Holiday Hazards for Dogs

Holiday Dog With Christmas Tree
Hi to all my dog friends,
Although the below article was written for assistance dog handlers by Fine Line K9, it applies to all dogs.

Holiday Hazards and Assistance Dogs
It’s true, dogs can succumb to Holiday Madness. Dogs, like humans, can be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells, and yes, tastes of the holiday season. Add sensory overload, numerous tasty temptations and a distracted handler, and even the best trained assistance dog will snatch a turkey bone off an unattended plate, or merrily chomp on a gingerbread man hanging at nose level on a Christmas tree. But holiday hazards are not limited to a few stolen tidbits or naughty behaviors performed behind the back of a preoccupied handler. By far, the holiday season is when more dogs need veterinary care due to cuts, burns, electrocution, or the ingestion of inappropriate items or foods than any other time of year.

Below are a few of the hazards assistance dogs face during the holidays.

Christmas/Holiday Plants:
Holly berries and leaves can cause digestive discomfort and vomiting. For certain sensitive dogs, or when ingested in large amounts, holly berries can also be fatal.
Poinsettia will blister a dog’s mouth and can also cause stomach upset.
Mistletoe, in small amounts, can cause stomach upset and in severe cases heart collapse.
For the dog’s safety, it’s best to use artificial Christmas plants instead of real ones. If, however, you want to use real plants, be sure to place them on high surfaces and ensure your dog can’t reach them.

Christmas Trees:
Christmas tree water: Many commercial, or even homemade, Christmas tree water formulas contain large amounts of sugar that helps nourish the tree and keep its needles hydrated. Although this added sugar is good for the tree, it can entice many dogs to drink the water in tree stands. While the sugar itself isn’t that dangerous (unless the dog has certain health conditions), the chemical preservatives in commercial tree water additives can be toxic and do present health hazards to dogs. As well, most homemade Christmas tree water recipes call for a large amounts of sugar and aspirin. Aspirin taken in larger than prescribed doses can, at the least, cause stomach upset. However, high doses are toxic and may cause stomach bleeding, can dangerously thin the blood and may cause damage to the liver or kidneys.

Tree decorations: Tree decorations are often made of materials that attract dogs. While tree decorations like tinsel, shiny stars and glittery glass balls will visually attract dogs, many homemade ornaments are made of food products that tempt dogs to sniff at and taste them. These food based ornaments are made of a variety of yummy products like: cookies; popped corn; dried fruit; candies; flour-water dough for sculpting; etc. Because these lovely homemade decorations are so enticing, many Christmas trees are pulled over by dogs trying to snatch a gingerbread man or pull off a string of caramel corn. Aside from the unwanted extra sugar and calories ingested by the dog, these dog-tree mishaps often come with veterinary bills to deal with: injured paws cut on broken light bulbs or glass globes; electrocutions when strung lights are bitten or dogs are entangled; or surgery to remove digestive blocks or life threatening items like ornament hooks, broken glass, hard sharp plastics, etc.

Also, since many assistance dogs are retriever breeds, a tree full of round shaped items may look like a tennis ball jackpot! And don’t forget about the dogs that may view a decorated tree as a toy treasure trove. As well, be mindful of young teething dogs or dogs apt to chew while bored. These dogs are more likely to chew: electrical wires, which can cause severe injury or death from electrocution; glass, metal and hard plastic ornaments which can cause mouth and digestive track injuries and bleeding; and soft cloth or spongy ornaments which can cause choking/breathing disruptions and/or intestinal blockages.
Snag Hazards:

Service dogs often wear adaptive equipment such as: guiding, pulling, bracing or counter-balance harnesses; collars that have built-in features like loops (to help with transfers), pouches or caddies (to store emergency medications and/or instructions) and oversized I.D. tags (containing emergency instructions, service dog organization contact info, etc). Although this type of equipment is often vital for the dog’s disabled partner, it increases their risk of being snagged on festive displays or decorations.  During the holiday season, homes and businesses can become quite crowded with features like: Christmas trees; free-standing displays; strings of lights; etc. This often means service dogs have a lot less room to perform their duties or to walk about. When adaptive equipment is added to these narrower walkways and cramped spaces, many service dogs will be snagged, simply because there is not enough room to accommodate both the dog and the adaptive equipment they wear. Additionally, what dog doesn’t look great in an ugly holiday sweater, festive ruffled collar or snazzy holiday hat, but be aware, these can snag on holiday decor as well.

When setting up holiday decorations be mindful of how much space your dog and their equipment needs. Although that string of lights might look beautiful framing a door, the transfer loop on your dog’s collar or harness is liable to snag on strung lights, which can cause paw injuries when bulbs break, or electrical shock hazards to you or your dog when unwrapping the dog from live wires.
Candles and Open Fireplaces:

Needless to say, fire and dogs just don’t mix. Long tails can effortlessly sweep candles off coffee tables and fringy fur makes a perfect wick for dogs near lit candles or lying beside open flame fireplaces. While the soft light of a candle or the warm glow of the Yule log is cozy and comforting to humans, curious or heat-seeking dogs can easily be burned or cause household fires.

Unlit Candles: Aside from the hazards that open flame candles present, unlit candles can be dangerous as well. During the holidays, candle manufactures offer a variety of scents that can pique a dog’s appetite. Scents, or as dogs view it “flavors”, like apple pie, caramel corn or cranberry-vanilla are irresistible to many dogs. And candles made of natural products like soy, bee’s wax, animal fats or food based scents just increase the attractiveness of these products.

When hard paraffin wax (a petroleum product) is ingested, it can cause digestive upset and in worse cases intestinal blockage.
Liquid or softer paraffin candles, however, are often made by adding other synthetic oils that can be absorbed in the digestive tract and are likely to cause toxic conditions. Candles made of natural products like tallow or bee’s wax may seem healthier, however, when consumed by dogs they can also cause a host of problems like stomach upset, digestive track blockages, gallbladder problems and pancreatitis.
Bones, Nutshells, Pits, Leftovers, Foil or Plastic Wraps Etc:

With the holiday season comes holiday food. Often trays of nuts in shells, slabs of carved meats and whole dried fruits are left about for guest to snack on at will. During this time, it’s not uncommon to see unattended plates with bones, nutshells or other leftovers littering a TV room during college bowl games. While many people will watch or protect food they are eating, once done they may have little awareness of their leftovers. While humans may see a platter of fatty ham bones as a mess that needs to be cleared away, dogs see this as a yummy jackpot that should be eaten now! — Of course the veterinarian reading the x-ray is likely to see an intestinal block from a large knuckle bone or an inflamed pancreas from over consumption of fats.

Remember, bones, nutshells, fruit/vegetable pits, large slabs of fat, food covered foil or plastic wraps and many other leftovers are hard to digest or are indigestible for nearly all dogs, especially when consumed in large amounts.

Holiday Sweets, Desserts and Chocolate:

During the holidays, trays of cookies, boxes of fudge, pyramids of candied fruits and a boundless supply of chocolates are easily available to human residents and holiday guest. This, however, means dogs also have easy access to sweets as well.
In general, owners should avoid feeding their dogs sugary foods. Aside from the behavior issues this can cause (spoiling, picky eating, food preference problems, etc.), sweets and dessert foods are just not healthy for dogs. Problems such as digestive upset, hypo or hyper glycemia, pancreas or gallbladder issues and weight gain are all health problems sugary foods can cause.

Chocolate Toxicity: Plain and simple, chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Although in order for a Labrador Retriever to die from chocolate toxicity, they would have to consume more chocolate than most people would have in their home at any given time. Still it’s important to remember that even small amounts of chocolate can make many large dogs feel sick or under the weather. On the other hand, a hungry small dog could easily eat a box of assorted chocolates or fudge, and this can be fatal.

Article Furnished by Roberta Raymond D.V.M.
Blue Cross Pet Hospital
7615 Fair Oaks Blvd
Carmichael, CA 95608
(916) 944-3850


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