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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 1 January 2020  

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Dr. Jim Humphries

  Pet precautions at Christmas
  By Dr. Jim Humphries

   Christmas is such a great time – especially in Colorado! Our snow and even the cold just make it feel like an idyllic Christmas holiday. But the festive season also presents a world of hidden dangers to our four-legged friends that you can easily forget. Here is a quick look at things from toxic foods to dangerous seasonal plants, and some of these concerns will surprise you.
   Chocolate tops the list because it has a fair amount of a chemical, which is a bit like caffeine and pretty darn toxic to dogs. Even small amounts of theobromine can cause hyper-excitability, tremors, convulsions and heart rhythm problems. The most potent types of chocolate are dark varieties and baker’s chocolate. Milk chocolate is not as bad, and white chocolate typically has no theobromine. However, it is best to keep all chocolate away from the gifts and off your kitchen counters.
   Oddly enough, grapes and their dried versions like raisins are also toxic to dogs. Ingestion of even a small quantity can cause significant kidney disease. Chocolate-covered raisins are especially bad. Another odd food category that includes onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives, all part of the Allium species of plants, can cause hemolysis or rupturing of the red blood cells. Dogs who eat too much of any of these foods will start vomiting and have diarrhea. The real damage may not show up for a day or two, but it can be fatal, so be careful with these things.
   Of course, alcohol can have a similar effect in dogs as it does in people. However, dogs, being the party animals they are, will drink to excess and become drowsy; and, in severe cases, alcohol can cause low body temperature, low blood sugar and even a coma.
   Some of the best things about the holidays is the leftover food. My main concern is about foods that are thrown away after the parties. Turkey carcass and bones can puncture the stomach, which quickly becomes an emergency. Small dogs are prone to an inflammation of the pancreas because of all the fat in leftovers –- and that also is an emergency. So, please dispose of these food things, so no animals can get to them.
   You may have heard by now that the sweetener called xylitol is often found in the sweets we have at Christmas. But remember it is poisonous to dogs. It causes the release of insulin in the body, resulting in very low blood sugar and sometimes liver damage. Signs of poisoning can be rapid or delayed; and include vomiting, lethargy, convulsions and comas.
   A quick list of just a few more things you should be cautious about: Poinsettia plants, Holly plants, Mistletoe, Christmas trees and decorations, Ivy Silica gel from the gift boxes, wrapping or crepe paper, candles, potpourri and even cigarettes. Cannabis of any kind when ingested by dogs is a medical emergency, and many of these cases have had fatal outcomes.
   It is true that if your dog or cat eats some of the new and unique foods around the house during the holidays they may vomit or have an upset stomach for a while. Some of this is normal because vomiting and diarrhea are nature’s way of getting rid of bad things. However, because we don’t think of these holiday things as toxic or dangerous— we should all be just a bit more cautious during this time of the year.
   A trip to the animal ER is never any fun, especially at Christmas time. But here are the contact numbers for the three animal ER’s on the north end of Colorado Springs: Powers Pet Emergency (north Powers Boulevard) at 719-473-0482; Animal ER Care (on North Nevada) at 719-473-0482; and a new, small ER clinic in Monument off Baptist Road is Tri-Lakes Animal Emergency Care — 719-434-1118.
   Merry Christmas to all!

   Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian and provides hospice and end-of-life care for pets in the Colorado Springs area. He also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes.
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