“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”

The holidays are a joyous time, but they can present certain dangers to pets. With some preparation and precaution, you can still enjoy this festive time with your furry family members without having to make an emergency trip to the vet.

Foods and Beverages

Make sure your guests know not to give your pets table scraps, and stick to your their regular feeding routine.  Common food items that are pet hazards include bones, grapes, raisins and chocolate. Bones are a choking hazard, while chocolate, grapes and raisins contain substances that are toxic and potentially deadly to dogs. Keep in mind that digestive problems can be caused by spicy foods, and fatty foods aren't healthy for your pets to eat. If you'll be having kids over as guests, try to get to any food that's accidentally dropped before your pets do. Also, ingesting alcohol can be deadly for your pets, so keep all alcoholic beverages well out of their reach.


Christmas lights are beautiful, but they can cause serious problems for pets that chew on them. Put all wires out of reach so your pet does not receive a dangerous electrical shock or burn. If you like to light candles during the holidays, keep them on a safe and stable surface that your pets can't get to, and never leave them burning unattended when you have pets around.


Live Christmas trees can be hazardous to your pet for a few different reasons. If they are not properly anchored in their stand, they can fall over onto your pets. Drinking the standing water in the tree stand can make your pet get sick. Bacteria in the water can cause diarrhea or an upset stomach when ingested. Keep breakable ornaments on the higher branches of your tree, so your pets aren't at risk of cutting themselves on broken pieces if they knock one down. Also, skip the tinsel altogether, especially if you have a cat. Tinsel can cause an obstruction in the digestive tract if your cat ends up swallowing a piece.


Common holiday plants, such as mistletoe and holly  can be toxic to dogs. When in doubt, play it safe and stick with artificial holiday plants and flowers. 


Keep your pets' safety in mind when choosing gifts for them. To prevent choking, avoid buying flimsy toys with squeakers inside, especially for dogs that like to chew things up. Puzzle toys are much sturdier and can be filled with treats.  Not only are these safer, they keep your dog’s brain busy for hours!  Buy your cat a stuffed toy to bat around or a larger ball to chase.  Skip toys that have a lot of strings, which can become gastrointestinal obstruction if swallowed.

Avoid using chocolate decorations, candy canes or ribbon on the outside of the packaging for friends and family members where pets may have access to the wrapped gifts. Take care in where you place wrapped foodstuffs for the holidays.  Dogs can smell candies and chocolates through wrapping paper and may ingest the packaging to get to the food inside.

What to Do 

Even though you've taken every precaution possible to avoid pet hazards, you suspect that your dog or cat has managed to ingest a toxic substance.  What should you do?  First of all stay calm. If possible gather the label from the product listing its ingredients, or a sample of the substance you think your pet might have swallowed.  This will help the veterinarian determine if your pet is at risk and what type of treatment should be used. Call your veterinarian or local animal hospital, and give them as much information as you can on what you think your pet ate and if he's having any health issues. If your pet becomes unconscious, has trouble breathing or has seizures, bring him to an emergency animal clinic immediately.   

Wishing safe and happy holidays and looking forward to seeing you in 2016!

Image credit:  humonia | iStock Photo
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Most dogs love peanut butter, and it is commonly used for training or as a fun treat such as filling a Kong toy. Peanut butter is generally safe for dogs to eat, but there are a few specialty brands on the market that dog owners need to be aware of because they contain the ingredient xylitol.

Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol sweetener found in chewing gum, baked goods, and toothpaste. It can be purchased as a sugar substitute to bake with or sweeten beverages. It is not harmful to humans, but it is toxic to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), seizures, liver failure (hepatic necrosis), and even death.

Several specialty peanut butter and nut butter brands include it in their formulations. Nuts ‘n More, Krush Nutrition, and P-28 Foods all make peanut butter and nut-based spreads containing the ingredient. So far, mainstream peanut butter brands haven’t started using xylitol but it is gaining in popularity and it may end up in other brands of peanut butter as food companies switch out refined sugar for natural sweeteners.

If your dog loves peanut butter, check the peanut butter you buy for your furry family member to make sure it isn't sweetened with xylitol. If it is, keep it for the human members of your family only.


Image credit:  matka_Wariatka | iStock
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Canine Influenza has been isolated as the cause of an outbreak of severe upper respiratory infections in the Chicago area. The H3N8 strain of the virus was first recognized in 2004 in populations of racing greyhounds and until 2015 was the only strain of canine influenza found in the United States.  However, a 2015 outbreak of canine influenza in Chicago was traced to the H3N2 strain. To date canine influenza has been found in 30 states from Florida to Colorado to Iowa to Massachusetts. Cases of Canine Influenza (CI) have been isolated in two states which border Minnesota: Iowa and Wisconsin.

CI virus (CIV) is highly contagious and spreads primarily through respiratory secretions during coughing or sneezing. Other routes of transmission include contaminated clothing, surfaces, bedding and food dishes. Because CIV is a new virus, our current dog population has no immunity to it meaning that virtually all exposed dogs will become infected. Of those exposed, eighty (80%) percent of exposed dogs will become ill with the virus. The virus spreads more quickly in groups of dogs that are in close contact.  Just as with a child in school or daycare, anytime individuals are in close contact they tend to share each other’s infections. So it is with CIV and outbreaks are always possible in boarding facilities, daycare, dog shows and grooming shops.

The good news is that majority of sick dogs develop a mild form of the disease. Common symptoms are a soft, moist cough lasting 10-30 days, sneezing, low grade fever, reduced appetite, sneezing and mild discharge from the eyes and nose. Good supportive care is usually all that is required until the virus runs its course.

A small number of infected dogs will develop the more severe form of the disease. These patients have high fevers, a deep often productive cough, thick discharge from the eyes and nose and a more dangerous secondary bacterial infection causing pneumonia. Treatment requires intravenous fluids, broad spectrum antibiotic support, hospitalization, nutritional support and sometimes oxygen therapy.

A vaccine has been developed against the H3N8 strain of CIV and it is not known whether the H3N8 vaccine provides any protection against the H3N2 strain. Routine use of this vaccine is recommended in areas in which the virus has become endemic, but it may not completely prevent infection, but appear to reduce the severity and duration of the illness, as well as the length of time when an infected dog may shed the virus in its respiratory secretions and the amount of virus shed – making them less contagious to other dogs. Veterinarians in the Chicago area are refining their preventative health care vaccination recommendations due to the recent outbreaks in that region. As of the date of this writing, Minnesota has not reported its first case of CIV. Will it come to our area? Probably, and if it does Animal Wellness Center will let our pet owners know how best to protect their furry babies.

At this time, Animal Wellness Center has the H3N8 vaccine available. We do not currently consider it to be a core vaccine (a vaccine which all patients need to receive). We recommend its use for all of our patients traveling into CIV endemic areas or being housed in facilities with other dogs which may have come from endemic areas.  If you have any concerns or questions about your pet please contact your veterinarian. 

For more information go to Cornell University http://mediarelations.cornell.edu/2015/04/12/midwest-canine-influenza-outbreak-caused-by-new-strain-of-virus/  or the American Veterinary Medical Association http://atwork.avma.org/2015/04/13/chicago-canine-influenza-outbreak-traced-h3n2-strain/

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In order to help families learn about ways to safely behave around dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association features an animated video in the pet care library at HealthyPet.com called "Play Nice With Dogs."  7-12 year old students at The Art Place in Michigan created paper cut-out artwork to demonstrate safe ways to interact with dogs.  The animated children and dogs playfully teach viewers to ask owners for permission to pet a dog, to not hug or kiss dogs near the face, to stay away from sleeping dogs, and to leave dogs' bones and toys alone.  A great tool to use in teaching kids how to play nice with dogs!

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