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These Common Seasonal Dangers Can Threaten Your Dog

Make sure your dog is safe this fall and winter from dangers such as spilled antifreeze and toxic holiday foods.

Dr. Marty Becker  |  Oct 8th 2015


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our October/November issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

As a husband, father, grandfather, and regular guy, I love the holidays. As a veterinarian, I dread them because of the large number of pets who become ill, or even die, from things that are largely preventable.

There is a dramatic increase in the number of lost pets from mid-November through early January. While the Fourth of July is the No. 1 time pets are lost every year — as fear of fireworks makes terrified pets chew through fences, break through glass, and bolt out of doors — the fall and winter holidays are a close second. That’s because it’s a time of year when lots and lots of people are coming in and out the front door: trick-or-treaters, visiting family, dinner guests, and partygoers. So before you answer the door, make sure your pet is somewhere safe or on a leash. Also, warn guests to be careful and not let pets slip outside with them.

Keep an eye on visitors’ vehicles to make sure they haven’t overheated and spilled antifreeze, which has a sweet taste and is attractive to pets. If you see some (it’s green-tinged), put on gloves, clean it up, and dispose of it in a safe place. You’ll not only protect your pets but all the neighborhood pets and wildlife.

The holidays are also the time of year with the most calls to animal poison control centers. The reason is threefold. One, pets get into taboo table foods like grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, fatty trimmings, and chocolate. Two, pets can get into all sorts of seasonal problems ranging from eating tinsel or ornaments to lapping up potpourri.

Third, and most important, holidays often mean visitors, and they typically bring medications. Prescription or over-the-counter drugs are set on nightstands or bathroom counters, and inquisitive pets knock them off, chew them open, and eat the contents. Advise your guests to treat prescription medications like they would poisons, and keep them out of reach in a drawer, on a shelf, or in a cabinet.

If you’re giving presents that contain edible items, label them as “not pet-friendly.” This is a sign the present shouldn’t be under the tree or within reach but put away in a closet or secure drawer. Dogs have amazing sniffers and can smell salami or chocolate from 30 paces. When visitors come with presents, ask them if any aren’t pet-friendly; if presents are shipped, shoot a text message or email and ask the same question.

The holidays are also a time when work slows, fun increases, families reconnect, and pets get more attention. Take your pets with you on outdoor activities, but make sure they’re in a carrier or hooked with a harness to a seatbelt, and always keep them on leash.

Give your dog a few pieces of lean turkey, ham, roast, or salmon. I know I always do. But don’t overdo it when it comes to portion size.

Finally, be aware of the signs of two health conditions that spike during the holidays: pancreatitis and bloat. Pancreatitis is a serious and extremely painful condition often triggered by the pet consuming a large quantity of fat or fatty foods. Pancreatitis causes pancreatic enzymes to spill out into the abdomen and start to auto-digest the internal organs. It’s not only painful but can cause some pets to go blind or suffer long-term health problems. So DON’T give your pet the fatty trimmings off holiday meats no matter how hard they beg with those dancing, liquid-filled eyes, and excited yips.

Holiday turkey by Shutterstock.

Holiday turkey by Shutterstock.

Bloat, in this case, means “gastric dilation and volvulus” — not just having an overfull or gassy tummy. The stomach twists around and usually becomes distended. Once the stomach has twisted, the body will start to fill with toxins while the blood supply to the digestive tract is cut off.

Although any size dog can bloat (and even cats can, albeit rarely), the condition is most common in large, deep-chested dogs such as Rottweilers, Labs, Goldens, and Boxers.

Bloat is an incredibly painful, life-threatening surgical emergency. There are no home measures you can use to treat it; if you “wait and see,” it will never resolve on its own, and your dog will almost certainly die a horrible death. Just hit the lights and sirens and go to the vet if your dog shows signs such as unproductive retching, pacing, panting, stomach pain, and restlessness. The stomach will not always be distended, so don’t let the name fool you into overlooking the other symptoms.

While bloat has a strong genetic component, it can be triggered by overeating and too much exercise right after a meal, so keep meal sizes modest and your dog quiet after eating.

If your pet does bloat, he will require surgery. Ask your veterinarian to tack the stomach against the abdominal wall during the procedure; this will almost always prevent it from happening again.

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About the author: Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. The author of 24 books, Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on Good Morning America for 17 years. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the American Humane Association, as well as its chief veterinary correspondent; a founding member of Core Team Oz for The Dr. Oz Show; and a member of the Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Board. When his schedule allows, he practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital. Connect with him on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus.