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The Twelfth Day of Holiday Hazards

12/11/2008

On the twelfth day of the holidays, my true love gave to me...PRESENTS

Ah, presents. We all love 'em, and most of us like to shower our pets with holiday gifts too. Nothing wrong with that - truth is, it's a lot easier and more fun to buy presents for our dogs and cats than other family members; they're easy to please, always grateful, and never return their gifts.

We just need to be careful that our pets' stocking stuffers are safe for them.

Most safety risks from pet toys and treats relate to what happens if the object, or part of it, gets swallowed. And let's keep in mind that if it CAN be swallowed, it WILL be swallowed.

Dogs are really good at tearing their toys apart, and then swallowing the pieces, sometimes very very large pieces. Which can then become lodged in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines. In fact, dogs are also really good at swallowing toys whole - really big toys that you could never, ever believe someone could gag down. But they do. I've seen entire fairly large balls in dogs' stomachs, more than once. Go figure.

Ask any vet how many dog toys he or she has seen removed, surgically or with the endoscope, from the gastrointestinal tract of canine patients. A whole bunch is the answer.

So- it's essential to avoid dog toys that can be successfully torn into pieces, or swallowed whole. And you need to leave a lot of latitude in these definitions because dogs can tear up or swallow things that would amaze you. You want to stick with chew toys that are basically indestructible, or chew treats that are designed to be safely digestible. Kongs are great chew toys - they have a hollow center that can be stuffed with dog food or other safe foods, which will give a dog hours of pleasure trying to dig the stuff out. And as we know, a busy dog is a happy dog. There are lots of good kong stuffing ideas on the internet - just be sure you use foods that are safe for dogs to eat - nothing fatty or greasy, or too unfamiliar to your dog's digestive tract.

As for cats, the most risky toys are those that involved string, or anything long and skinny such as ribbons, yarn, etc. When cats swallow these, which is an unfortunately common occurrence, they often become entangled in the intestines, necessitating emergency surgery, and with a potential for intestinal tearing leading to peritonitis. Cats will also swallow anything small enough to gulp down, such as buttons or other similar object, and because a cat's intestinal tract is rather narrow, these object often become lodged, with disastrous results.

So- shower your pets with presents, indeed! Just be careful what you purchase, thinking always about safety - and never assume that just because something is marketed for pets it must be safe. If only that were true, vets would have a lot fewer surgeries to perform this holiday season.

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