Whitney Torkel-Finchfield, from Vic West Pet Hospital, with a local pup.

From tinsel to toxic foods, 10 tips to keep your furry friend healthy this winter

Preventive measures are key for pet safety

Winter can be a special time for families gathering for the holidays and cold-weather activities, but the season poses some specific risks for four-legged friends.

The good news is that with a little care and planning, winter can be a wonderful experience for all family members, notes Dr. Vandeep Shergill, owner of Vic West Pet Hospital and marking three decades as a veterinarian committed to animal welfare.

  1. Pass on the people food: While yummy for you, chocolate is toxic to pets, so resist the urge to “treat” them. The same is true for goodies containing raisins, which like grapes, can be toxic, and the artificial sweetener Xylitol – toxic to dogs with the potential for vomiting, loss of co-ordination, seizures, liver failure and death.

    “It’s simply best to make sure all human treats are kept away from where your pets can get to them,” Dr. Shergill says.

  2. Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is also common around the holidays but even a small amount could cause trouble for your furry friend.
  3. Time out for tinsel: Tinsel and string can be dangerous for curious critters. Cats (and some dogs) are attracted by shiny things and because tinsel is thin, sharp and hard to break, it can wrap around or ball up in your pet’s intestine, causing a blockage or rupture, Dr. Shergill says. Watch for vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, constipation, tarry stools, lethargy, excessive drooling, abdominal bloating or pain, remaining still or refusing to lie down.
  4. Ornamental observations: Beyond tinsel, other ornaments can contain sharp edges that can damage eyes, mouth or feet.
  5. Powerful problems: Many families love holiday lights, but watch for curious young pets that can also be tempted to chew, leading to an electrical shock.
  6. Mindful of meds: Remind visiting guests to keep medications high and out of reach of any pets.
  7. Plants + pets: Christmas plants are festive, but some are toxic. Holly berries, Christmas cacti, poinsettias and the amaryllis flower can irritate pets’ systems, while mistletoe can cause serious health issues, Dr. Shergill notes. Lilies are also extremely toxic to cats.
  8. Tree tips: Fir trees produce an irritating oil, while consumed needles can obstruct or puncture internal organs. The water nourishing the tree can also cause extreme illness if bacteria, molds and fertilizers are present.
  9. Poison patrol: If cold weather has you filling your vehicle’s radiator, watch for spills of antifreeze, containing deadly ethylene glycol. Clean all spills and If you think your pet may have consumed antifreeze, contact your vet immediately. Caution is also urged for those considering rodent poison, which can harm pets if the poison – or affected rodents – is consumed.
  10. Bang-on safety: On cold mornings, give your vehicle hood a good band before starting your car. Animals climb under the hood as a way to seek shelter and warm up next to the engine.


Vic West Pet Hospital serves Vic West and Esquimalt residents from 526 Esquimalt Rd. Convenient hours welcome patients from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

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