College News

When the temperature drops, extra care is needed

CollinsWith autumn nearly behind us and the holidays quickly approaching, veterinarian Dr. Brian Collins (left), from the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, urges pet owners to be cautious of frigid temperatures and household hazards.

As people prepare for the holidays, interesting items may attract the attention of your pets. In particular, Collins advises that your pets may find a variety of non-food items more appealing than the food in their dishes.





For instance:

  1. Ribbons, ornaments, tinsel, and other linear foreign bodies are best to be avoided whenever possible. If used, owners should be careful to keep pets away from them.
  2. Extension cords and holiday lights may cause electrocution, burns, unconsciousness, and death. Electrical shock can cause burns, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart rhythm, loss of consciousness, and death. Collins advises that owners avoid these items whenever possible, devise ways to keep animals out of reach, and unplug when possible.
  3. Pets can choke on wrapped gifts. Ingesting can lead to vomiting and bleeding from mouth.


A variety of common holiday plants can also cause issues for our beloved companions.

  1. Poinsettias are not very toxic to pets but do contain a milky sap that can irritate their mouths. Signs of ingestion are usually mild.
  2. Any part of the mistletoe plant can be very toxic to animals. Ingestion may cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, difficulty breathing, shock and death within hours of ingestion.
  3. The berries and leaves of many species of holly may also be poisonous. Signs of poisonings are generally mild, and include vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
  4. All parts of the lily plant are toxic, including the pollen. Ingesting the plant has been linked to kidney failure.


“When we bring symbols of the holidays into our homes, we’re introducing potential hazards,” said Collins. “It’s not that we need to forego participating in the festivities, we just need to be aware of how our animals will react.”

For instance, he said, pine trees – real and artificial – may entice some animals to climb. Further, if the tree is living and chemicals are used to keep it fresh longer, pet owners are encouraged to look for pet-safe options.

“Candles are particularly dangerous for cats – who are able to find candles, no matter how far from the edge of the counter we put them,” said Collins. “In addition to burning themselves, cats can easily knock over lit candles, creating a fire hazard. In general, this is another good time to make sure that carbon monoxide and smoke/fire alarms are working properly.”

Once the holidays are behind us, Collins noted that for many, the season’s cold temperatures will continue posing dangers for our pets. The active ingredient in most brands of antifreeze is ethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting liquid that can be attractive to an animal, but is highly toxic. The ashes from wood stoves and fireplaces can burn pets if they are allowed to get too close. Young animals, geriatric animals, and breeds with sparse coats are at risk for hypothermia, a potentially fatal drop in body temperature that can result from prolonged exposure to a freezing environment.

dogCollins offers these recommendations for people living in cold weather climates:

  1. Small and short-haired dogs may need coats when it is cold/windy.
  2. Similarly they may need boots if outside for longer periods of time. If the dog is picking up his/her feet or reluctant to walk this may be a sign that he/she is too cold.
  3. Dogs may also become lame from walking on salty surfaces and may need boots and/or to have their feet washed off when coming indoors.
  4. Longer-haired dogs may collect ice/snow on their feet. Owners should check regularly while outdoors or consider trimming feet to help prevent ice accumulation.
  5. Doors on clothes dryers should be kept closed. Cats are drawn to the warmth.
  6. If cats go outside or there are outdoor cats in the neighborhood, be aware that cats are drawn to the warmth of car engines. Get in the habit of knocking on your hood to scare cats away before starting your engine to help prevent injuries.
  7. Dogs and cats who spend time outdoors should have shelter from the wind and cold as well as a source of fresh water.
  8. Straw works well in dog houses.