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December 19, 2007 > A fox in our home

A fox in our home

By Nancy Lyon

In the next couple of weeks many people will celebrate a special time - a season of faith, festivity and renewal. Christmas, with its tradition of festooning homes with trees, ornaments, light and special food treats is a wonderful time that brings with it a need to consider how our celebrations can impact the safety of our animal family.

Just last week, my husband and I decided that it was time to bring home a Christmas tree. As we drove in with tree atop the car, and as we were preparing to bring it into the house we had this epiphany... our new cat that had literally jumped into our car and joined our previously staid household... is a feline version of an Olympic gymnast. Obviously it was time to regroup and plan for the inevitable.

Visions of sugar plums were definitely not what crossed our minds when looking into the calculating eyes of "Ms. Foxtail" sizing up the tree. It was more one of a tree crashing in the forest...one with sparkling decorations. This was a time to consider securing the tree to the wall or using a ceiling hook with a sturdy fishing line (watching the remnants).

As with Foxy, (her name when she's good), forethought can be a life (and holiday tree) saver. Cats with their insatiable curiosity are notorious for consuming tinsel, ornament hooks and ribbon, and these can cause the intestine to bunch up like an accordion. If this occurs, the string can cut into the intestine like a saw, making many small perforations that must be repaired by a veterinarian. So it's time to be careful about leaving any accessible and tempting gift wrapping lying around. Who needs messy tinsel anyway?

Then there are electrical cords and the strings of lights that can cause electrocution when chewed on by dogs, cats and sometimes birds. Remembering to unplug the lights when you're not home, when no one is there to watch for a critter raid on the tree, may prevent a disaster.

Shiny glass ornaments and small toys on Christmas trees can be irresistible to many cats and the occasional dog. When these beckoning temptations are knocked off and shattered, they can be a danger for both animals and humans. Putting the most fragile ornaments high up in the tree may save a mess and a costly vet bill. Suggestions range from putting unbreakable ornaments on the lower part of the tree to leaving the bottom third undecorated.

And you might want to forget the traditional holiday plants. Those cheerful but tasty poisonous plants like poinsettia, holly, and mistletoe are not worth the chance of an emergency rush to the vet hospital, not to mention the possible diarrhea and inevitable vomiting...probably on the new couch or carpet. And if you have a natural tree it's a good idea to cover the water stand as water laced with products to preserve the tree or pine sap is toxic.

Having special treats on the table or counter isn't unusual at this time of year. It's so easy to leave candy or spicy treats out that are so very tempting to family critters who wish to sample the obvious offering. It's been reported that the majority of holiday-related emergencies that veterinarians see are food-related.

The leading problem is probably chocolate toxicity. Chocolate is toxic to almost all animals. A lethal dose for a 20-pound dog is only about six squares of baking chocolate or eight or nine times that amount of milk chocolate. Savoury foods with onions and garlic contain sulphides, which can cause the destruction of red blood cells, and are toxic to animals. Even foods spiced with garlic or onion salts should not be given to them.

And then there's New Year's Eve...

The same food precautions apply with the additional warning that alcohol given to animals, even in a small amount, is poisonous. In these cases, it is usually due to people giving their animals alcohol because they think it would be funny to see their pet get drunk. Animals are much smaller than people and it does not take much alcohol to make them seriously ill.

Add to this the typical and frightening loud noises that rival July 4th and the danger of escaping through windows and doors... and you have a life-threatening problem. Place them out of harm's way in an enclosed, quiet room away from celebrations.

Hopefully, these tips will help to protect your animal family during this special time. As for us, we are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. We look across the room at the Christmas tree waiting to be decorated and, I swear, look into the eyes of a smiling cat who in her brilliant mind is wearing commando garb and who waits... she has a "plan."

We shall see.

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