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A Pet-Friendly Home for the Holidays

As you prepare for the holidays, don’t forget to include your furry companions in your plans, or that decorations, toxic plants, unhealthy treats, and increased activities can pose risks to your pets. Here are some tips and resources from the Harbor Pines Veterinary Center to help ensure a safe, enjoyable holiday season for all family members.

Oh, Christmas tree!

Gazing at a beautifully decorated tree can be a peaceful experience—unless your pet decides your lovely tree is a new play toy. The following pet-proofing ideas can help keep your pet safe and your tree intact:

  • Restrict access — Consider keeping your tree in an area inaccessible to your pet, or surrounded by a dog pen. 
  • Secure your tree — Use an appropriate-sized, secure tree stand to ensure your tree cannot topple over easily. Also, consider securing the tree to the ceiling with fishing line.
  • Preservatives — Cover your tree water to prevent your pet from drinking chemical preservatives added to commercial trees, and use fresh water without additives.
  • Artificial or real — Shedding needles or flocking from real trees can be ingested and cause intestinal obstruction. An artificial tree may not be as enticing for your pet to chew, and will prevent mouth irritation from tree oils. 
  • Decorative lights and cords — Strategically place lights higher up your tree. Also, a chewed electrical wire can cause mouth damage, breathing problems, or deliver a potentially lethal shock.
  • Tinsel and ribbon — Avoid glittery tinsel and ribbons that can be irresistible to your pet, especially cats, because ingestion can cause a linear foreign body intestinal obstruction.
  • Ornaments — Display your delicate glass ornaments out of your pet’s reach, and use unbreakable ornaments on your tree, especially toward the bottom. Consider using ornament anchors to keep your ornaments on your tree.
  • Ornament hooks — Use soft hooks rather than metal hooks, to prevent damage to your pet’s mouth, esophagus, stomach, or intestines if ingested.
  • Something different — Try hanging your tree upside-down from your ceiling or mounted on your wall for a change of pace, and provide the ultimate in pet-proofing.

Deck the halls!

What is a holiday without decorative plants and candles? However, look around your home from your pet’s perspective, and keep these dangerous items well out of paws’ reach: 

  • Candles — Curious cats and dogs’ wagging tails can knock over candles and result in burns, or possibly start a fire. Consider battery-operated candles as a safe alternative.
  • Plants Mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias can cause gastrointestinal upset and mouth irritation. Mistletoe ingestion can also affect the heart. Any parts of a lily, including pollen, are extremely toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure. 
  • Potpourri — Many essential oils in potpourri are toxic to cats and can cause vomiting, drooling, difficulty breathing, seizures, and possible death. 
  • Pine cones — Dogs may see these decorations as delightful chew toys, but they can cause intestinal obstruction if ingested.

Eat, drink, and be merry!

A delicious feast is the highlight of any holiday, but keep your pets out of the kitchen to reduce temptation, and put your scraps and leftovers in a tightly sealed garbage container. Many high-fat holiday foods, such as turkey skin, stuffing, and ham, can cause an upset stomach and pancreatitis. In addition to fatty foods, the following are dangerous to pets:

  • Onions, garlic, and chives — Cats can develop life-threatening anemia from eating only a small amount, and dogs can be affected by eating larger quantities. 
  • Raisins and grapes — Consumption of only a few raisins or grapes can damage some dogs’ kidneys. 
  • Bread dough — Pets who consume yeasty bread dough can develop painful gas, intestinal bloating, and alcohol poisoning from yeast fermentation.
  • Chocolate — Vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, and seizures can occur in dogs who consume a toxic chocolate dose. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic to pets.
  • Sugar-free treats Xylitol-containing products can cause precipitous drops in blood glucose, liver failure, and seizures in pets.
  • Alcohol — Pets and adult beverages don’t mix, and consumption can cause weakness, respiratory problems, or collapse.

Peace on Earth, good will toward all!

Create a “safe space” for your pet, such as a gated-off area, spare room, or crate, to help them stay calm amidst new people and noises, and prevent them from scooting out the door or getting into trouble. Make your pet’s safe space a relaxing environment by playing music or TV, with treats, toys, water, a comfortable bed, a litter box for the cat, and perhaps a food puzzle. More pets escape during holiday distractions, so now is the time to get them a nametag and a microchip, and ensure that your contact information is current.

Make a pet safety checklist, and check it twice to ensure you avoid holiday pet hazards. Let all your family members and guests know your holiday “pet rules,” and keep the phone numbers of the Pet Poison Helpline, ASPCA Poison Control Hotline, and Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, as well as the local pet emergency clinic, in a visible, easily accessible location.

Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team wishes you and your family a safe, happy holiday season. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about helping your pet get safely through the holidays, or suspect they got into mischief and need veterinary care.

The Benefits of Being Active with Your Pets

At Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, we believe in staying active with your pet, because of the benefits for people as well as pets. People with pets tend to be generally healthier, and they enjoy the “pet effect,”which includes lower blood pressure and heart rate and an increased sense of well-being. In this blog post, Benny the terrier and Berry the Bengal make strong arguments for why they and their humans should be active together. They may fight like cats and dogs about other things, but Benny and Berry agree that staying active is important. They also agree that our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team is the best source of support and information on safely getting active with your pets.

Benny’s tips for staying active with your dog

Benny the terrier: “I wasn’t meant for a life of couch-surfing. I like to investigate the surroundings, looking for ways to help our family. Mental and physical work are necessary for my well-being. My brother Bobby didn’t get enough activity, and he developed several behavior problems, gained a lot of weight, and began nipping at people. My other brother, Bubba, does agility competitions with his person, and they really enjoy it. But we can do lots of things together that are helpful and fun, and require less time commitment.

“Let’s plan to walk together after supper. It will be awesome. We’ll shoot for twice a week at first. Then, as we get into the habit, I bet we will be walking every evening in no time. I know you have long days at work, but we could still take a long walk twice a day, and I’ll tell you how— delegate! Terriers are pretty good at teamwork and, believe me, delegating is the key. The kids in our family can take turns walking me. They will get exercise, and learn responsibility, as well. 

“Speaking of delegating, don’t forget Grandpa. As an active terrier, I could never sit at a desk long enough to read a scientific report, let alone write one. But I heard someone say that scientific research has shown that the human-animal bond promotes healthy aging. If Grandpa is not up for a long walk or a game of fetch, he can take me to the dog park. The social interaction we’ll both get will be as helpful as the physical exercise.”

Berry’s tips for staying active with your cat

Berry the Bengal: “I love my spring toy. I will chase the laser light every night before you go to bed. But, I really love it when you pull the feather toy around the house or yard. I can’t help but chase that crazy thing. And when the kids pull it, we get really fast. Sometimes the kids’ faces get red and they sweat. I’m not that familiar with sweating, as I only sweat from my paw pads, but I know that sweaty red faces in humans means they are getting good exercise.

“I now have an important announcement for the family—I will consider trying the harness. If it means we can walk together downtown with the cool cats, I might be willing to wear it. Luckily, I am still a kitten, and harness training has a better success rate in cats when started at an early age. Taking walks together will be the best. Don’t forget to check in with the Harbor Pines team for tips on harness training cats.

“Now for my favorite tip for being active together—treat puzzles. We will exercise our minds and bodies with this one. You will load the treats into the toys and hide them around the house—you’ll have to get more creative than under the bed, or the cat tree top tier. I will spend the day hunting them down while you’re at work. What could be better?”

Benny the terrier doesn’t climb cat trees, and Berry the Bengal doesn’t play fetch, but this dog and cat agreeyour veterinarian is the best source of help for staying active with your pets. 

Benny (and Berry agrees): “When planning exercise with your pet, you must consider many factors, such as age, breed, health, and temperament. Harbor Pines Veterinary Center professionals are the experts you need. They know your pet’s medical history, and they are up-to-date on the latest information. They are AAHA-certified, and Berry and I trust them to know what’s best for us. You can, too.”

Benny and Berry are fictional characters, but they represent what we believe our patients feel about us, and about being active with their families. Contact us at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center for the best ideas about keeping your pets active and healthyand your humans, too.

Hippo Takes a Nap: An Anesthetic Experience

Hippo the wiggle-butt weimaraner puppy is being spayed today at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center, and her owners, especially the hippo-obsessed toddler who gave Hippo her name, are understandably worried about the anesthesia and surgery. To help ease their fears, Erica, one of our veterinary technicians, talks them through what will happen, from the moment she takes Hippo’s leash, to the time when Hippo will be joyfully reunited with her family. Feeling much better, Hippo’s toddler gives her a huge hug, sweetly tells her to have a good nap, and then leads her equally relieved parents out the door, all the while talking a mile a minute about the hippo facts she learned yesterday.

Hippo’s preanesthetic exam

Erica lets Hippo say an enthusiastic hello to the other team members before asking her to step up on the scale. The dose of all the drugs administered to Hippo today will be based on this weight, so Erica ensures that Hippo stands as still as possible for an accurate reading. When they reach the treatment area, Erica informs Dr. White that Hippo’s family did a great job sticking to fasting instructions. This is another important safety step, because Hippo’s empty stomach helps decrease the risk that she will vomit or regurgitate during anesthesia, and subsequently inhale stomach contents. Next, Dr. White and Erica review Hippo’s medical history, proceed with a thorough nose-to-tail physical exam, and obtain a blood sample for pre-anesthetic testing. These steps help ensure she can be anesthetized safely by verifying that she appears outwardly healthy, her liver and kidneys are functioning well to break down and eliminate the anesthetic drugs, and she has sufficient red cells to carry oxygen, white cells to fight infection, and platelets to allow blood clotting. Hippo passes with flying colors, and manages to plant a couple of slobbery kisses on Erica during the exam. 

Preparing for Hippo’s anesthesia

Dr. White and Erica work together to create an anesthetic plan for Hippo, carefully calculating the doses of all necessary drugs, and then administer preanesthetic medications. This drug combination will help ensure that Hippo is calm and relaxed when she undergoes general anesthesia, decrease the amount of general anesthetic drugs needed to keep her asleep, and help ensure she wakes up calmly with minimal postoperative pain. While Hippo is relaxing, Erica double checks that the anesthetic equipment she safety tested earlier is still working correctly. She then places an IV catheter in a sleepy Hippo’s right foreleg. This catheter will be used to give anesthetic drugs and fluids during the surgery, and also allows rapid IV access should Hippo need emergency drugs, further ensuring her safety. 

Hippo’s anesthesia nap

Once the anesthetic drugs are injected and Hippo is asleep, Erica places the breathing tube, and then attaches the tube to the machine that supplies oxygen and anesthetic gases to Hippo’s lungs. Hippo’s abdomen is shaved and sterilely prepared for surgery, and Erica attaches the anesthetic monitoring equipment. The entire time Hippo is under general anesthesia Erica monitors Hippo’s heart rate, respiratory rate, mucous membrane color, blood oxygen saturation, heart rhythm, and temperature, while also ensuring she receives the appropriate amount of anesthetic gas and oxygen. This continuous monitoring allows Erica to quickly detect any potential problems, and work with Dr. White to fix any that arise. 

Hippo recovers from anesthesia and goes home

After Dr. White performs Hippo’s spay, the anesthetic gas is turned off to allow Hippo to wake up. Erica stays with Hippo while she is recovering to ensure her vital signs remain normal, and she does not wake up agitated or painful. Once Hippo is more alert and swallowing, demonstrating she can protect her airway, Erica removes the breathing tube. Hippo is then moved to a comfortable recovery cage, where Erica and the other team members can continue to keep an eye on her throughout the day.

Later that afternoon, Hippo’s owners come to pick her up, and Erica goes over the postoperative instructions. Hippo’s owners thank Erica, Dr. White, and the rest of the team for keeping their sweet dog safe during her anesthesia and spay, and Hippo listens intently while her toddler tells her that since Hippo needs to rest for a few days, they will have to snuggle and read lots of hippo books together. 

If, like Hippo, your beloved pet needs to undergo anesthesia, rest assured that our team is committed to ensuring your pet’s safety using the latest anesthetic protocols, excellent monitoring, and attention to detail. If you are ready to schedule your pet’s procedure, or have some anesthesia-related questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Mythbusters: Pet Wellness Visit Edition

Well-meaning but misinformed myths abound regarding wellness care for your furry friends. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team would like to explain the facts, and bust four of those myths, to ensure your pets get the best possible care.

Myth #1: My pets rarely go outside, so they don’t need parasite preventives

It would be handy if a forcefield that could repel fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other pesky parasites, surrounded your house, but so far, that technology exists only in the movies. Princess may rarely set a pampered paw outside the door, but you, or a visitor, can bring fleas and ticks inside on your clothing, and mosquitoes can fly in open windows or doors. Your shoes can become an intestinal parasite egg dispenser if you stepped on a fecally contaminated surface outside, and then walked around in your house, so indoor-only pets can and do acquire parasites. Regardless of how much time they spend outdoors, protect your pet against these parasites:

  • Mosquitoes — Mosquito bites are a mere annoyance to us, but can be deadly for pets, if that mosquito is carrying heartworm larvae that make their way to your pet’s heart, and cause significant damage and eventual death, if not treated. The American Heartworm Society reports that one in four cats diagnosed with heartworm disease were indoor-only, further proving that indoor pets need parasite preventives, too.
  • Fleas — In addition to making your skin crawl, and turning your pet into an itchy mess, fleas can suck enough blood to make your pet anemic, and can also carry tapeworms, Bartonella (i.e., the organism responsible for cat scratch disease in humans), and Mycoplasma ( i.e., a blood parasite that causes anemia in cats).
  • Ticks — A tick bite can transmit a myriad of dangerous diseases, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  • Intestinal parasites — Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms can cause malnutrition, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and occasionally death, if left untreated.

The bottom line is that all pets should be on a safe, effective parasite prevention plan tailored to their lifestyle and risk factors. Contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team for help in choosing the right products for your pet.

Myth #2: I don’t need vaccinations or preventives from my veterinarian when I can buy them from the pet store

While vaccinations are available from the pet store, this is a risky route, because you don’t know if the vaccinations were stored, handled, and administered properly to preserve their efficacy, and you may not select the correct vaccinations that will best protect your pet.

When you bring your pet to Harbor Pines Veterinary Center for a wellness exam, our team will discuss your pet’s lifestyle, risk factors, and prior history before making vaccination recommendations. For example, the social-butterfly dog who goes to doggie daycare, the groomer, the dog park, and the boarding kennel may need the core vaccinations recommended for every dog, as well as Bordetella and canine influenza vaccines, two risk-based immunizations administered to dogs who frequently mingle with other dogs. During a wellness visit, our veterinary team can also recommend an effective and safe internal and external parasite prevention program using veterinarian-approved products selected specifically for your pet. This level of protection is far superior to a potentially counterfeit, ineffective, or possibly dangerous parasite preventive bought at your local pet store.

Myth #3: I don’t need to schedule a wellness visit if my pet isn’t due for vaccinations

This goes hand in hand with Myth No. 2. At any wellness visit, whether or not your pet needs vaccinations, our veterinarians perform a thorough nose-to-tail physical exam to ensure your pet is healthy, and any potential problems are addressed promptly. Your pet may seem completely healthy when our veterinarian finds a new heart murmur, abdominal mass, or other change that would have remained undetected until it caused problems. A wellness visit also allows our team to perform blood, urine, and fecal tests in our state-of-the-art laboratory, to detect intestinal parasites, heartworms, organ failure, blood cell abnormalities, or other disease states before your pet shows any signs. Thus, scheduling wellness visits for your pets to ensure they are healthy inside and out, and to promote early detection of health concerns, is critical.

Myth #4: My pet is scared of the vet, so I should skip wellness visits

One of Harbor Pines Veterinary Center’s special services is making house calls for pets who would not be seen at a veterinary clinic without considerable anguish for the pet and their owner. During a housecall, our dedicated veterinary team can perform a complete physical exam, recommend and administer vaccinations, obtain blood, urine, or fecal samples, and discuss parasite preventives, much like we would at our physical location. If your pet needs any medications, they can be prescribed or ordered from our online store, again offering you first-class medical care without leaving home. If your pet is a nervous Nellie, and needs to come to our clinic for a procedure or test that cannot be done at home, our team can also prescribe medications to ensure they are as calm and relaxed as possible for the visit. Fear is no excuse to skimp on critical wellness care when you have these options available. 

Whether you need to schedule a house call, or an in-house wellness visit for your furry friend, our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team is here to help. Contact us, to start your pet on the path to good health.

santa claus toy

Christmas and New Years – Common dangers to pets

The holidays are a time for joy and family – but they also pose some unique dangers to members of our four-legged family! Fortunately, these hazards to your pet’s health can be entirely avoided with a little bit of careful planning. In this article, you will learn about the most common dangers to your pet’s health over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, along with a few helpful tips on how to keep your pets happy and safe over the holidays!



Holly and Mistletoe are very common during the winter holidays, but they are both toxic to pets. Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal issues and even cardiovascular problems, while holly can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The Christmas tree also has associated dangers – the oils on the tree can be irritating to your pet’s mouth or stomach. We’d recommend making sure your pet can’t access or climb on the tree. This will also eliminate the danger of your pet tipping the tree over. Be sure to pick up any pine needles from the floor – ingesting these can cause punctures in your pet’s intestines. Also, many people are decorating their trees with “flocking” which is an imitation snow product. If your pet ingests this in larger quantities, it can cause serious problems.

Also keep in mind that cats are often attracted to tinsel, which can cause intestinal blockage if ingested. Intestinal blockage is a very serious medical condition that usually requires surgery. Look for signs of chewing on the Christmas tree wiring – chewing on these cords can cause injury to your pet’s mouth.

A few other plants that can be harmful to pets:

  • Poinsettias
  • Amaryllis
  • Daffodils
  • Lillies



New Year’s Eve can cause quite a bit of stress in pets because of the commotion, strangers, and fireworks. It’s important to make simple accommodations for your pet for two reasons. First, it will avoid any unnecessary emotional distress for your loving pet. Second, stress from the night can cause your pet to seek escape. Holidays with fireworks typically cause spikes in run-aways.

There are two important things to do. The first is to set up a “safe room” for your pet whenever there is going to be an abnormal amount of commotion. This room should make sure to block any possible exits, have comfortable bedding set up, and soothing music playing.

The second important thing to do is to make sure your pet’s tags and microchip information are both up to date. Microchipping in particular is important – whenever a runaway is taken into a veterinary facility or animal shelter, the pet is scanned for a microchip. Microchips are much more durable than tags, which often come off after they get lost. If your pet isn’t microchipped yet – no problem! Just give us a call now. It’s fast, painless, and inexpensive. The microchip itself is only about the size of a grain of rice!


Food and Drinks

Alcohol is common around the winter holidays, and alcohol poisoning in pets is actually more common than most people think. Alcohol is toxic to pets – please never give your pet any amount of alcohol. Symptoms of mild alcohol poisoning include involuntary urination or defecation. Severe alcohol poisoning symptoms include slowed breathing or heart rate, depression, and even heart attack. Please make sure that your pet is unable to access alcoholic beverages at any time. Alcohol poisoning is a veterinary emergency.

Make sure that your pet doesn’t have access to fatty foods, poultry bones, or raw bread dough. Fatty foods (such as buttery side dishes, gravy, skin or beef fat) can cause severe gastrointestinal distress in your pet, or even pancreatitis, which can be fatal. Poultry bones are brittle and splinter easily, which can cause severe damage to your pet’s intestines. And raw bread dough contains yeast – when ingested, it will convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol in your pet’s stomach. The gas can cause bloating, which is a serious and life threatening condition, requiring immediate veterinary care.


We’ve covered the main dangers to your pet during the holidays, so now you can take a few simple precautions and enjoy the holiday with your two and four legged family members! From all of us here at Harbor Pines, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year’s!

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