Brightly colored ribbons, tinsel and other festive frills look pretty dangling from the Christmas tree. But balled up inside a cat's stomach, not so much.
The holidays can be a dangerous time for pets.
"Tinsel, ribbons and a lot of the new holiday wrappings are so shiny, fluffy or frilly that they are very attractive to cats, especially kittens," veterinarian Lisa Ryan of Coastal Cat Clinic on St. Simons Island said. "They are going to play with decorations and wrappings. It's irresistible but can lead to serious injuries."
Curling ribbon, not curiosity, nearly cost one young cat its life. The fun-loving feline swallowed one end of the ribbon while playing with it. Unable to spit it out, the cat kept swallowing, which resulted in a life-threatening obstruction, said Ryan, who specializes in feline medicine.
"He had close to 3 feet of curling ribbon balled up in his intestines. I had to go in and surgically remove it, and he made a full recovery," she said.
Recently, a 2-year-old cat nearly died as the result of potpourri poisoning. The cat accidentally knocked over a container of liquid potpourri, walked through the spill then licked its paws clean.
"The potpourri was very toxic and almost like a chemical burn. It burned the cat's paws, roof of its mouth and throat severely," Ryan said.
She said the cat recovered after three weeks of treatment including pain medication and an almost liquid diet.
"It's easy to put things out of reach of a dog, but not a cat. Cats are good at climbing Christmas trees and getting into things," Ryan said.
Dogs and puppies, however, are equally vulnerable to other holiday hazards, said veterinarian Rusty Gibson of Gibson Animal Clinic in Waycross.
"Puppies love to chew. They will chew on an electrical cord and get electrocuted," said Gibson, who has treated pups with electrical burns inside their mouths from gnawing on cords to Christmas lights.
Kittens also get shocked and burned from chewing on cords, Ryan said.
Food, however, poses some of the most serious health risks. With all the holiday cooking going on, people tend to feed table scraps and other human foods to their dogs, and that can lead to pancreatitis, Gibson said.
"Pancreatitis is a big problem in dogs ... and can be life-threatening," Gibson said. "Almost every holiday, both Thanksgiving or Christmas, the next day you can count on seeing pets that have overeaten and come in vomiting with diarrhea and severe abdominal pain."
The best medicine is prevention. Do not feed dogs table scraps, he said.
"If you are going to feed them table scraps, then it should be lean meat mixed with vegetables. And do not overfeed them," he said.
People with pets should avoid using glass ornaments, or, at least hang them securely out of reach of cats and dogs. Pets can cut their paws or lips on the broken glass, Ryan said.
teresa.stepzinski@jacksonville. com, (912) 264-0405
HOLIDAY PET TIPS
Veterinarians recommend pet owners take precautions to reduce the risk of their animals being poisoned, sickened or injured during the holidays.
* Avoid liquid potpourri, tinsel, garlands, glass ornaments or decorations made from food, and do not use snow sprays or flocks.
* Put holiday wrappings and decorations including ribbons, bows, snow globes and Styrofoam packaging materials out of reach.
* Make plants including holly, mistletoe, poinsettias and lilies inaccessible, and pick up fallen pine needles, both real and artificial.
* Do not feed pets chocolate or other human food, especially poultry bones or skin, alcohol, gravies or potato latkes. - Tape down or cover electrical cords, and unplug holiday lights when you are not home.
* Cover the tree stand so pets cannot drink the water.
* Put candles out of reach, and use fireplace screens to prevent burns.
* Make sure pets have a safe quiet place to retreat to in order to reduce stress from guests and activities. Also maintain the pet's regular exercise and feeding schedule.
* If you think your pet has eaten something poisonous, call your veterinarian or the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control Center's 24-hour emergency hot line at (888) 4-ANI-HELP.
Sources: Coastal Cat Clinic, Gibson Animal Clinic, Satilla Animal Hospital and Glynn County Animal Services