December 11, 2012

Pet Q&A: Poinsettias are safe; other hazards abound

I want to make sure everyone knows not to have poinsettias as holiday décor if they have pets. Will you please spread the word?

I want to make sure everyone knows not to have poinsettias as holiday décor if they have pets. Will you please spread the word?

I am happy to spread the word about holiday hazards, including the happy fact that poinsettias are one thing you don't have to worry about. That's right: These traditional holiday plants are just fine around pets.

Yes, if eaten in sufficient quantities, the poinsettia can cause a mild and usually temporary stomach and intestinal upset, but this is more of a risk for your carpet than it is for your pet.

On the other hand, among the plants that do pose a hazard are mistletoe (causes more serious gastrointestinal and potential heart issues) and lilies (which can cause lethal kidney failure in cats in very small amounts). Holly, too, is a plant that needs to be off your holiday decorating list.

Instead of stressing about poinsettias, turn your attention to two things many careful pet lovers overlook: medications and foods sweetened with xylitol. It's essential to keep all medications, both for animals and people, prescription and over-the-counter, out of reach of pets at all times. That means you need to ask any guests if they have medications with them, and provide them with a safe, secure place to keep them while they're in your home. Keeping them in luggage or on top of the nightstand is just asking for tragedy when pets are in the home.

As for xylitol, this artificial sweetener seems to get more popular every year. If you have gum or breath mints in your purse or backpack, don't leave your bags where your pet can get into them. And again, remind your houseguests – and your kids – to be sure that these products are not where a pet can get to them.

– Dr. Marty Becker

The buzz

Rabbit head tilt a common malady

Head-tilting in rabbits is common and can be caused by a variety of diseases. A common name for head tilt is "wry neck," although the correct medical term is "vestibular disease." Rabbits with vestibular disease may adopt a head position that ranges from a few degrees to 180 degrees off the normal position. They can fall over, circle, have difficulty standing and develop eye injuries because the downward-facing eye is in a position of vulnerability.

For rabbits with vestibular disease, the vast majority will recover most of their normal head position and lead normal lives, as long as good nursing, veterinary care and time for recovery are provided. Other rabbits, however, will have a lifelong residual head tilt even if the inner ear disease is cured.

– Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

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