The holiday season provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and be thankful for the things we treasure in life. Unfortunately, many of our holiday traditions can create unique dangers for our pets. During the holiday season, we see a marked increase in the number of patients who are suffering from some form of gastrointestinal illness. The most common emergency visits during this time of year are usually associated with ingestion of human foods. We often want our pets to join in the holiday festivities and are more likely to offer inappropriate human foods.

Also, we see a large number of pets during the holidays that have had access to food waste or have managed to ingest holiday goodies when no one is watching.

– Pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammatory condition of the pancreas, most commonly occurs after a pet ingests human foods that are very rich or have a high fat content. Many of our favorite holiday foods fall into this category. • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a condition characterized by severe bloody diarrhea and vomiting and can be life threatening. This often occurs due to a bacterial imbalance in the intestinal tract and can be caused by ingestion of human food or food waste.

– Chocolate is often around in large quantities during the holidays and is a very common cause of emergency veterinary visits. Chocolate is particularly toxic to domestic pets. It contains several chemicals related to caffeine that can cause a dangerous elevation in blood pressure and an erratic heartbeat.

– Sugar free desserts and candies represent a unique danger to pets. Unlike our bodies, dogs and cats that ingest certain artificial sweeteners will have a very dangerous drop in their blood sugar and can result in seizures, coma, and death.

Some of the initial signs of gastrointestinal illness or toxin ingestion may be vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or restlessness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, or seizures.

If you pet develops any of these signs, evaluation by a veterinarian should be pursued immediately.

In addition to these classic holiday dangers, there are many other potential pitfalls for animals during the holiday season. Some of these include ingestion of toxic plants (Christmas fern, peace lily, mistletoe, holly, etc.), electric shock from chewing extension cords, and intestinal obstruction or blockage from ingesting wrapping paper, tinsel, ornaments, and other seasonal decorations.

Our pets should be able to enjoy these wonderful times of the year with the rest of the family. Most pet stores have many options for special treats that are appropriate for our canine and feline family members. During this time of year, holiday themed treats are often available. We all want our holiday season to be filled with joy and cheer. By being vigilant about not allowing our pets to have access to inappropriate foods, we can greatly reduce the chance of an emergency that could make this a holiday we would rather not remember.