Aside from all the toxic flowers and plants popular for this time of year, the spring holidays are fraught with other dangers for curious kitties and dogs for whom the question is, “Is it a toy or is it food?” Cats and dogs will both eat things you’d never dream they’d be interested in, and your changes in routine at any holiday can bring a change in their habits as well. More of the dangers seem to fall in the Easter category, while I’ve found most Passover warnings have to do with kosher foods…but even kosher chocolate is not good for your cat or dog!
That colored “Easter Grass” in your baskets can cause a serious problem in a cat’s or dog’s digestive tract as it either rolls into a ball that they can’t pass, or the long undigestible strands wrap themselves around intestinal twists and turns and can even cause internal bleeding, both situations necessitating emergency abdominal surgery. The cellophane and foil wrapping on colorful candies is likewise dangerous even though it makes really fun and exciting crackling noises because it’s also undigestible and little bits of it can block the digestive tract and even tiny sharp edges can cause damage to sensitive tissues. And all that chocolate…all that sugar!
Before covering the basic warnings, here are a few key points to remember:
1. Animals are not little people. Animals are simply a fraction of our size, so the effect of anything on them will be multiplied in their smaller bodies which don’t metabolize things the same as we do. Consider chocolate and raisins, both of which can be toxic in dogs and cats in smaller amounts than we would eat for fun. Consider aspirin, which a cat’s small body doesn’t metabolize quickly enough to avoid a possible overdose and can be fatal, but can safely be used in reasonable dosages in a dog as a pain reliever.
2. Animals don’t make reasoned decisions in the same way we do. They make decisions based on their own sensibilities as cats and dogs, and because we presume they can’t read or understand warnings about dangers to themselves, these decisions are based on curiosity and adventure and are not always in their own best interest.
3. Don’t ever think your cat or dog “wouldn’t eat that”. They would. Plan on it. Cats are a little more discerning than dogs in choosing what to eat, and even with that, in all the years I’ve had cats they’ve eaten, or attempted to eat, just about anything they could chew and swallow, including such foods as hot peppers, cookies and raw green beans—who would think?!
4. Don’t think your cat or dog “can’t get to it”. They can. They have nothing better to do than to stalk and kill your cheese plate, or the box with the curling ribbon. Confine them if they won’t stay out of something, or get it out of your house.
5. And a special one for the holiday season: Your change in routine will change your pet. Don’t presume you can predict what they will do. Animals are creatures of habit, but this is the one time of the year we intentionally break habits including daily schedules, entertaining guests, and arranging and decorating our space. Our pets may run the spectrum from happily helping to totally freaking out, but the change in plans will have an effect on them and they may not behave in their usual manner, either, making them much less predictable than we are accustomed to.
They can only get into what we leave available for them, so keep them in mind as you prepare. I have links to articles for more information about toxic plants, foods and other dangers at the end of this post.
On any given day, anything can become a toy.
Under the pressure of stress, however, any seemingly inedible and unappetizing object can become a toy and/or a food item. Kitties loves string-like objects like tinsel and garlands, ribbon scraps from your gift wrapping or yarn from craft projects, but they can be deadly if they wrap around her tongue or bunch up in the stomach or intestines, often requiring surgery. Dogs may begin snacking on the plastic grass you’ve carefully arranged in the basket, and it’s obvious what a big ball of this indigestible substance in the stomach would do, likely beginning with a trip to the emergency clinic.
Observe their behavior as you decorate your house. If they are irresistibly drawn to something don’t assume you can dissuade their interest, especially when you’re away. If they persist, just take the thing away.
LET’S GO OFF OUR DIET
Of all things, food is the greatest temptation, and the well-behaved animal who would never jump on the table, ever, might be irresistibly tempted and end up in the punch bowl.
Be especially aware of alcohol, chocolate, anything sweetened with Xylitol, macadamia nuts and walnuts, caffeinated beverages, onions, raisins and seeds and pits from many fruits—all things you might find on the Easter or Passover table. These contain compounds or cause reactions which can affect organ function or slowly poison a cat or dog.
My cats today have very little interest in people food, possibly because the people food is never meat, but in past years my entire household would eat as much of a new and exciting food as I would give them or which they could steal, and I couldn’t trust their judgement of how much was enough or too much.
Ham and kielbasa, Easter staples in the house I grew up in, is never a good idea for cats or dogs because they are cured with salt and kielbasa often contains a fair amount of fresh garlic. Plain old roast lamb is something their digestive systems are capable of handling—in normal amounts, but not with the vegetables and flavorings we might enjoy. And while lamb is one of the foods I regularly feed them, it’s either raw or it’s canned and given in an amount and spiced and flavored appropriate for cats, not for me.
But meat isn’t the only thing we’ve got on the table, and never underestimate the cunning of an animal who knows it has to sneak. I had a cat who would hide on one of the chairs under the table and would reach just his paw up onto the table to steal whatever was there nearly undetected, except when I found a pile of celery sticks on the chair that had been licked clean of cream cheese stuffing.
And it’s true that animals in the wild eat lots of things that we are told not to feed them, including animal bones, but the difference here is that animal bones tend to become brittle when cooked, especially avian bones, but fresh raw bones, while they can still splinter, are more flexible though still not appropriate for our pets when given whole. Turkey bones are out, even if they’re darned cute dragging around a leg bone like a prehistoric pet.
While we can treat our swollen stomach and raging bowels with various medications, our pets have limited options, and overeating can develop into a life-threatening condition if persistent diarrhea or vomiting develop and the animal becomes dehydrated or if they develop pancreatitis from eating foods they aren’t accustomed to, especially fatty foods, in large amounts . Be reasonable with your handouts, whether they be treats or some forbidden human food.
PLANTS BITE BACK
Several plants traditionally displayed at these holidays range from unpleasant to toxic depending on the plant and size and age of the animal, but most deadly to cats are plants in the lily family which often enter the house in cut flower arrangements. Even a small amount can cause kidney failure. Lilies do not affect dogs, though.
For other plants and flowers often shared at this season as live plants or in cut bouquets, please click here to read “Leave the Lilies Outside”.
Cats and dogs consider any greenery fair game for a lunchtime green salad, and the sudden arrival of palm fronds, pussy willow, lilies in pots, potted azaleas and bulbs can cause great excitement, sure to invite a taste of leaf or stem. Many of these are toxic to cats while others carry varying levels of gastrointestinal distress for both pets, which can be a mess to clean up in the least, but can quickly become very serious. And while an adult animal in good health can often nibble these plants to no obvious ill effect it’s not wise to take chances. For a kitten, puppy or senior animal or one that may have a compromised immune system the experience can be fatal.
Because of the general disorder in the household at this time and kitty’s propensity to play with any small portable object that’s fallen on the floor, be especially careful of even over-the-counter medications. Cats don’t metabolize medications like most other animals, even dogs, and a small white pill dropped on the floor or swatted off of a counter can become a deadly session of feline hockey or a fatal treat for your dog. Best to keep to catnip.
Because we’re all a little extra-busy this time of year it’s most important to just keep an eye on your furry companions for any changes in behavior and personality. Some cats are fine with chaos, but your cat may not handle changes in daily schedule very well, and your dog is upset because he just isn’t getting enough attention, including regularly scheduled walks. They’re considering leaving their “opinions” on the carpet in the dining room.
Before it gets to this, try to spend a little “quality time” with them at the same time every day, just to reassure them of their exalted position in the household.
This daily visit with your animal companions also serves a purpose for you, as their caregiver. While their behavior may be simply a reaction to the changes in their world, it may also be an oncoming illness or evidence that they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t have. This would be easy to miss while you are otherwise occupied. If it seems Puff isn’t eating right or Spot is a little lethargic or aggressive, take some time to observe for other symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, irregular breathing, obvious discomfort, salivating, or straining in the box, any of which could signal that the problem isn’t all in their head. A persistence of any of these symptoms would call for an immediate trip to the veterinarian.
A ROOM OF OUR OWN
For indoor cats with formerly no intention to go outside and work for a living, everything has changed. It’s spring and it’s looking pretty good out there, not like this madhouse, and no one may notice if they scoot out the door as a guest arrives or you come in the door loaded with groceries. The dog who normally asks to go outside may also bolt out the door into the night with your dinner about to go on the table.
And with all the hazards of decorations, plants, flowers, food, cooking utensils and who knows what else, setting up personal quarters for your cats and dogs might be the best idea to keep them safe for a few days, at least for some periods during the day or during times when visitors are present, canapé trays are on every table and glasses of wine are poured.
For more information on plants toxic to cats and potentially toxic foods, visit the Humane Society of the United States for Keep Your Pets Safe and Happy During the Holiday Season and the ASPCA’s Holiday Safety Tips. Both have tips and links to information on toxic plants and “pet-safe floral arrangements”, and various potentially toxic foods. Also keep a link the the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center for reference at the holidays and beyond.
So, do you get holiday gifts for your pets? Do your friends give your pets gifts along with you? Or better yet, do others give you gifts of cat or dog toys and treats?
Make sure your kitty has a great holiday!