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Nov. 23, 2020

Keeping pets safe throughout the holiday season

While some people plan to alter how they celebrate the holidays during the pandemic, many hope to continue traditions and keep a sense of normalcy. Even with celebrations modified, many still present risks for family pets.

Dr. John Buchweitz, head of the toxicology section of Michigan State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, or (VDL), sees the negative outcomes of pets being exposed to substances that cause injury, illness or worst of all, death. Buchweitz says that these instances tend to increase during the holidays.

“Pet owners should keep in mind that toxic effects depend on the substance, dose and size of the animal. The dose makes the poison,” said Buchweitz. “Right now, many of us are cleaning and sanitizing our homes more often than we might normally. And with cold weather coming, some people may be having issues with rodents or other pests trying to move inside. Chemicals found in cleaning products, household solvents, pesticides and rodenticides pose an obvious danger to curious pets.”

While these might be items that owners know should be kept away from pets, others aren’t so obvious. Many foods and medications that are safe for people are harmful to pets. This is because animals process many compounds differently than humans do.

Five holiday hazards to avoid:

1.     Food and treats: Holidays often mean treats but there are several foods we enjoy year-round that are toxic to pets. Grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, macadamia nuts, chocolate and foods containing the artificial sweetener, xylitol, should not be eaten by pets on any occasion.

2.     Plants and flowers: Poinsettia plants have a bad reputation but are only mildly toxic. Pet owners should be more concerned about lilies, holly and mistletoe.

3.     Beer, wine and cocktails: Alcohol can affect pets very quickly and can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature, as well as seizures and respiratory failure.

4.     Cold weather driveway dangers: Antifreeze and windshield deicing products, as well as motor oils, brake fluid and other solvents, often contain a type of alcohol that is particularly dangerous to pets. As little as a tablespoon can cause severe acute kidney failure in dogs and as little as a teaspoon can be fatal to cats. EXPOSURE REQUIRES IMMEDIATE, EMERGENCY TREATMENT.

5.     Medications and drugs: Keep all human medications securely out of reach of pets. Loose pills should not be kept in a plastic zip-top bag because they are too easy to chew. Medications – and purses or bags that contain them – should be out of reach of pets. Medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen are commonly found in homes but just one or two pills can be very harmful to pets. Other drugs used to treat depression, ADD/ADHD and high blood pressure (especially beta-blockers) can also be very dangerous to pets. Nearly 50% of all pet poisonings involve human drugs.

The legalization of both medicinal and recreational marijuana deserves a special mention here. Marijuana is toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Specifically, THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes people high, is toxic to pets. Products containing higher levels of THC (edibles, extracts) are particularly dangerous and pose a greater risk for poisoning.

What to do if your pet may have eaten something dangerous

If a pet has a known or suspected exposure to a toxin, call a pet poison hotline and/or seek emergency veterinary care. If you know what the animal ate or was exposed to, be sure to tell the veterinarian. It can also be helpful to bring it with you.

If a pet has been exposed to marijuana or another drug, be honest with the veterinarian. The doctors, technicians and staff at the veterinary clinic care about the well-being of the pet. Being open and honest helps them to provide the best and most appropriate care as quickly as possible and avoid unnecessary tests or treatments.

The Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center Emergency and Critical Care Center is open to treat any life-threatening conditions. If your pet requires emergency veterinary care, please call (517) 353-5420 immediately.

Please note, the Hospital is on revised operations due to COVID-19.

By: Courtney Chapin and Katheryn Kutil

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