While the holidays are a festive time for many, they are often a busy, sad time for veterinarians.

On my Facebook vet list, practice owners were discussing whether to be off the day after Thanksgiving or not. Many said that they enjoyed the days off with family and friends. Others pointed out how busy the day after a holiday can be. Indeed, the cases of pancreatitis are increased at the holidays. Families are eating richer, fatty foods and guests are more likely to share with pets. A very small amount of turkey or ham can cause the pancreas to secrete so many enzymes that they eat through intestines. Mild cases get a special diet. Other cases get three to five days on IV fluids, IV meds and intensive care. The worst cases die in spite of the best treatment. Although Uncle Joey may have fed pork chop bones to his dog all its life, make sure Uncle Joey’s dog lived a long, happy life and it isn’t your dog anyway. Watch unattended plates also.

It is hard for my best friend to believe, but normal houses have more chocolate for the holidays. (To be fair, she does celebrate Christmas year around also.) Chocolate is toxic to most pets. Dark chocolate has more of the toxic stuff than milk chocolate and healthy adult Bull Mastiffs are less likely to have a problem with a bag of chips than a Yorkie-poo. Other sweets can include artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, that can cause liver failure and death in dogs. Xylitol is found in chewing gum and some peanut butter. (Look on the internet, because it may not be on the label.)

Watch the yeast dough. Just because a dog swallows it whole (cats are usually smarter) does not mean that it stops rising. The chemical reaction that produces gas continues in the stomach, but air bubbles are trapped in the dough and cannot be burped up. This can lead to pain and potentially fatal bloat.

There is something about some dogs that allows something about grapes and raisins to cause kidney failure. Not all dogs do it and we don’t know about cats, ferrets and birds, but why take the risk. Kidney failure cannot be fixed. Likewise keep all the medications out of reach and remind your guests to keep meds zipped up or put up. While a little alcohol may be okay for adults, it is not okay for pets. Really, why would you want to share the excellent wine anyway? If it is not excellent, the pets don’t want it either.

This is not the time to argue about the trash. Turkey strings, bones, and leftovers can be super tempting to pets with a superb sense of smell. Trash should be outside in a can with the lid securely fastened.

Even people with black thumbs can be tempted by holiday plants, but Amaryllis, mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar, and holly are some of the common holiday plants that are toxic. Poinsettias sap and fruits can be irritating also. The ASPCA offers lists of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats and their poison control will be staffed all holidays.

Open flames attract pets and people. But a cat playing in a flame can cause a household fire. Potpourris should be in a jar or pot with a lid out of reach of inquisitive pets. Many essential oils are toxic. (But we can mix up some safe ones for that lidded jar if you need). Irritants can severely damage your pet’s mouth, eyes and skin.

Holiday decorations are often the cause for an increase in foreign body surgeries. The Christmas tree is especially dangerous. Think about tying it to the nearby banister. Tinsel has been banned from our tree for decades. All of the decorations on the lower limbs should be nonbreakable and pet-boring. This is not the place for flour-salt ornaments that you made in second grade. Make sure the ornaments on the tree are too big to swallow. Don’t add anything (especially not aspirin, sugar or water additives) to the tree water. Your pet will drink it. Remember curiosity killed the pup that chewed the light cord.

Christmas guests are a whole other risk. Make sure Uncle Joey knows Fifi is only to be on a special diet. If there are to be children that are less than ideally behaved, make sure your pet has a safe crate or room to hide. This room must be off limits. If that is not enough, we have medicines and methods to help calm them. If your guests want to bring their pets, make sure you understand how the interaction is going to go. It is your house, you may have to ask that the visiting pets remain crated or boarded while the guests visit. Likewise, don’t let your guests life threatening asthmatic attack be the first notification that you have pets. That might be a good time to eat out.

And watch the exits. Strangers aren’t aware that your cat tries to escape every time the door is opened. Your visit will be more enjoyable if it is not spent with flashlights in the rain looking for the cat. Microchips are much cheaper than they used to be and they help get pets back home. Sometimes it is best to board your pet, but make sure that all of their vaccinations are up to date before you board, if possible. Even vaccines on the way in help. Canine influenza is now suspected in Columbus and we are recommending vaccines for boarders.

I think I can speak for all veterinarians, that we would rather you heed these tips and we have a normally scheduled time. There are too many sicknesses and deaths at the holidays. Although I will be here if you need me, I would rather avoid emergencies for you and your pet.