Happily for most people, the worst side effect of Christmas will be an expanded waistline or a family row. Most of us will be able to enjoy ourselves and celebrate with abandon.
So it may be surprising that vet clinics everywhere are preparing for an influx of four-legged patients, injured by common festive foods, decorations and recreational activities.
Dr Leonie Richards from the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet clinic says some of the main risks to pets over the holiday season are from food.
“We often want to treat our pets with special food at Christmas, but this can lead to disaster,” Dr Richards says.
“A common mistake is to give your dog leftover treats such as turkey skin, crackling and even ham bones. This can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea, pancreatitis, constipation and even blockage of the intestine which requires surgery.
“Nuts, avocados, chocolate, sultanas, raisins, and similar foods can all be toxic to our four legged friends, so make sure that you keep these goodies out of reach.”
Instead, Dr Richards recommends pet stockings with harmless toys or treats. And pets can have a small portion of meat from Christmas dinner, just no bones or fat.
Around the house, twinkling lights and shiny baubles are just as attractive to pets as they are to us. Puppies and cats will be tempted to play with them, but unfortunately they can accidently swallow them, which usually results in surgery.
Keep pets safe on summer walks
The traditional calorie-burning walk after Christmas dinner also comes with a warning. During this festive season, much of Australia is expected to reach temperatures of over 30 degrees, for many days in a row.
“Heat stroke can come on very rapidly in animals and is a dire emergency that is fatal for many pets each summer,” says Dr Richards.
Living cells of the body can’t tolerate high temperatures. The longer the cell is above the normal 37 degrees, the faster cell death occurs and the less likely the pet will recover.
“People think it’s a nice day and take their dog for a long walk. But if your dog starts to lag behind, let them stop and cool down and pick them up and take them home,” says Dr Richards.
“Signs of heat stroke are intense rapid panting, pounding heart, wide eyes, salivating, bright red gums, staggering, and weakness. They can then collapse, become unconscious and their gums go pale, blue and dry.”
Pets that live outside or in enclosures unable to escape the heat are especially vulnerable. Rabbits and guinea pigs can’t pant to cool off, so on days over 30 degrees it is best bring them indoors. If this is not possible, they will need plenty of shade, fresh clean water and some ice blocks to lick as a minimum.
“For heat stroke first aid, move the pet to a cooler place like in the shade,” Dr Richards says.
“Start soaking the body with cool water. Make sure that the water soaks to the skin and doesn’t just run off the fur. Don’t use cold or icy water, otherwise the superficial vessels at the skin constrict and the hot blood remains trapped within the body. And always seek veterinary attention immediately.
Just like children, pets should never be left in a car on a hot day as it can take only 10 minutes for a pet left in a car to die, even with the windows down. Limit the threat of snake bites by not walking your dog in tall grass and using a lead.
Avoiding noise stress
New Year’s Eve festivities can cause problems for pets too.
“If you know that your pet is noise phobic, don’t leave it until the last minute to seek help. There are many strategies that can be put in place to prepare them and sometimes medications can also be useful,” Dr Richards says.
“Many pets are noise phobic, to the point of being absolutely terrified, and can be extremely destructive in trying to escape. I know of a case where the poor dog was so terrified it caused over $20,000 of damage.”
Pets can be calmed by simple things like just staying home and being indoors with their owner. Getting used to a small dark area where they feel secure long before the time comes can also work with some pets.
Dr Richards advises not to make a fuss of pets when they are feeling anxious, as this reinforces the idea that it is OK to be scared.
“Pet owners should be sure to double check that gates and doors are secure, particularly when visitors are a-plenty,” she adds.
“Pets can enjoy Christmas and other summer festivities. The key here is for pet owners to be aware and to act quickly if they think their pet is in danger.
“As for all pet emergencies the best thing is to keep pets cool, calm and still while getting them to a vet as soon as possible. Owners should remember to call ahead to check their vet is open during holiday times.”
- The U-Vet Hospital’s emergency and critical care department is open 24 hours, seven days a week, with queries welcome on 03 9731 2000. Geelong’s U-Vet Animal Emergency Clinic is also available outside of normal business hours on 03 5222 2139.