Holiday Season Pro Tips for Bernal Dogs, Cats, and the Humans Who Love Them


Neighbor Nicolette Zarday lives on Bernal’s tony west side, and she works as a veterinarian at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos. (You might remember her from such previous pearls of Bernal Heights pet wisdom as  “Foxtails: Delicious But Deadly.”) With the holiday season fast approaching, Neighbor Nicolette has shared some tips on how you and your critters can get through it all with your good cheer intact.

She tells Bernalwood:

Tis the season to eat holly, as well as poinsettias, chocolate, tinsel, ribbon, raisin spice cake, turkey carcass, and whatever is in the garbage can. You have no idea how delicious the compost bin smells this time of year.

At the pet hospital where I work, we generally see a lull in emergencies and appointments after the summer, but business ticks up around the holidays. Many of the problems are caused by “dietary indiscretion,” as we like to call it. Heartfelt gatherings of family and friends end an emergency pet hospital visit when the family dog starts throwing up after plundering an unattended kitchen. Some kitties just can’t wait until Christmas day to open the presents.

Here are some of the top holiday hazards to keep in mind. It’s not an exhaustive list, because pets always find ways to surprise us. Yet these are some of the more common reasons for pet ER visits this time of year.

Chocolate:  The darker, the more intense, the better for humans — and the more toxic for pets. Most people know chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats, because animals don’t metabolize the caffeine-like compounds well. Halloween candy is rarely a problem, since that “chocolate” is mostly high fructose corn syrup and processed junk. But the good stuff that starts showing up for the holidays can cause trouble. Chocolate ingestion can be quite serious, but fortunately it’s rarely fatal if treated promptly.

Raisins, Grapes, and Currants: This has the veterinary and pet-owning community flummoxed. We still don’t know what makes these so deadly. Even garden-grown, organic grapes have caused illness. Fortunately, ingestion rarely results in illness. But when it does, however, kidney failure develops, often leading to death.

Fat: Yes, it makes everything taste more delicious. Drippings on the foil that’s in the garbage, turkey skin, leftover gravy, buttery creamy dishes… this time of year is ripe with fatty delights.While not technically toxic, excessive ingestion of fat can cause a give a dog a very upset stomach, and more seriously, acute pancreatitis.

Bones: Turkey carcasses, meat bones, chicken bones… they can get stuck in the esophagus, or create an intestinal blockage, or, more commonly, general digestive unhappiness. Fortunately, if bones make it to the stomach and stay there for a few hours, stomach acid will usually dissolve most of them.

Stringy Things: Here’s a diagnosis you never want to hear from your veterinarian: “linear foreign body.” This tends to be a problem for cats, who love to chase stringy things, but we see it in dogs too. Ribbon from wrapped gifts or tinsel from the Christmas tree gets caught on the tongue, and then swallowed. The gastrointestinal tract, doing its gastrointestinal thing, tries to move the string down the tract, but one end is caught on something higher up. The intestines get bunched up on the taut string, and it’s really bad. These animals act sick: not eating, very lethargic, usually vomiting. Surgery is the only solution.

Holly, Mistletoe, and Poinsettias: These plants are mildly toxic if ingested in small amounts, causing nothing worse than gastrointestinal sadness. In greater quantities, neurologic signs can develop.

Wild Mushrooms: This has nothing to do with the holidays, but in Northern California, we start to see mushrooms popping up this time of year because of the rains. Most mushrooms are not a big problem, but the ones that are bad are really bad and can cause liver failure. Puppies are often victims because they’re the least discriminating. Keep an eye on what goes into your dog’s mouth at all times.

Remember: Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested something that may be a problem. If you suspect a toxin, look it up: the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control page have great information and 24 hour call-in services.

Be safe and stay merry!

IMAGE: Christmas cat via Wikimedia Commons


3 thoughts on “Holiday Season Pro Tips for Bernal Dogs, Cats, and the Humans Who Love Them

  1. Did you know this item was mentioned in Leah Garchik’s Chronicle column on the 9th? But she called your blog “Bernalside”…

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