McClatchy Newspapers illustration/David Pulliam The holidays can be an exciting time for pets and can create obstacles for their health and safety. Pulliam

THANKSGIVING MARKS the beginning of a season full of festivities. But it can be a dangerous season for our pets.

"The holidays mark a departure from our everyday routines and this can be dangerous for pets," says Dr. Peter Bowie, one of the owners of Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin. "With the hustle and bustle of the season, it's important to keep our pets' safety at the top of the mind. In the event of an emergency, it's essential that Marin pet guardians know that our emergency veterinarians are available and prepared for anything."

Here are a few things pet owners should stay aware of to keep animals safe.

• Bones: While they may look like a great treat for dogs, turkey bones are actually very dangerous. These thin bones can easily break, scraping or cutting your dog's gastrointestinal tract from his esophagus down to the rectum. A sharp bone can even cause a perforation in your dog's intestines, or get stuck and cause a blockage. If a blockage is left untreated, a dog can go into shock and die.

The key is to keep pets away from turkey leftovers. If you suspect your dog has gotten a bone blockage, see a vet right away. An X-ray will ensure the bones are moving through the gastrointestinal tract. If there's a blockage, surgery may be required.

• Toxins: Other festive foods can send your pets to the emergency


room. Onions can lead to anemia. Raisins, chocolate and alcoholic beverages are toxic to pets and, in worse-case scenarios, can cause kidney failure or other serious problems. Rich, fatty foods, such as gravy and turkey skin, can contribute to pancreatitis — a painful condition characterized by vomiting and lethargy that requires emergency veterinary care. Baking string, plastic wrap and aluminum foil can cause severe digestive problems or obstructions.

"The bottom line is to keep your pets out of the kitchen, away from the holiday table and out of the garbage," says Bowie.

• Holiday decorations: Make sure decorations cannot harm your pets. Place candles where curious kittens cannot easily knock them over, suffer serious burns and ignite fires. Keep electrical cords and wires out of reach. If pets bite down on wires, they could receive a deadly electrical shock.

Ribbons and decorative streamers look like playthings for cats, but they can be very harmful if ingested. Decorations can become wrapped around a cat's intestine or cause a blockage, requiring emergency surgery or minimally invasive endoscopy. If you suspect your cat has ingested something they shouldn't have, see your veterinarian right away.

"The best plan is to confine your pets to a place where they are safe," says Bowie. "Baby gates work well keeping smaller dogs restricted. Dog crates may be an option for larger dogs. For cats, a closed bedroom works well."

• Stress: A house full of guests also can stress your pets. Loud noises, bright lights and music can leave pets feeling confused and out of sorts. This stress can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, such as Addison's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and skin diseases, which may lead you straight to the emergency room.

Try to have at least 30 minutes of one-on-one active time with your pet, such as a long walk or run, before visitors arrive. Then provide them with their own safe, quiet space.

Also be sure your pets are properly tagged or have microchips. Holiday excitement and open doors can be a bad mix for obvious reasons. Emergency rooms often see an increase in trauma cases from cats and dogs that wandered outdoors and lost their way during the holiday season.

"The most important thing for pet guardians to remember this season is that many emergencies can be prevented. Take extra precautions and always be aware of your pets' whereabouts," says Bowie. "PESCM is open 24/7, even during the holidays, and our top-notch veterinary staff is ready to handle all emergency, critical and specialty cases. Immediate action saves lives."

In the event of a pet emergency, be sure to have your veterinarian's number handy. You also can dial 456-7372 or go to pet for more information.

Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin is a supporter of the Marin Humane Society, which contributes Tails of Marin articles. Go to MarinHumane