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Holiday homes pose added perils for pets

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

For pets, the holidays aren't filled with festive flavors, colors, smells and sounds. They're packed with peril.

"Dogs and cats can encounter more dangerous things at Christmas than are normally around them," said Jim Strickland, a former University of Georgia Extension Service veterinarian, now "semiretired."

Some dangers are easy to recognize: the electrical cords that light up the Christmas tree and other decorations, for instance.

"Dogs like to chew electrical cords," Strickland said. "And they may get the shock of their lives for Christmas."

Keep the cords out of the way of the pets, he said.

Other dangers

Other dangers may not seem at all dangerous to the pets' owners -- leftover turkey, for instance.

"Too many leftovers and long, brittle bones can choke or penetrate the digestive tract of dogs or cats," Strickland said. "Table scraps can cause chronic digestive upset in dogs, too."

Holiday candies present special dangers.

"Among candies, chocolate is the biggest danger for pets," Strickland said.

The toxic part of chocolate is called theobromine. It's related to caffeine. For a dog or cat, it can be like a dose of cocaine, killing by overstimulating the heart.

"It's hard for a big dog to get enough chocolate candy to kill it," he said, pointing out that it takes 1 1/3 pounds of mild chocolate to kill a 25-pound dog. Smaller animals, though, can eat lethal doses of chocolate easily enough.

Unsweetened baking chocolate is another story altogether. "That has 10 times as much theobromine as mild chocolate candy," Strickland said. "It takes only 2 1/4 ounces of it to kill a 25- pound dog."

Hard candies, too

Hard candies can be deadly, too. Dogs and cats can easily choke on them. And hard candies, as well as small toys and parts of toys and games, Christmas ornaments, etc., are all around pets during the holidays.

Other dangers that aren't so obvious are the plants that provide traditional holiday color.

"Things like mistletoe, poinsettias and Jerusalem cherry may be toxic to dogs and cats," Strickland said.

Knowing where your pet is when company arrives and leaves is a must. Outside, in the chill of the holidays, cats may seek warmth near a car motors' fans and belts, which could cause serious injury.

Strickland doesn't suggest doing without Christmas trees, turkey, mistletoe or candies for Christmas. He just wants people to remember their pets.

"Just be aware of the potential dangers for pets at Christmas," he said. "Keeping the pets happy and healthy can add to the pleasure of the holiday season."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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