The holidays are here, and it’s time to deck the halls, walls, staircases and mantles. The smell of good food, colorful twinkling lights and live greenery set the scene. The most wonderful time of the year should be filled with happy celebrations, but they might not be for our pets.
According to a University of Georgia Extension Service veterinarian, Dr. Jim Strickland, chewing on cords can cause electrical shock, and leftovers, especially bones, can cause gastrointestinal distress. Holiday candies are a choking hazard, and ingestion of chocolate, which contains theobromine and caffeine, can affect your dog’s nervous system.
If your pet eats chocolate, monitor for signs of toxicity appearing within 6 to 12 hours. Chocolate poisoning begins with milder symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, increased urination and, in severe cases, muscle tremors, elevated or abnormal heart rhythms, seizures or even collapse and heart failure. Always seek medical help from your veterinarian. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/3FivLji.
There are other dangers that aren’t quite so obvious — live plants, branches and cuttings used as decorations in our homes. Even live trees can be a potential threat for our pets. Toxicity depends on the amount of a plant that has been eaten. According to the UGA Cooperative Extension and the Department of Urban Plant Pathology and Center for Urban Agriculture, plant toxicities can be categorized in four classes:
- Major toxicity. May result in serious illness or death if ingested.
- Minor toxicity. May result in vomiting or diarrhea if ingested.
- Oxalates. Contains juice or sap with oxalate crystals that can irritate the skin, mouth or throat, and cause swelling, difficulty breathing, pain or an upset stomach.
- Dermatitis. Contact with thorns or sap may result in a skin rash.
Adverse effects can vary from severe to mild, with even common plants causing great distress. If you plan to use natural trees and shrubs as indoor decorations, familiarize yourself with the plants mentioned below in order to recognize symptoms if a potentially hazardous situation occurs, and keep these plants out of your pet’s reach.
Hazardous Holiday Plants
- Amaryllis (Hippeastrum). Stem, pedals, leaves, bulb (most concentrated)— toxic class 2 and 3.
- Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum). Berries can cause gastrointestinal upset, slow pulse — toxic class 2 and 4.
- Yew (Taxus). Needles, bark, fruit and cones can cause seizures, cardiac failure in some — toxic class 1.
- English ivy (Hedera helix). All parts can cause abdominal pain, hyper salivation — toxic class 2.
Additionally, there are four more plants that are not good for pets, but are not as lethal as once thought:
- A poinsettia’s milky sap may cause gastrointestinal upset.
- The Christmas cactus may cause gastrointestinal upset and loss of coordination in cats.
- Christmas holly’s leaves and berries may cause gastrointestinal upset.
- Christmas tree water may contain preservatives or fertilizers that could cause a problem if pets drink the water.
This article isn’t intended to be a replacement for any medical advice; its purpose is to bring more awareness as you look for your tree or holiday plants and decorations. Most important, if you ever suspect your pet isn’t acting normally, or their behavior is odd, contact your veterinary doctor immediately. (It’s a good idea to add their phone number to your favorites.)
– Jennifer Ruscilli is a Cherokee County Master Gardener who loves gardening, wildlife and pets. She also has previous experience as a veterinary associate.
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