Most of us run around like headless chickens as the holidays near, trying to get all the shopping done, prepare for guests or travel, and cook an unforgettable holiday meal. Caring for our pets and providing them with a safe space can end up on the back burner, leaving our four-legged friends vulnerable and prone to an injury or illness requiring emergency treatment. Town and Country Animal Hospital can help guide you in the face of an emergency. Here are the top four emergencies we see around the holidays, and how you can help your pet avoid them.

#1: Pet intestinal or stomach obstruction

Pets who get into the trash, steal food from the holiday table, chew on bones given to them, or swallow pieces of enticing holiday decor can experience life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstructions or perforations. Objects can get stuck anywhere along the GI tract, including the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, and require surgery to be removed. Signs include persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. Pets who remain obstructed, or whose intestines tear or rupture, can die. Common holiday obstruction culprits include:

  • Tinsel, ribbon, and string
  • Animal bones
  • Corn cobs
  • Ornaments and pine cones

#2: Pet pancreatitis

The pancreas secretes enzymes during digestion to help your pet’s body break down and absorb nutrients, but this organ can be easily overstimulated by an excess of dietary fat. Gravy, turkey skin, or other fatty foods can trigger an enzyme overload that damages the pancreatic cells and causes your pet pain, vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and lethargy. Most pets with pancreatitis require intensive care in the veterinary hospital for several days.

#3: Pet toxin ingestion

Toxins abound during the holidays, and these ingested poisons can cause short- or long-term organ damage, or in severe cases—death. Keep these common holiday toxins out of your home or out of your pet’s reach:

  • Chocolate — Your pet cannot metabolize the stimulant compounds in chocolate, resulting in vomiting, tremors, seizures, or death.
  • Xylitol — This artificial sweetener tricks your pet’s body into producing excess insulin, which causes low blood sugar and liver damage.
  • Raisins and grapes — For reasons still unknown, these cause kidney failure hours to days after ingestion.
  • Macadamia nuts — The toxic compound in macadamia nuts is unclear, but it causes overheating, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness.
  • Garlic and onions — Savory compounds in the Allium plant family can damage your pet’s red blood cells and impair oxygen transport.
  • Alcohol — Even small amounts can cause pets to become intoxicated and result in alcohol poisoning.
  • Yeast dough — Dough ferments and rises in your pet’s stomach, causing alcohol intoxication and potential obstruction.
  • Antifreeze and snow globes — These contain ethylene glycol—a sweet, attractive compound that causes rapid kidney failure or death if ingested.
  • Holiday plants — Mistletoe, holly, and poinsettia are irritating to tissues and cause drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested. Large amounts of holly can cause seizures.
  • Lilies — This plant causes rapid, catastrophic kidney failure in cats who chew on any part of the plant.

#4: Anxiety-related pet illness and injury

Pets may feel stress or overexcitement as guests arrive for holiday gatherings, and, if confined,  may break their teeth or claws trying to escape. These same pets also can become injured on a fence or hit by a car if they run from your home. Pets prone to panic should be sent to a friend’s or family member’s home during stressful gatherings to prevent injury. Their anxiety also can be addressed by your veterinarian with medications, supplements, and other proven non-drug strategies.

Cats internalize their stress and may act out or develop stress-related illness. Cats can develop upper respiratory infections, eye ulcers, bladder inflammation, bladder infections, or urethral obstructions that require immediate emergency treatment. Minuscule changes around your home or a single visitor are enough to stress your cat, so try to keep their routine consistent throughout the holidays, avoid moving their litter box or belongings, and instruct guests to play with your cat only on the cat’s terms. A short course of anti-anxiety medication also can be helpful for sensitive pets.

If your pet has a holiday mishap, contact the Town and Country Animal Hospital team to schedule a visit or for guidance from our on-call service. Head to Columbia Pike Animal Hospital, our sister facility, for emergency care outside of our normal hours, or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline if your pet ingests a potential toxin.