Real Holiday Emergencies in the Animal ER!

The Christmas holiday is one of great joy, family reunions and a lot of celebration. But, for some pet loving families, this happy time of year quickly turns to sadness and distress because of a medical emergency. Here are some very real stories of holiday emergencies and some tips on how to avoid a trip to the animal ER.

Ginger is a feisty Dachshund. Her family enjoys her intelligence, her attitude and her zest for life. It also seems that Ginger enjoys turkey and will go to great lengths to satisfy her cravings! Dr. Lori Teller of Houston relates how little 15 lb Ginger was able to wrangle a 20 lb turkey off of the counter and consume the entire thing, including the plastic wrapper and strings. “The diarrhea she had was FOUL…no pun intended,” says Dr. Teller, “we had to open the windows and every door of the clinic to handle the smell!” Thankfully, Ginger survived her ordeal without missing a beat, but her story does point out the importance of monitoring what your pet has access to during holiday activities.

Ginger was very lucky. Emergency veterinarians from across the country can all recount cases where pets eat too much of the wrong type of food and develop a severe condition called pancreatitis. We treat more cases of pancreatitis during this time of the year than any other. It even happens to our own pets. (see Jobe Jacobi, below)

Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. When pets consume foods that are extremely fatty (like the skin of turkey or chicken), this can lead to inflammation. Enzymes normally released by the pancreas can cause both local and systemic effects. Although some cases are mild, Dr. Hennessey recalls far too many situations where the pet died from this condition. “The sad thing is, many of these deaths could be prevented by taking simple precautions,” says Hennessey. This includes immediate examination by a veterinarian!

Pets with pancreatitis can quickly become painful in their abdomen and often have persistent vomiting. Certain breeds of dogs, dogs on specific medications and pets with immune problems are more prone to this condition. This is especially true with cats. Veterinarians will recommend blood work and several days of hospitalization and treatments for pets with pancreatitis. But, it’s not only the skin of the turkey or any excessively fatty foods that can cause problems. Obstructions and perforations of the intestines from eating the bones of the bird are very common. Emergency technician, Sonya King of Indianapolis remarks that even veterinary personnel are not immune to this situation. Her own Bull Mastiff, Capone, got into the trash and ate a turkey carcass. X-rays revealed many bones in his GI tract but, thankfully, Capone recovered without major problems.

Of course, the holiday bird is not the only food issue at this time of year. With an abundance of chocolates and even sweet foods containing Xylitol, these wonderful holiday treats can cause serious problems. Chocolates can cause heart issues, hyperexcitability, vomiting, diarrhea or seizures. Xylitol treats can set off potentially fatal blood sugar crashes or liver failure in dogs.

Other holiday favorites, like rum balls, eggnog or even fruitcakes might contain alcohol. Intoxicated pets can experience seizures and respiratory failure. Grapes, raisins, currents, macadamia nuts, extremely salty foods or foods prepared with a lot of onions and/or garlic are all potentially dangerous as well.

Use pet friendly treats like green beans, carrots or even a handful of dog kibble if you want to share your holiday feast. Let your guests know the family rules about sharing from the table so that friends don’t unknowingly cause a problem.

If you can’t trust your pet, or maybe your dinner guests, it might be best to let your pet have his own room during mealtime. When dinner is over, be sure to remove all temptations from tables or counters and place all trash behind a secure door. Far too many pets are drawn to the smell and raid the trash can when the owner is not watching.

Ribbons and tinsel can be very hazardous if swallowed, especially in cats. The string can be a “linear foreign body” and catch in the GI tract causing the intestines to bunch up. This is a condition that requires surgery to correct. Avoid using tinsel if you have a cat and always supervise any play with yarn or ribbons.

Poinsettias can cause irritation in the mouth or stomach if your pet eats them. Contrary to popular belief they are not specifically toxic. Some types of mistletoe can be toxic to the liver or cause stomach upset. Because there are many different types of mistletoe consider it to be toxic and keep it away from your pets.

Remember, your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital is the best source of information if a holiday emergency occurs. So have their phone number handy. Don’t be afraid to call and ask questions if you are concerned. However, be warned, using online “pet forums” for advice could end up costing you valuable time.