Safety measures for your pet

Americans are absolutely crazy about their beloved family pets, and will often include them in many holiday season activities and traditions, but animal healthcare professionals say this is no time to share the bountiful fare from your beautiful holiday candy, cookie or dinner table with these four-legged friends.

It has nothing to do with being the next Ebenezer Scrooge, and everything to do with being a loving, caring and responsible person around household pets; yours or someone else’s.

A beautiful box of a favorite chocolate candy may well be exactly what your favorite uncle wanted for a holiday gift, but sharing any of that with the family dog could lead straight down a path to the veterinarian’s office for an emergency visit long before your celebratory dinner was due to be over.

Plain and simple: to keep your pets happy and healthy this is the time of year when it is better to remember that acts of kindness and generosity do not always mean indulging fanciful or foolish idea such as the too often practiced tradition of sharing a piece of the holiday ham, a bite of lobster, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, a glass of wine, or a mixed drink or something with the household cat or pleading puppy.

“Many of our patients will come in telling us that their pets do not normally bother food items sitting within reach, but that during their big holiday dinner they did exactly that,” offered Dr. Jim Moore. He is one of the two veterinarians who own the highly successful local veterinary practice based in St. Clairsville just off I-70 called New Horizon Animal Hospital.

Moore and co-owner Dr. Philip Puskarich established the practice several years ago and have continued to operate it on a 24-7 basis, which brings a steady stream of frightened pet owners with ill pets into the office on big holiday days and nights – often with some interesting “tails” to tell.

Dr. Alison Bertram recalled the painful experience one four-legged patient endured after consuming an entire turkey carcass. The pet could easily have lost its life from the resulting illness had it not been brought to the veterinarian’s office immediately for evaluation and what ended up being a week of in-office care and constant monitoring.

“One of the most common things we will see is pets who have eaten tinsel, and they have gotten caught and are stuck in the intestine,” offered Bertram. That can require surgery.

“The best advice to share with pet owners who face a holiday season emergency involving a pet: when in doubt, have your vet check the animal out,” said Bertram.

Dr. Puskarich is a big believer in making sure everyone in the home is on the same page when it comes to the rules of the house for pets. He has seen what happens when everyone thinks giving the dog one little piece of ham or a small piece of a holiday cookie with chocolate in it will be nothing more harmful than a small and simple infraction of the rules.

Chocolate can make a dog sick, even to the point of putting its life in danger.

“Biting extension cords is also something that seems to come up for dog owners around the holiday season, and is something people need to keep in mind when putting their holiday decorations in place. When it comes to cats, they normally won’t do much more than nose around them, and are not often likely to bite into them.

“Christmas ornaments and hangers should be checked to make sure they are not likely to fall off the tree, and if they do it is important to get them up before a pet gets attracted to them and starts playing with them, or trying to bite them,” said Dr. Moore.

“Another danger for your house pets is the water that the Christmas tree sits in. You need to make sure your animals don’t drink from that container,” offered Moore.

“If you are going to use the additives often used to try to keep a tree green for a longer time, you can’t let your pets drink that water, it will likely make them sick. The best idea to use is water in the tree container and nothing else. That does not really pose a big problem for a pet who might decide to drink it,” said Moore.

Dogs and cats consume things they should not and those often include items that can make them quite ill, leave them with long-term problems, or simply will require patience to “find out if all things will resolve themselves in a couple of hours.”

When it comes to the rigors and pleasures of holiday season socializing your family pets can come under strain too as the hectic and often demanding season’s busy days unfold.

Dr. Moore offered several ideas on plans to consider employing if you are about to host an event at home and are not sure how your pets are going to handle these social pressures.

“If your pets are kennel or crate trained and they enjoy the feeling of comfort and reassurance they get when housed in these structures, then make sure the pets can have access to them easily, and that they have enough water and food, and can get outside often enough to keep them comfortable. Use your common sense,” said Miller. “Think about what options you might have available to you to help keep your pets safe and not too excited about all the activity going on around them.”

The extreme cold being experienced in the local area recently is also enough to see pet owners routinely house their pets indoors, or in specially designed and maintained kennels or crates outdoors if necessary.

“If you have a road safety kit for your car you should have one with you at all times for your cats and dogs. If they are traveling with you in this bitterly cold weather there should be cold weather provisions and gear in the vehicle for their protection as well. Particularly if you have a small dog or an older dog,” said Miller.

Among the items a pet owner should always carry in a vehicle during the winter months for their pet’s protection in the event of a breakdown or traffic jam, including things such as food, water, jackets, booties, blankets and more.

When traveling with your pet it is a good idea to avoid heavily used rest stops as they are often heavily populated with viruses and other problems from dogs who have visited those grounds previously. Make sure your pet’s shots are up to date.

When in and around areas where cars are parked – even in the wintertime – it is important to keep your pets away from any contact with anti-freeze, he cautioned, noting it takes only a very small amount of the toxin to sicken and kill an animal.

Also, the veterinarians agreed it is never a good idea to surprise someone with the gift of a live animal.

It is, however, a good idea to keep the number of poison hotlines for your dogs and cats at your fingertips as well as those you would keep readily available for your family or friends.

One of the two major pet poison hotlines is 1-800-213-6680, which is available on the web at

“The best thing you can do to help keep your pets and guests enjoying the season together is to do a little pre-planning and to use common sense,” said Moore. “If anyone needs our help, we are just a phone call away, and a real person will answer the phone 24-7.”

TIPS: The holiday season is a time to spend with your family, but beware of the dangers the season may be hiding for your beloved dog. You may not realize it, but many of the decorations and food the season brings can be dangerous for Fido. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers the following tips for making the holidays safe for your pup.


– When decorating your home, avoid using food such as popcorn or cranberry strands. If your pup eats them, they can cause blockages, which often require surgery to remove.

– Shiny ornaments, such as tinsel, glass bulbs, and things that sparkle, should be placed higher up on your tree where Fido can’t reach them. Ingesting ornaments can cause major problems for your pup.

– Real Christmas trees, poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe all pose threats to your dog. You may want to consider an artificial tree, but if you do have a natural tree, make sure Fido doesn’t swallow the pine needles or drink the tree water which can cause stomach irritation. Poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe can be poisonous to pets and should be kept out of reach.

– Remember that exposed wires from holiday lights could electrocute your dog if he chews on them. Tape indoor wires to the wall and outdoor wires to the side of the house where your pup can’t reach them.


– Table butter, meat, and candy are common parts of the holiday meal that can make your dog very ill. Take care to keep these foods out of reach.

– Chocolate is another food that is a common cause of sickness in dogs around the holidays. Baking chocolate or dark chocolate in particular can cause serious health problems in your pup.

For more information on responsible dog ownership, visit

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