comes a-callin' with his special tuna surprise. Dogs and cats can dart out the door without anyone noticing, and there's a whole big world of hurt just waiting for them out that door.
Make sure that pets are safely put away when you are expecting guests, and take a nightly head count to make sure that all the furry family members are accounted for before turning in for your visions of sugar plums.
Happy holidays to you and yours! Here's hoping you have a safe and sane season, and all family members make it through safely, no matter how many legs they have. And that if you see an ER doc like me, it's socially, not professionally.
Dr. Tony Johnson, an emergency and critical care specialist and a member of the PetConnection advisory team, is a clinical assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Good fences make
for safer dogs
Q: I am moving to a new home that doesn't have a fence, and I can't afford to change that anytime soon. I've heard that pouring ammonia around the perimeter will keep the dogs in their place, but does it really work? -- N.L., via e-mail
A: Ammonia won't work. Your dogs won't like the smell, but it won't slow them down for a second in their hurry to explore their new neighborhood.
Secure fencing is the only long-term solution. In the short term, you'll need to take them out on leashes, put them on tethers or place them in runs.
Tethering is not a good long-term solution, so please don't even consider it as a permanent fix to your problem. Dogs do not do well when tied up; some even learn aggressive behaviors that lead to attacks on anyone (especially children) wandering into the animals' reach. Tethering has other hazards, too. Your dogs can tangle up their lines and become unable to reach food, water or shade, or loose dogs can attack them. For these reasons, I recommend tethering for short periods at a time, and always under supervision. And remember: Never use a choke-chain collar with a tether. It's too easy for a dog to strangle himself.
Ready-made dog runs can be found for a couple hundred dollars, snd even less if you are able to find one secondhand. These will keep your dogs safe during their potty breaks.
Since I know someone will write to recommend electronic fences (systems that give dogs a shock when they near the perimeter of a property), let me say I don't recommend them. While they may keep an animal on the property, they won't protect a pet from other animals, pet thieves or harassment by neighborhood kids.
And that's if the fences are working perfectly -- as with any piece of equipment, these systems can be improperly installed or can malfunction, allowing your pet to escape or be shocked without respite. Finally, a very strong-willed dog will sometimes choose to take the shock to get out of the yard with enough temptation (such as a squirrel), but he won't choose to do so to get back in.
Real fences are always the best choice for safely and securely containing a dog, and if that's not possible, keeping your dog inside and leash-walking for exercise and relief is the next best thing. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
cats go home again
-- Many lost pet cats are presumed to be strays, a presumption that almost eliminates the chances of a reunion, even if the animal lands in a shelter. A study by researchers at Ohio State looking at data from 53 shelters in 23 states suggests that the biggest change to this sorry statistic is the use of microchip identification. According to the research, the return-to-owner rate for cats was 20 times higher -- and two-and-a-half times higher for dogs -- for microchipped pets compared to rates of return for all stray cats and dogs that had entered the shelters. When a pet had a microchip, owners were located almost three-quarters of the time. When owners couldn't be found, it was usually because the pet's information hadn't been updated within the chip registry.
-- Seagulls carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria on their bodies, causing concern that the birds are spreading so-called "super bugs." Portuguese researchers believe migratory birds are spreading the bacteria through their droppings, probably after picking them up while sifting through human garbage. Similar antibiotic-resistant bacteria have also been found on other scavenger animals. Healthy people are usually not affected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the risk is severe for those who are immunocompromised.
-- The world's longest and tallest cat is a Savannah cat, with individuals more than 18 inches tall and almost 42 inches inches long. The Savannah is the offspring of the African serval and the domestic house cat. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.