By Janet McAfee

Thanksgiving week is here, and Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are coming in quick succession.  Christmas trees are going up, parties are planned, and holiday lights are brightening our desert.  However, this time of year also sees a dramatic increase in emergency trips to the vet for our four-legged friends. In the frenzy of activity, we may overlook the dangers that certain holiday plants, foods and decorations pose to cats and dogs.

One of your holiday party guests might be tempted to give Benji a sample from his plate.  Sugar, chocolate, turkey bones, gravy, and avocados can be harmful to a dog.  Onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, and nuts, (particularly walnuts and macadamia nuts) are very dangerous when consumed by a dog in large quantities.  If you’re hosting a party, keep the critters in a back room. 

Keep that bowl of holiday candy off the coffee table where a pet can reach it.  Chocolate in particular is very dangerous for animals. Candy and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol is very hazardous.   

Poinsettias are not as toxic as we once believed, however sampling a leaf from one can make your dog mildly ill or cause swelling to the skin.  Worse than poinsettias are holly, lilies and mistletoe.  A kiss under the mistletoe might add romance to your holiday, but it can cause erratic behavior and even cardiovascular collapse when ingested by your pet.  Mistletoe berries can also be a hazardous. 

Dr. Lillian Roberts of Country Club Animal Clinic in Palm Desert advises pet owners, “Avoid ornaments or decorations that are small and easy to swallow, as these can quickly lead to intestinal blockage and emergency surgery.  This also includes tinsel, ribbon, and small loose bells that cats find irresistible. I once x-rayed a dog only to discover an entire glass ornament sitting in his stomach.  Surgery was needed to get the ornament out.”

Dr. Roberts offers these additional tips to keep your animals safe and healthy:

(1)  Unplug Christmas tree lights and other electrical decorations when you are not home.  Cords are attractive chew toys for kittens and puppies.

(2)   Make sure anything you add to the water under your tree is not poisonous.  Pets WILL drink from this bowl.  Flocked trees are also a bad idea.

(3)   You can feed your dog turkey in moderation, but don’t include the skin, bones or gravy.     

(4)   If your dog has a sensitive stomach or food allergies, don’t share your holiday meal. 

(5)   Make sure visitors don’t leave gates, doors, and windows open that allow animals to escape.   

Refrain from surprising someone with an animal as a gift.  Let people experience the joy of selecting a pet that meets their own preference.  Accompany them to a shelter to select a pet and pay their adoption fee.  Visit the Coachella Valley Animal Campus at 72-050 Pet Land Place, Thousand Palms, (760) 343-3644.  View their adoptable animals at  Rescue animals bring love to your home this season and throughout the year.   

Keep your vet’s contact information close at hand.  Contact Country Club Animal Clinic in Palm Desert at (760) 776-7555.  There is only one 24-hr animal hospital in the Coachella Valley which is VCA, 46920 Jefferson just north of Highway 111, Indio (760) 342-4712.  Contact the 24-hour Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.

I wish you and your pets a safe and happy holiday season!