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Animal groups offer holiday safety tips

COVINGTON - In all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it may be easy to overlook household pets.

Though a family's furry friends may want to get in on the celebrations as much as anyone, holiday decorations, plants and even food can pose a danger to pet health, according to pet health experts.

Dr. Kristian Shriver, a local veterinarian with Animal Medical of Covington, said he sees all sorts of injuries this time of year.

"The most common thing we see injury-wise is cats that eat tinsel," Shriver said.

The strangest case Shriver said he's ever seen was a dog that ate glass Christmas ornaments. Caught by its owner while in the act, the dog survived but required surgery, he said.

But even if ornaments aren't ingested, they can still be dangerous for pets - if they fall and break, they could cut paws, Shriver said.

Also, "Christmas tree cords are very tempting for dogs and puppies, which can cause burns. Then, snacks that dogs and cats get from the table cause everything from upset stomachs to pretty serious illnesses."

Ham bones can do everything from break teeth to lodge in the intestines, which would merit surgery, Shriver said.

To keep pets safe through the holidays, the following tips are offered by The Humane Society of the United States and The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

' Anchor trees securely. Climbing cats and dogs with wagging tails can knock over the tree.

' Hang breakable and glass ornaments well out of reach. The small glass and metal fastenings can be stepped on or even swallowed by your pet. Consider decorating the tree with ornaments that are less enticing to pets such as dried non-toxic flowers, wood, fabric or pine cones. Traditional decorations such as ribbons or tinsel can become lodged in the intestines and cause an obstruction if swallowed.

' Clean up pine needles frequently. These can be toxic if eaten by your pet.

' Keep lights and extension cords safely secured or covered to deter chewing. Invest in pet-proof extension cords or spray with products such as Bitter Apple or Chew Stop.

' Candles can be fragrant and enticing to pets, but they can also be a fire hazard, and fumes can be harmful to birds.

' Liquid potpourri and sachets, popular during the holidays, can be very dangerous. Exposure can cause skin or oral damage, illness or death.

' Don't feed pets sweets. Chocolate is one of the most common poisons to many animals. Also, candies and gum containing large amounts of the sweetener xylitol can be toxic.

' Leftovers should be left alone. Don't give pets holiday leftovers and keep pets out of the garbage. Poultry bones can splinter and cause blockages; greasy, spicy and fatty foods can cause stomach upset; spoiled or moldy foods could cause food poisoning, seizures or tremors.

' Place unattended alcoholic drinks where pets cannot reach them. If ingested, the animal could become weak and sick, may go into a coma and, in severe cases, could die.

' Common Yuletide plants, such as mistletoe and holly berries, can cause gastrointestinal upsets and cardiovascular problems. Poinsettias are considered to be very low in toxicity and could cause mild vomiting or nausea. Other problem plants include: lilies, certain types of ivy, amaryllis and hibiscus.

' Protect your pet and your tree. Keep pets away from Christmas tree water. The water may contain fertilizers which if ingested, can cause a stomach upset. Stagnant tree water can also act as a breeding ground for bacteria.

' Be aware that animals for sale in pet stores or advertised in the newspaper or online may be products of puppy mills, according to the ASPCA. Such dogs may suffer from a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections or hereditary defects.

For more holiday safety tips, visit www.aspca.org or www.americanhumane.org.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.