It’s a Scary world out there when you have a curious nose!

Written by: Laurie McCarter, CVT and Sommer Aweidah of Port Cit Referral Hospital in Portsmouth, NH

Here we are – it’s January and a whole new year! We’ve made it through the holidays and a slew of pet danger emails, facebook statuses and twitter posts. We avoided all the holiday decorations, human food toxicities, we monitored our pets around the Christmas tree, away from the menorah, out of the cookies, and made it to January.  Phew!

Our pets are important and we want to include them in our holiday celebrations and our traditions, new and old, but there were dangers all along the way.

The water in Christmas tree stands can cause gastroenteritis, decorations and tinsel can cause gastrointestinal obstructions, the lights can cause electric shock and the tree itself can fall on our nosy curious pets.

Don’t even get us started on the toxic plants we bring into our homes to tempt them with! Poinsettias, Holly, and Mistletoe can all cause severe gastroenteritis and potential organ damage if ingested.

Fortunately, once the holidays are over we’ll start our diets, and there won’t be any need to leave tasty cookies and fatty human-food on the counter, where all it takes is a good strategy, speed, and some springy back legs to get at it! Chocolate, raisins and macadamia nuts are toxic. Fatty foods (such as ham and lamb) can cause stomach dilation, pain, vomiting and diarrhea. A good tip for year-round safety is to be aware (if possible) of what types of food your pet has gotten into, how much and how long ago. Metabolic issues such as kidney, pancreatic and liver toxicities can take a few days to become apparent. Act fast when you see your pet getting into something he or she shouldn’t – a quick response to this type of emergency really can save their life.

So now it’s January. We’re in the home stretch. Now we only have to keep an eye out for antifreeze, ice melt, arthritis and cold temperatures!

Antifreeze is sweet tasting and doesn’t take very much to cause fatal kidney failure. One tablespoon can be fatal to a small pet. Symptoms show up quickly as the toxin is rapidly metabolized; look out for stumbling, vomiting and depression. Call your veterinarian or an emergency hospital immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested any antifreeze, or any product with Ethylene Glycol in the ingredients.

Ice melt used on frozen sidewalks can cause ulceration if left on the skin or feet of your pet. Licking the ice melt can cause gastrointestinal trauma, so let’s get rid of it! Make sure you wipe your pet’s paws clean after a winter walk. Added bonus: no muddy paw prints on those nice clean floors.

The cold weather can aggravate your older pets’ arthritis. Old joints can be stiff and painful when it is cold, so keep this in mind when exercising your pet and make sure they have the opportunity to rest. If you feel like he or she is unwilling or unable to participate in family fun to their usual ability, speak to your family veterinarian. Anti inflammatories can be prescribed to help ease the pain. Pro tip: ask for the chewables, it will make dosing your dog so much easier!!! Arthritis affects young dogs too, and any dog who had suffered a broken bone in the past may develop arthritis at the site of the break.  Do not give your pet any human over-the-counter medications without first consulting your family veterinarian. One Tylenol TM tablet can be fatal to a cat.


There will always be seasonal pitfalls; your job is to keep your pets out of the trouble they so desperately want to get into. Know the general signs to look for and know your pet. Take the appropriate precautions by putting things out of reach, using pet-safe products, avoiding over exertion and keeping their curious ways under your ever-vigilant eye.

Signs of illness that may call for medical attention include: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and inappetence, also any drastic change in your pet’s usual behavior. Cats, in particular, will develop hiding habits when sick, so if your usually friendly kitty is under the bed more than usual, and it’s not in keeping with her usual behavior, that is something to talk to your vet about.

If you pet has been exposed to any hazards, please don’t wait to go to your veterinarian, or an emergency hospital. Your doctor will want the following information:  What did he/she eat (bring the packaging if you can), how much and when.  If you’re unsure of whether something is toxic you best resources are your veterinarian, emergency hospital and the ASPCA poison control website.

Good luck and try to focus on the fact that spring and good weather are just around the corner!



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