Your Dog's Safety During the Fall and Winter Holidays

As the warm summer fades into early fall, many of us turn our thoughts to the upcoming holiday season. But what about your dog? Have you given any thought to the special needs the holidays present for your four-legged best friend?

Halloween

There are two key dangers for dogs at Halloween. First is the irresistible smell of chocolate - a danger for most of us, but especially for your dog. Chocolate contains theobromine, which is chemically similar to caffeine. So, is it dangerous or will it just keep your dog up all night?

Bulldog in the pumpkin patch
Keep your dog safe during the upcoming holidays.

It is actually dangerous, but it takes a fairly large dose to cause harm. The toxic level for theobromine is 100 - 150 mg per kg of your dog's weight. A kg is about 2.2 pounds, so a medium-sized dog of 40 pounds is about 18 kg. Therefore, in order for theobromine to be toxic to a medium-sized dog, the dog would have to eat about 1800 to 2700 mg of theobromine.

How much theobromine is in the average candy bar? Milk chocolate has about 44 mg per ounce, while semisweet has about 150 mg per ounce and baker's chocolate has a whopping 390 mg per ounce. Given the shrinkage in the size of candy bars lately that adds up to a whole lot of "fun-sized" bars before your dog is going to have a serious problem.

If your dog does eat too much chocolate, he will become very hyperactive and irritable. In addition, he may show restlessness and an increased heart rate. If possible, you may want to get him or her to vomit up the remaining chocolate left in the stomach, or you may give activated charcoal to stop the absorption of the poison.

Dark chocolate and cocoa
The darker the chocolate, the more toxic compounds it has.

Watch your dog carefully, as symptoms will continue to worsen as more and more of the toxin gets into the bloodstream. If your dog begins showing muscle tremors or other symptoms beyond indigestion, he or she may need veterinary care for anti-convulsants, oxygen, and intravenous therapy to protect the heart.

Even small amounts of chocolate can cause digestive upset, which may not be a mess you want to clean up after the party's over. Theobromine can also act as a diuretic, so your dog may need to go outside more often after eating chocolate, which brings us to the second danger about Halloween: kids can be downright mean.

If possible, bring your dog inside your home during Trick-or-Treating hours, and even after dark on the nights leading up to Halloween. Although ritual abuse or Satanic ceremonies involving dogs are exceedingly rare, you never know when some hooligans will do something to an animal just for "kicks". It's far better to just keep an eye on your dog and keep him or her locked up for a few days than to find him or her in pieces in the morning.

Thanksgiving

Just as with humans, the biggest Thanksgiving danger for dogs is overeating. While we are in the process of giving thanks for the bountiful feast we serve, many of us feel obligated to share the fruits of the harvest with our dogs. Although most dogs do very well on unprocessed food diets, most don't do well if they suddenly switch from commercial dog food to people food. You are just inviting your dog to have indigestion, gas, diarrhea, heartburn, and nausea, as well as more serious stomach problems.

Many of the very flavors that make Thanksgiving foods so good are toxic to dogs. Top among these are garlic and onions, both of which contain thiosulphate, a chemical known to cause red blood cells to simply burst, a condition known as hemolytic anemia.

Fatty foods can give your dog pancreatitis. The pancreas serves an important function in breaking down food so the dog's body can digest it. However, if the enzymes produced by the pancreas leak out into other areas, they begin to break down whatever they touch. In addition to being very painful, pancreatitis can cause loss of appetite, severe and frequent vomiting, bloody diarrhea, weakness, and irritability. The condition may happen only once, or it could become chronic, flaring up over and over again.

When a pancreatitis attack hits, it can also cause shock, blood clotting disorders, heart problems and liver or kidney damage. This is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately to prevent further damage or even death! The best way to prevent pancreatitis is to limit the amount of table scraps your dog consumes, particularly if you do not regularly feed him or her a diet of "people food".

While you're cooking, serving, eating, and cleaning up, pen your dogs up so they cannot have access to the food. Not only will this prevent your holiday dinner from disappearing before your eyes, it may just save you a trip to the vet's office. Keep in mind that most regular veterinary offices will be closed for the long weekend, so make sure you have contact information and directions to the nearest emergency clinic.

Turkey-related dangers

Who can resist the smell of a turkey being made in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning? Your dog has the same problem. Make sure the lid to your roaster or fryer is securely closed to keep the dog from getting in, and keep the dog away from hot appliances to prevent burns. Also, dispose of the carcass, the string or clamps that hold the turkey's legs together and the pop-up timer in such a manner that your dog can't dig them out of the trash. Any of these can cause an obstruction in the dog's digestive tract, which will be very expensive for your vet to remove. In addition, turkey bones are notorious for slicing into the lining of the intestinal tract, causing internal bleeding which may be fatal.

Christmas

Those glass bulbs look so pretty on the tree, but did you know that your dog might think they are there for him or her? One good chomp on a glass bulb can result in shattered glass that can then cut the dog either on the paws or on the mouth and even down the digestive tract. If your dog does eat glass, feed him lots of mashed potatoes. The spuds will coat the glass pieces so he can pass them without damaging his internal organs.

Dog caught up in Christmas light string
Christmas bulbs and lights can look like fun toys to your dog.

Tinsel is also a concern, as any that is eaten can cause intestinal blockage.

Some dog guardians put their trees inside a playpen, while others only decorate the top half. If you can keep your dog out of the room where your tree is, you stand a much better chance of keeping the tree upright.

Many dogs think the tree stand is an extra water dish for them. Besides the fact that the dog is now drinking water contaminated with sap, a dry tree stand can cause your tree to dry out enough to become a fire risk. If you have a live tree, try to find a tree stand with a covered bowl or check the stand at least twice daily to keep it filled.

As you are unwrapping your gifts, your dog may get carried away by the excitement and begin to help! The dyes used in commercial wrapping paper may be toxic, and the ribbons can cause digestive upset or blockage if swallowed. Once you have allowed your dog to unwrap his own gifts, under your close supervision of course, it is best to remove the dog from the room while the rest of the family is too involved in present time to pay attention to what the dog may or may not be ingesting.

New Year's

The biggest risk to your dog as you ring in the New Year is alcohol, which is toxic to dogs even in relatively small doses. Alcohol can slow down the dog's breathing rate, cause him to stagger into furniture, and become disoriented, just as it does for you. The difference is that in a dog alcohol toxicity can rapidly progress to cause hypothermia, seizures, and cardiac arrest. Keep the liquor cabinet locked up tight! Be especially careful of plastic bottles or cups that your dog can easily chew through to get to the beverage inside.

Labrador dog eyeing pint of beer
Alcohol toxicity affects dogs much worse than humans.

Protecting your guests from your dog

Keep in mind if you are hosting the family for a holiday celebration, that this will be a very exciting time for your dog, as well as for any children who may attend the party. Pen up your dog before the first guest arrives to prevent the dog from becoming so excited he bites someone. Your small guests may not be used to dogs and may not know how to keep themselves from being bitten, so it is vital that you take all necessary precautions to make everyone's holiday a happy one.

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