Are Christmas Tree Needles Bad for Dogs?

Your Christmas Tree bring Joy During the Holidays, but it can also bring danger to your Dogs and other pets.  Apart from you, your dog may think that your Christmas tree is her friend during the holidays and cannot see the perils that tree can represent. Most dogs are instinctively drawn to its inviting smell, but beware; that natural curiosity can lead to the risk of serious injury or worse. Your dog's temperament and demeanor will play a role in how much mischief she might find herself in. Even the most well behaved canine will find it hard to resist the temptation of a Christmas tree and its trimmings. Short of 24/7 supervision, the next best line of defense to ensure her safety is to take precautions that could eliminate or at least minimize risk to your dog's health.

Christmas tree needles are not digestible, and if your dog tries to eat them, she'll likely get sick and vomit, and that is if you're lucky. They are mildly toxic, and if she does manage to ingest them, can cause damage to, obstruct or even puncture to her digestive tract. Oils from the fir tree can also irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach and cause her to vomit or drool excessively. Daily sweeping and vacuuming are the best ways to keep tree needles out of your dog's reach. Toddler gates are also a good way to keep your dog away.

Be extra careful with artificial trees as the small pieces are plastic and not organic. These small pieces of plastic can get lodged in her digestive tract and lead to illness, large veterinary bills and even death in extreme cases. You can spray an organic dog repellent on your tree to try and minimize the risks.

 

 

Is Christmas Tree Water Safe for Dogs?

Back in the old days, Christmas trees were usually sold with just a basic wooden base nailed to the bottom for balance. You’d go down to the hardware store, pay them $30 and haul the tree home and stick it in a corner. After a few days the needles would start to dry out and eventually shortly after Christmas Day you would put it out onto the sidewalk for removal or recycling.

But, as appetites for larger trees grew (and house and ceiling heights too!), people began spending more money and buying taller trees, which need a stronger base. They also buy them earlier and leave them up past New Years. Along with these new preferences came a need for a base that could hold water and give your Christmas tree a little more shelf life. So, those of us with curious pets inevitably discovered that dogs love drinking water straight from the Christmas Tree water holder. It tastes different and smells different, so it is bad for our canine friends? As Charla Dawson, owner of Dapper Dog and Classy Cat, points out, “The water itself is not poisonous, but if a fertilizer was added to the water, it may be poisonous. This fertilizer may cause the pet to suffer with diarrhea and vomiting.” (Tree preservatives may also be added to the water, helping to keep the tree fresh during transport.) Dawson therefore advises that you cover the base.

A quick and easy remedy is to make sure your dog’s water bowl is full to discourage exploration of the pine scented water under your tree. But if that won’t work, try covering the tree bowl with some well-secured foil or plastic wrap to prevent your water lapping loved one. Or, if you’re one to accessorize this kind of thing, you could take on a more decorative approach and make a Christmas themed cover for reuse next year. One impressive example is a pretty cover made out of burlap, as seen on the DIY Showoff blog. With some imagination, you can probably come up with other clever solutions.

Even if you just put plain water in the stand, I would advise covering the exposed base. The tree, which may have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals, will leach compounds into the water. It’s better to be ultra-safe than sorry when it comes to the holidays and your dog.

For more tips and ideas on keeping your cat safe this Holiday, click here.

How to tell if your dog is healthy

Since your dog hasn’t mastered speaking in words yet, you may wonder how you can tell if your dog is feeling okay. It turns out, many of the clues can come from just looking at your dog and reading his body language.

Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, shares some of the signs to be on the lookout for when it comes to your furry friend’s health:

  • Good appetite

  • High energy level

  • Healthy-appearing coat

  • Interactive behavior

  • No vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, increased thirst or unexplained weight loss

The above signs are just the beginning of being able to tell if your dog is healthy, though. Different parts of your dog’s body hold the key to determining if she is truly healthy.

The Mouth
If you notice that your dog has bad breath, it can be an indication of the need for a dental check up, or even something more. “ Some odors may be indicative of fairly serious chronic problems,” said Dr. Murray. “Liver or intestinal diseases may cause foul breath, whereas a sweet, fruity smells may be indicative of diabetes. If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia or urine, kidney disease is a possibility. Any time you notice your pet has bad breath accompanied by other signs of ill health, schedule a visit to the veterinarian.”

Another unlikely place to look to tell if your dog is healthy are his gums. “Once a week, with your dog facing you, lift his lips and examine his gums and teeth,” says Dr. Murray. “The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.”

 Not only can irregularities mean a problem with your dog’s mouth, but it can also be a sign of gastrointestinal issues.

The Eyes
Your dog’s eyes are also indicators of his overall health and wellbeing.  In fact, many vets recommend that you give your dog regular home eye exams to keep you aware of any potential health problems. Dr. Murray explains how easy it is to do this: “Face your dog in a brightly lit area, and look into his eyes. They should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball should be white. His pupils should be equal in size, and there shouldn’t be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes. With your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid and look at the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.”

If you do notice a problem, call your veterinarian. They can prescribe medicine to heal any eye disorders that can be impairing your pooch’s vision.

The Skin
Be mindful of your dog’s skin, as well. “Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health,” says Dr. Murray. “When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes -- including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these -- may be affecting your dog’s skin.”

 Skin problems can also affect your dog’s fur, which can result in excessive shedding.

Here are some other ways to tell if your dog may be ill.

Other more common signs of an ill or injured dog include pale gums, rapid breathing, weak or rapid pulse, change in body temperature, and difficulty standing. And of course, if you’re ever really in doubt as to whether or not your pup is sick, making a trip to the vet can help, if only to alleviate your worry.

The Lonely Dog

Last spring Lori Taylor, 39, of Brooklyn, New York, was as happy as she’d been in recent memory. After being laid off eight months earlier, she had a new job, a steady paycheck, and somewhere to go every morning.

But the other member of Taylor’s household—a two-year-old dachshund named Oliver—was markedly less excited. “Oliver had gotten used to me being home with him,” said Taylor. “He kind of freaked out when that changed.” Suddenly her landlord, who lived upstairs, was complaining that the once quiet Oliver was spending his late afternoon hours each day barking.

The pair could not remain in the apartment if something didn’t change.

So Taylor consulted her veterinarian, who recommended as much exercise as she and her pooch could fit in. “I started getting up an hour earlier each day, and walking fast around the park with Oliver for that entire hour to wear him out. It was either try that or move. Luckily it worked.”

Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian with New York City Veterinary Specialists, says canine exercise is often the first defense against loneliness and other emotional issues that lead to behavior problems in dogs. Below, Dr. Joyce weighs in on how to identify and ameliorate loneliness in your best doggy friend.

Do Dogs Get Lonely?

Dogs are social animals, and generally don’t tolerate long periods of being alone. “Whether it’s ‘lonely’ as we feel it or not, we don’t know, but they do exhibit signs that being alone is not good for them,” says Dr. Joyce. Signs can include behaviors like barking, chewing furniture, excessive self-licking and soiling the house. “Different breeds have different tolerance for being alone,” explains Dr. Joyce. “For example, border collies and other dogs bred to be on high alert are likely to be the most sensitive. Also younger dogs, or dogs accustomed to spending most of their time with others, won’t likely respond as well to long periods of being alone.”

How Can You Identify Loneliness in Your Dog?

Dogs communicate with their owners through their actions. A dog that is injuring itself (like with excessive licking or tail biting) or causing other disturbances (like barking or destroying property) during longer stretches of time spent alone may be reacting to loneliness, which is an especially likely cause if the amount of alone-time has recently increased. Once your veterinarian has ruled out medical explanations for the problematic behaviors, emotional problems can, and should, be addressed.

One caveat: it is important to distinguish loneliness (which crops up during repeated, lengthy periods of being alone) from separation anxiety, diagnosed when dogs become very upset as owners prepare to leave, and then exhibit behaviors like not eating when owner is away, or gnawing at doors and windows even during short periods of solitude. Your veterinarian can help you understand whether your pet’s problem likely results from loneliness or separation anxiety, the latter of which is often treated with a combination of behavioral techniques and medication.

How to Help Your Dog Cope with Loneliness

While quitting your job is not likely a viable option, many dog owners have found the strategies below useful:

Wear them out. Dr. Joyce notes that a dog worn out from a healthy morning exercise session is calmer and happier throughout the day. Just ask Taylor, who continues to exercise Oliver every morning. (“He’s stopped barking, and I’ve lost 10 pounds!” Taylor says.)

Entertain them. Dogs do better alone when they have something to do. Interactive toys (like the red rubber Kongs that allow you to hide food for your pet to excavate) can lie around until Fido needs to busy himself with something.

Buy them company. If a midday dog walker is in your budget, it’s a good option for the lonely dog. Just 20 minutes of social interaction with the walker and others they meet on the street can go a long way toward improving your dog’s mood.

And finally, Dr. Joyce adds, make the most of your time together when you are able to be with your pooch. “Engage with your dog,” she says. “Toss a ball, give him a good brushing, or even just watch some television together. At the end of the day, dogs are happy just to sit on the couch with you, too.”

How to Prevent 5 Common Dog Illnesses

A few simple steps on your part could mean more years of happy times with your dog. You are likely your dog’s primary health advocate, playing a critical role in your pet’s continued good health and long life.

Too often, illnesses and injuries that affect a dog’s health and even shorten its lifespan are easily preventable, say the experts. Yet it needn’t take great effort on your part to avoid these canine health problems. “That’s how most of life is,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “We find ourselves in these predicaments sometimes when we could have easily done the right thing. Most of the common dog diseases can be avoided.”

Helping to Prevent Dog Illnesses

You can hopefully look forward to a number of years filled with games of fetch, rambles on the beach and other pleasures of dog companionship if you work to prevent these health problems, say Dewhirst and other veterinarians.

Heartworm
“Heartworm tops the list,” says Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta. The heartworm is a parasite spread through the bite of mosquitoes. Heartworm disease, which affects the lungs and sometimes the heart, can be fatal if untreated. “Heartworm is such a devastating disease, and it can almost be totally prevented,” says Jones. Consistently administer a monthly preventative, such as Revolution, to protect your pooch, he advises. In the past, dog owners in cold-weather areas might not administer prevention during winter months. However, the disease is spreading, and it’s critical to treat your dog year-round. “Get the monthly Revolution and don’t worry about it,” he says.

GI Upset
Your dog’s upset tummy is likely preventable, according to Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. “Pets’ GI tracts are not equipped to handle all sorts of different protein and carbohydrate sources as ours are,” explains Nelson. “We routinely eat high-fat, high-protein or sugar-loaded foods, though they might not be the healthiest options. Our pets, however, are accustomed to a more controlled diet.” Even the smallest morsels of people food can lead to anything from diarrhea to pancreatitis in your dog. Limit your dog’s diet to canine food.

Diabetes

Nelson considers this debilitating illness to be the No. 1 preventable disease in veterinary medicine. “Obesity is the predisposing factor to this awful disease, and the way to avoid it is to keep your pets slim and trim,” she says. Practice portion control as you feed your dog, and provide regular exercise. Diabetes can lead to multiple health problems for your dog, such as heart and kidney problems. “Weight is a big thing that contributes to disease, and it’s one of the things that owners can directly have some control over,” advises Dewhirst.

Dental Disease

Your dog’s dental health has implications throughout its body, notes Nelson. “Dental disease has been linked to heart disease, kidney and liver disease and even some cancers,” she says. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly, and ask your veterinarian for advice if you’ve never done this before. Regular veterinary exams will let you know when your dog’s teeth need cleaning.

Injuries and Trauma

Too many emergency veterinary visits could be avoided, says Dewhirst. Make sure fencing is secure if your dog spends time outdoors, and use a restraint, such as a leash, on outings. Dewhirst sees many traumas caused by dogs being bitten by other animals or injured while chasing cars. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help prevent injuries, says Nelson. Don’t engage in bursts of activity (e.g., weekend warrior outings), but look for steady, frequent exercise opportunities.

Take practical steps to prevent illness, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come, says Dewhirst. “Your dog will live into its geriatric years very healthy, mobile and happy.”