[December 16, 2013; Philadelphia, PA] – Dr. Lisa Murphy, Penn Vet's assistant professor of toxicology, and Dr. Kenneth Drobatz, Chief of the Emergency Service at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, offer the following tips to keep pets healthy and out of the emergency room during the holidays.

Poisonous Holiday Plants

Penn Vet, holiday tipsPoinsettias: Toxicity from poinsettias is often exaggerated. The thick sap inside the stem is toxic, but a healthy dog or cat that eats part of the plant will only display symptoms such as vomiting, lack of appetite, and depression. If a pet ingests part of a poinsettia, owners should restrict food and water for a few hours. Symptoms should only last an hour or two. If they persist, pet owners should consult with their vet.

Mistletoe: Mistletoe berries are the most toxic part of the plant, but are fairly mild in toxicity. If ingested, an animal will display symptoms such as vomiting, lack of appetite, and depression. The risk is dehydration. Pets that are very young or very old may require treatment.

Holly: Spines on holly leaves are sharp and can cause injury to the mouth, tongue, and lips. Holly also has some chemical content that is toxic. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which may be more severe than symptoms caused by ingesting other holiday plants (such as poinsettias and mistletoe). Animals may also drool or foam at the mouth. Pet owners should gently rinse the animal’s mouth with water or provide water or milk for the pet to drink in order to soothe the mouth.

Yew: Though yew is not typically brought into the house, it is important to know that if ingested, all parts of this bush are incredibly cardiotoxic, except for the red fleshy portion of the fruit.

Lilies: Lily plants can be toxic to cats, causing kidney injury with potentially devastating, fatal effects. The toxic component of lilies is water soluble and present in both the leaves and the flowers, though more potent in the flowers. The exact toxin has not been identified. Pet owners should seek veterinary attention immediately if their cat has ingested a lily plant.

Deck the Halls

Tinsel, wires for decorations, and ornaments all pose potential pet problems.

Tinsel can cut the intestines and cause severe injuries when ingested.

Electric wires look especially appetizing to puppies and kittens. If they succeed in chewing them, they can suffer burns or shock that can cause seizures, loss of consciousness, and fluid build-up in the lungs.

Glass ornaments and ornament hooks are hazardous because they break easily. Pets can ingest the splinters, cutting their mouth, esophagus, or intestines.

In addition, dough ornaments, because of high salt content, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, seizures.

Good Gift Giving

Give toys that are too big to be swallowed or get caught in the animal’s throat. Do not give anything with a string attached. Be sure to remove bells or squeakers.

Festive Foods

Pet owners should maintain their pet’s regular diet. Treats of turkey, ham, gravy, cookies, and other goodies can lead to gastrointestinal upsets such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Dispose of all bones carefully so that pets cannot get to them. Poultry bones are particularly dangerous, as they can splinter and cut the intestines or get lodged in a pet’s esophagus.

Guilty pleasures for humans, like chocolate and alcohol, can be toxic to pets. Keep chocolate, nuts, and alcoholic beverages out-of-reach from pets, as they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or a condition called pancreatitis, which can be deadly. Yeast-containing bread dough can rapidly expand in the warm environment of the stomach and also produce alcohol as it ferments. Grapes and raisins can be toxic to pets, as well.

Be sure that everyone in your family knows and understands what your pets can and cannot consume.

In Case of an Emergency

As with any potential emergency, immediate attention from a veterinarian is imperative. Penn Vet’s Emergency Service is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Earlier this year, the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care named Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital one of only nine designated Veterinary Trauma Centers in the U.S. In addition, the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society recently named Ryan Hospital a Level I Facility, making it the only institution to hold both of these prestigious distinctions.

The Emergency Service is staffed by an integrated team of board-certified specialists who attend to each patient’s emergency and critical care needs. Call 215-746-8911 or visit Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital at 3900 Spruce Street.

About Penn Vet

Penn Vet is a global leader in veterinary medicine education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the only veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health Initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, seeing nearly 33,000 patients a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals, treating 33,000 patients each year – 4,100 in the hospital and 29,000 at farms through the Field Service. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

For more information, visit www.vet.upenn.edu.