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Holiday hazards and when to worry.

Pets love to play....with tinsel and stockings and trees and toys and ...the list goes on. Knowing what is dangerous and when to add a veterinary visit to your last minute shopping list can make the holidays run a little more smoothly.

First off hang those stockings out of reach of noses. Not only can a chewed up stocking cause a blockage of the stomach but some of those stocking treats may be dangerous too. Chocolate is derived from the roasted bean of the Theobromo cacao bean. The causative agents are theobromine and caffeine and the amounts found in particular chocolates are related to the percentage of raw cocoa with variation seen within brands and the beans themselves. In order of percentages (highest to lowest) of cocoa concentration the following list can be derived of most to least dangerous chocolates for animal consumption: cocoa powder is the most concentrated source (28.5mg/g Merck Veterinary Manual) followed by bakers chocolate (16 mg/g), semisweet or sweet dark chocolate (5.7 mg/g), and milk chocolate  being the least concentrated (2.3 mg/g). White chocolate is an insignificant source. Individual reactions to chocolate can vary by animal but signs to watch for include increased thirst, vomiting, abdominal distension and pain, diarrhea, restlessness and a rapid or abnormal heart rate. A ballpark  figure stated in the literature is 1 ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can be potentially toxic and one can extrapolate from cocoa percentages that this would decrease to 1/2 ounce per pound for dark chocolate. If your dog has gotten into a large store of dark chocolate veterinary assistance is recommended immediately. Smaller amounts may require monitoring your pet for vomiting and a rapid heart rate by placing a hand against the chest wall directly behind the left front leg. Seek veterinary assistance for excessive or continued vomiting or a rapid enough heart rate to cause weakness or the inability to walk.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, you are one large cat toy!! Always supervise cats around trees..many a great tree has fallen due to flying felines! Tinsel, lights and ornaments can serve as both toys and as potential hazards. Tinsel can get caught in the mouth, throat and stomach and cause plenty of holiday despair. Wrestling tinsel out of the far recesses of your cats throat beneath the Christmas tree as you periodically remove the said cat from the Christmas tree just doesn't fit into any good Christmas songs!
String lights can also transfix the feline. Be forewarned it is natural for the feline to bite as part of play.. low voltage electrical burns are evident as black marks within the mouth, usually on the tongue. Ornament hangers also make great toys and the non-selective pet may just consume them!! Seperate playful pets from Christmas trees when unsupervised and seek veterinary assistance for any missing items in combination with vomiting.

Items of mention that are usually of low toxicity unless directly ingested in large amounts include snow sprays and Christmas tree preserver (read label; some contain aspirin which cats have difficulty metabolizing).

In short the potential hazards are many but a supervised pet or better yet a well planned decoration layout may prevent complications. Seek veterinary assistance if you note depression, lack of appetite, vomiting and or diarrhea. These symptoms may be seen from any of the above hazards or from the stress of visitors or a change of diet such as new treats... or human food (yes pet Santa sees you).

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