Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Plants to Avoid this Holiday Season

As you decorate your home for the holidays and accept gifts from family and friends, keep in mind that festive plants can be potentially toxic when eaten by your pets.

Here is a list of common winter holiday plants and the signs our canine and feline companions can exhibit post-ingestion.

While beautiful and elegant, the Amaryllis contains Lycorine and other noxious substances, which can cause increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and abdominal pain, lethargy, and tremors in both cats and dogs. The bulb of the plant is reputed to be more toxic than the flowers and stalk. Be aware that Amaryllis can be called the Belladonna or Saint Joseph Lily, the Cape Belladonna, and the Naked Lady.

Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus is a great year-round plant which is often introduced into the home at Christmas time. If your pet consumes Christmas Cactus, the fibrous plant material can cause irritation to the stomach and intestine, potentially leading to vomiting or diarrhea. 

Your pet’s Christmas will not be so “holly-jolly” if he consumes the leaves or berries of this plant. Holly’s toxicity “stems from” soap-like chemicals known as glycosides. In dogs and cats, consumption of Holly can cause gastrointestinal signs (decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea) and lethargy.

There are a variety of pine trees potentially causing toxicity to dogs and cats, including the Australian, Norfolk, and Norfolk Island Pine. Unlike the other plants in this list, the what makes these plants toxic is unknown. Ingestion of pine needles can cause gastrointestinal signs and lethargy.

But it's the water that nourishes our Christmas trees that can be even more potentially toxic. Standing water can harbor bacteria, molds, or other agents like fertilizers that can cause your pet to become extremely sick with just a few sips.

Mistletoe contains multiple substances toxic to both dogs and cats, including Lectins, and Phoratoxins. Consumption of mistletoe berries or leaves can cause severe gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurologic signs.

Veterinarians tell us that the ubiquitous Christmas plant, the Poinsettia, has an unnecessarily bad reputation for toxicity. Toxicology studies have not confirmed the public’s perception of the poinsettia’s exceedingly harmful effects, but it is still best that your pet does not eat any part of the plant, as the poinsettia contains a latex-like sap that can cause local irritation to the mouth and vomiting.

The best method of preventing inappropriate ingestion of a toxic plant by your pet is to keep these plants out of your home. Alternatively, you can obstruct your pet’s access to plants.

If your pet shows signs of illness it is best to contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, their page on toxic plants or your veterinarian to determine the best treatment.

Keep these guidelines in mind over the course of the next few weeks and you and your pet(s) will have a very happy holiday! 

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

Sources: Veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dreaming of Sugarplums?

Let's face it, if you have kids, they are going to wake you up early on Christmas morning. But we have some suggestions for helping your dog to leave you in  "heavenly peace" (unless of course, he is a brand new Christmas puppy!).

Make sure your dog is healthy.
Before teaching your dog to wait until your alarm has gone off, make sure there aren't any legitimate reasons why he's waking you early. For example, urinary tract infections or digestive upset can affect elimination habits.

Burn the Midnight Oil.
We believe "A tired dog is a happy dog" and you will too! Evening exercise will help your dog expend most of the energy that he will use to wake you up the next morning. It will also literally make him happier by releasing endorphins and enhancing his sense of well-being.

Keep Calm.
The less stimulation that exists to wake your dog, the less likely he is to wake you. Try using a white noise machine or playing some soft classical music. If your dog is crated, cover the crate with a sheet or blanket to reduce visual stimulation and changes in light.

If none of the solutions above seem to work for you, you may be able to train your dog to sleep in. Here's how:

1. Set your alarm 15-20 minutes earlier than your dog typically wakes you up.
2. After a week set your alarm five minutes later and continue to do this each week until you reach your desired wake-up time.
3. Don't get up before the alarm goes off. This will condition your dog to the sound of the alarm as his cue to wake (you) up.

It might take you a few weeks to learn what works for your dog, but these simple tips work. 

Best of luck keeping your kids tucked into their beds!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wintertime Play

Most dogs enjoy spending time outside, even when the wind is blowing and snow is covering the ground. Being homebound can be plain boring for your dog; however, there’s no reason to be stuck indoors with your this winter! Just be sure to keep things safe by avoiding ice and limiting the length of time you stay outside. Here are some great outdoor wintertime ideas for you and your dog:

The game of fetch is not just a summer sport; it can be enjoyed all year long, even in the snow! In fact, you can make fetch even more fun by throwing a toy into a pile of the white stuff. Your dog will test his or her tracking and digging skills by searching for the toy. Just be sure to pay attention to where you throw it in case Fido can’t find it!

Obstacle Course
Exercise your dog’s body and mind by creating an obstacle course. Dig paths through the snow with a shovel and set up obstacles for your dog along the way. For instance, place a ramp in the path so your dog will have to walk up and jump off. Position a low sliding board your dog can easily walk up somewhere along the path and watch your pooch enjoy sliding down. Make lots of curves along the course and end it with a loop so that the dog ends up back at the starting line. Once your dog gets the hang of the game, time it to see how fast he or she can complete the course. Be sure to give your pooch lots of praise when it finishes the course, and always supervise his play.

Snowshoeing through the snow is great exercise for you and can provide lots of entertainment for your dog! Bring your dog along for the walk (on leash if you’re in an open area) and watch him bound through the drifts.

Scavenger Hunt
Among dogs’ favorite activities is finding objects, so a scavenger hunt is a perfect way to keep him busy and happy this winter. Set up a scavenger hunt for your dog by hiding treats in a tree or evergreen bush. Place the treats in low-growing branches and allow your dog to sniff and search for the goodies. Alternatively, you can place treats in other hiding spots throughout your yard, like a bird bath or wood pile. Just be sure your choice of hiding places are clean and safe for your dog to be nosing around.