15 December 2006

Festive season celebrations can significantly increase the odds of upset tummies or even serious illness for the favourite family pet.

This caution comes from veterinarians at The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Small Animal Clinic and Teaching Hospital and Western Animal Emergency Centre.

Professor Gail Anderson says the best gift we can give our pets this holiday is a sensible diet that does not include overly rich foods that could make them ill.

Professor Anderson suggested there are a number of food hazards that our furry friends should avoid.

“High fat meals can lead to severe pain in the abdomen from inflammation of the pancreas. This organ normally produces digestive enzymes and if faced with a very fatty meal may overreact – causing severe local tissue damage.

“As a surgeon, I would also caution people to avoid letting their cat play with tinsel. Ingesting this kind of material can lead to a bowel blockage and severe illness which sometimes can only be treated with surgery.”

Professor Anderson also said that chocolate is a major potential danger for both cats and dogs among the holiday foods to avoid.

“Chocolate contains three deadly toxins theobromine, theophylline and caffeine which affect the heart and nervous system in our cats and dogs.

“A dog suffering from chocolate toxicity will appear nervous and excitable. This is a life threatening condition and immediate action must be taken when warning signs develop,” Professor Anderson stressed.

Dr Mary Thompson, small animal medical specialist says a number of other cat and dog toxins are found in common foods including garlic, onions, macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins.

“Onions and garlic in any form can lead to anaemia with signs only becoming evident several days after consumption,” Dr Thompson said.

“Macadamia nuts affect the digestive, nervous and muscular systems. Less than a tablespoon of macadamias can cause muscle weakness, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea. Grapes and raisins may cause kidney damage.”

Dr Thompson says there are varying clinical signs in an anaemic pet.

“These include pale gums, quickness of breath, increased pulse, vomiting, diarrhoea and depressed behaviour”.

Director of the Western Animal Emergency Centre, Dr Vicki Stenner, suggests families should avoid leaving tempting foods in places where pets can find them.

“This includes leaving things in wrapped packages under the tree. Our pets have very sensitive noses and will find them, wrapped or not,” Dr Stenner said.

She urges common sense for all members of the family this holiday season.

“We suggest people buy their pets products specifically designed for animals and which are the right size. Owners should select balls or toys that will increase their pets’ activity levels.

“Perhaps most of all, they should make sure they feed their pets only their normal diet.”

If pet owners find themselves with an overindulged pooch or puss, they should seek veterinary advice. The University of Queensland Small Animal Clinic and Hospital offers 24-hour assistance on telephone (07) 3365 2110.

Media: Photo of cat in santa hat available by contacting Diana Lilley (07 3365 2753).