Dr. Margie Sherk is on this Hall of Fame podcast to talk about those easily forgotten holiday dangers that we (and cat owners) need to keep in mind.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST
Two weeks before graduating from OVC in 1982, Margie Scherk packed all of her worldly belongings into her rusty, yellow Honda Civic named Jaundice and drove west to take her last two weeks of school at WCVM. Moving to a place she could see the mountains and ocean every day, she opened Cats Only Veterinary Clinic in 1982, at that time the second feline specific clinic in Canada. The first time they became available to sit, she sat and passed ABVP Feline boards in 1995.
Since 2008 she has been teaching, writing and editing exclusively. This takes her around the world where, like a locum, she gets to see how other people practice, only in this case, under some very different circumstances and in different cultures. She is the North American editor of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, serves on a whole bunch of committees on national, international and feline projects. As a break, she loves to cook.
Dr. Andy Roark (00:08):
Welcome everybody to The Cone of Shame Veterinary Podcast. I am your host Dr. Andrew Roark. Guys, I got a great one for you. This is a hall of fame episode. This is me and my friend cat whisperer extraordinaire, Dr. Margie Sherk. And we are talking about cat holiday dangers and how we keep our kitty cats safe and sound during the holidays. And what conversations we have with pet owners and what things we need to look out for that maybe we’re not already looking out for. Quick, to the point, super useful. Let’s get into this episode.
Dr. Andy Roark (00:59):
Dr. Andy Roark (00:59):
Dr. Margie Sherk, welcome, welcome. Thanks for coming back.
Dr. Margie Sherk (01:03):
Hey, pleasure. Lot of times gone by since we last spoke.
Dr. Andy Roark (01:08):
It’s been minutes since we recorded our previous episode. And in 2020 minutes are like day.
Dr. Margie Sherk (01:15):
Wasn’t it though. I mean, March I came back from… My last trip was to Germany and I came back three days early because of COVID. Got home on the 13th of March. Haven’t been anywhere since. And the month of March, even though that was only the 13th, was the longest month of my life. Oh my goodness.
Dr. Andy Roark (01:37):
One of my favorite memes was during the election here in the states. After the polls had closed and the counting was going on, and it was like Friday, and I saw this meme that said, “From the year that brought you four months of April comes Tuesday part three.” And I was like, “That’s so fun and that’s so true.”
Dr. Margie Sherk (01:59):
Oh my goodness. One good thing about this year, I’m learning patience.
Dr. Andy Roark (02:07):
Yeah. In new and significant ways. I’m also learning how to teach a nine year old math so that’s a skill I didn’t have. When I learned math at no point did my teacher say, “You need to learn this so that you can teach your own child during a pandemic.” That was new to me.
Dr. Margie Sherk (02:22):
Oh my goodness. I am so, so many things I’m grateful for, but I’m very grateful for the fact that my kids are well and gone and out of the house. I don’t know how you could have to work from home, teach your kids when we don’t know how to teach. I honest to goodness… Or I mean, I know how to teach, but I don’t know how to, relatively, I don’t know how teach that material.
Dr. Andy Roark (02:46):
Dr. Margie Sherk (02:46):
And I don’t think if I had a three year old I don’t think they’d want to be learning veterinary medicine.
Dr. Andy Roark (02:52):
No. “Let’s talk about sterile cystitis.” “Not again, mom. Not again.” Got it.
Dr. Margie Sherk (02:57):
“Today we’re going to learn how to place an E tube.”
Dr. Andy Roark (02:59):
She’s like, “When will I use this in the third grade?” I want to talk to you today. I want to run through Christmas risks for cats. This is great material just for me to have on top of mind. And honestly, this is great stuff to communicate to pet owners. So this is going to help me make a social media post for my practice. It’s going to help me make handouts for my clients and give me things to mention in the exam room that are interesting and topical that the pet owners will like. But lets you and me real fast, we’re getting in the month of December, what do I need to be looking out for? What are risks to cats associated with the holiday season that may not be present the rest of the year? So as people unpack their decorations, what dastardly, devious, diabolical things are they getting out?
Dr. Margie Sherk (03:52):
That’s a lot of D’s there.
Dr. Andy Roark (03:53):
It’s a lot. I was like, “I’m onto this now. I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”
Dr. Margie Sherk (03:59):
So I mean, the most obvious one is tinsel. And it’s been literally decades since I’ve had tinsel on trees. You just can’t have tinsel on trees because not only is it dangling and shiny and appealing and moves and a cat wants to bat at it, but of course if caught can be a linear foreign body, which can slice, literally slice, the intestines open in a cat and cause… It’s totally unnecessarily so sadly no tinsel.
Dr. Margie Sherk (04:29):
Other hanging decorations. Hang them up high enough that a cat can’t get to them. And for heavens sakes, make sure you attach your tree to the wall in some way shape or form because should kitty decide that it’s a cat tree rather than just a Christmas tree, this whole thing can come tumbling down and glass ornaments break. And you don’t want those glass ornaments to break. You also don’t want them slicing Kitty’s paw or being ingested in any way. So angel hair also a problem because that can cause, that fluffy white stuff, if they get that cloud on the barbs of their tongue they can’t get it off. And just like tinsel they have to swallow it and that could cause an obstruction.
Dr. Andy Roark (05:13):
When you say angel hair you’re talking about the fake snow stuff that people put around the bottom of their tree?
Dr. Margie Sherk (05:17):
No. No, I’m talking about that stringy, it’s almost like fiberglass or something. It’s that white, fluffy… It is like snow, but it’s not the snow that you spray on. Sorry. Maybe you were talking about same.
Dr. Andy Roark (05:30):
Dr. Margie Sherk (05:32):
But the nice puffy, marshmallowy kind of snow. Yeah.
Dr. Andy Roark (05:36):
Yeah. Okay. Perfect. I know what you’re talking about now. Okay. Yeah. I had no idea that was called angel hair, but that makes a ton of sense.
Dr. Margie Sherk (05:43):
Dr. Andy Roark (05:43):
Okay, cool. So angel hair, I got to tell you that I had no idea. That totally makes sense.
Dr. Margie Sherk (05:48):
Then also Christmas lights. Of course, with Christmas lights we’re talking electrical and that’s always an issue if they could bite the electrical and then get a horrible burn on their tongues and some sloughing there. They could also get caught up in them in the wires so supervise your cat when that’s on. Battery powered lights would be better at least in as far as not getting caught in cords, but there’s still the electrical. Snow globes, a real problem. We don’t think of snow globes as being, if they break, because snow globes are filled with ethylene glycol. [crosstalk 00:06:27].
Dr. Andy Roark (06:26):
What? Is that true? I had no idea.
Dr. Margie Sherk (06:28):
Didn’t know that, right?
Dr. Andy Roark (06:30):
I didn’t. In all seriousness-
Dr. Margie Sherk (06:31):
I thought it was just water.
Dr. Andy Roark (06:31):
… you said, “Snow globes,” I was like, “You got me here.”
Dr. Margie Sherk (06:37):
[crosstalk 00:06:37]. And there’s ethylene glycol in snow globes. I mean, I don’t know if it’s in all snow globes, but of course that is deadly, absolutely deadly, so that’s an important thing too. And then if we’ve got kitty Christmas presents under the tree, probably not a good idea to be putting the catnip filled presents under the Christmas tree where kitty’s going to want to dig through the wrapping and all that kind of stuff.
Dr. Andy Roark (07:09):
Hey guys, I just want to jump in real fast with a quick announcement. On December the 12th, that is right around the corner, that’s this weekend as this podcast is coming out, the one and only Jenn Galvin is doing her workshop called It’s All Fun and Games: How to Play, Engage With and Reward Your Team. I saw Jenn this last weekend at the Uncharted Practice Owner Summit. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is truly amazing. She runs a great practice. This is going to be super valuable, useful workshop. It is from 4:00 to 6:00 PM Eastern time, 1:00 to 3:00 PM Pacific. That is, again, on December the 12th. It is free for uncharted members. It is $99 to the public. Don’t miss out on this great workshop and this great opportunity. I hope to see you guys there.
Dr. Margie Sherk (07:59):
One of the things too that when we think about cooking, there’s a lot of cooking that goes around holidays. And who knows what it’s going to be like during this pandemic where everything’s sort of dialed down smaller because we’re not having people over, public service announcement, we aren’t having people over. But even so we may be cooking, well, we will be cooking fancier and for those of us who have the ability to do so. So we need to be careful of strings on roasts, strings on ham, birds, that sort of thing because that can also be, like tinsel, can be awfully tasty. And if they’re getting into too much fat it’s not going to give them pancreatitis, but it can certainly give them a day or two of a pretty upset tummy.
Dr. Andy Roark (08:49):
Dr. Margie Sherk (08:52):
Poinsettias have gotten a really bad rap. Poinsettias actually aren’t, well, strictly speaking, yes, they are toxic in that you get drooly and feel kind of crummy after eating them. They may be vomiting, a little bit of drooling, maybe some diarrhea, maybe even conjunctivitis, but the reality is poinsettias aren’t going to kill anybody. It’s a really, really mild, a really mild thing. They can get dermal irritation, just some itchiness from them. But really, I mean, when I had my practice, every Christmas I would buy these huge, from a charity, I would buy these huge poinsettias and we’d have about 20 of these things out on the floor and I was never worried about them with either the clinic cats or the patients.
Dr. Andy Roark (09:41):
What do you say to the pet owner who calls in a panic and she says, “My cat just ate, I saw her eating flowers off the poinsettia.” Do you just sort of run them through that? Is there a point where you say, “Okay, bring her in if this happens.” Do you just say, “It’s going to be fine?” Walk me through that conversation really quickly if you don’t mind.
Dr. Margie Sherk (10:01):
Yeah, sure. I mean, it’s a really low level of toxicity. And if the kitty were vomiting and more than once and continuously vomiting, then might be a good idea to bring kitty in and to give them an antiemetic. Give them an antiemetic and maybe some fluids, subcu fluids, because of the electrolytes and water that they’ve lost, but really that’s it. It’s much less dangerous than lilies. Of course, amaryllis are lilies. And I have them in my house, but they stay in the living room and the living room has glass doors and the doors stay shut unless we’re in there, then the cats can be in there. So lilies. There’s other types of lilies that people like. Even those alstroemeria that you see in bouquets really commonly, those are also lilies. And when we’re talking lilies now we’re talking acute kidney injury, just like as we are with the snow globe ethylene glycol thing.
Dr. Margie Sherk (11:06):
Christmas holly, holly is really dangerous. As well as you can also get the mechanical injury from the spiny leaves because that can really slice their tongues. And then there’s other plants too like, let me think here. Oh, well mistletoe can be toxic too. You think about the Druids and how they used to always look for mistletoe and I think it has some hallucinogenic property. That’s what that’s about. But with mistletoe, certainly you European mistletoe tends to be more toxic than the American varieties, but people plant things that aren’t necessarily native to their region.
Dr. Andy Roark (11:47):
Sure, sure, sure.
Dr. Margie Sherk (11:48):
And that can cause collapse, hypotension, ataxia, really seizures, even death. So it’s pretty wild what it can cause. And then, lastly, around Christmas what I want to think about too is stress. Stress, stress, stress, and anxiety. I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff happening. Just think about it. Thanksgiving, Christmas, everybody looks forward to them. And within about how long, how many minutes, is the family fighting or arguing? [inaudible 00:12:20]. And there’s more people there. I mean, again, that’s one probably really good thing with the pandemic, for the cats, is there’s fewer people coming over.
Dr. Andy Roark (12:27):
Dr. Margie Sherk (12:28):
But we’re kind of wound up. We need to get our presents mailed off, we’re decorating the house, we’re doing all this stuff that we may be feeling financially stressed. And so we pass on all this stress and that may be a time where some pheromones might be, if you don’t already have them in place, you might want some pheromones. You want to make sure that the cats can get away, that they can always get to a peaceful place where they’re not pestered without having to… So they can take care of themselves that way.
Dr. Andy Roark (13:00):
That makes total sense. Is there anything else in the kitchen that people might need a quick reminder on, that pet owners should be reminded of? I love the string. I think that’s a big one to call out. Any other ingredients that come out? Are people doing funky things with xylitol now that I’m not aware of? Anything like that?
Dr. Margie Sherk (13:21):
Yeah, I don’t know about xylitol. I mean, cats do, at least my cats, love peanut butter. And we only use peanut butter that’s peanuts and that’s not any of the processed peanut butters that may have xylitol, which certainly is toxic. But thanks for this prod, for this leading question. That’s awesome.
Dr. Andy Roark (13:41):
Yeah. Well, you are a cook. You’re a chef.
Dr. Margie Sherk (13:44):
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:13:44].
Dr. Andy Roark (13:44):
I know it’s a passion of yours. I’m like if anybody’s going to unpack this well it’s going to be Margie.
Dr. Margie Sherk (13:50):
Oh, I love cooking. Although I’m getting a little bit sick of it with the pandemic because it’s like gardening and cooking. What else [inaudible 00:14:02]? Anyways, I can never retire. I don’t know, I’ll probably poke my eyes out. But okay, so onions and garlic. I mean, my kitchen is a super toxic place for cats because pretty much every meal has onions and garlic in it. Especially, onions are an issue for cats. So that could be in gravy if you’re giving them a little bit of turkey, give them the turkey, but no gravy.
Dr. Margie Sherk (14:26):
And then raisins and grapes. I’m just about done assembling all my ingredients to make chocolate bark. And with that I have dark cabou chocolate and there’s some raisins in it. There’s nuts in it. There’s ginger in it. There’s mango in it. There’s dried cherries. And well, pretty much all those things could be problematic. Or at least I should say the raisins and the chocolate could definitely be problematic. Cats aren’t usually really big on chocolate, but if a raisin hits the floor they might just investigate it. And one raisin isn’t going to likely do anything, but if they decide that this is a good thing and they bat them around, that could be a problem.
Dr. Andy Roark (15:06):
That sounds great. I feel good. I feel like I got a lot to talk to my clients about. I think I got some great stuff for some client handouts. This is super good. Any last tips, tricks, pearls, anything about the holiday that the veterinarian with the cat love should have in mind that you can think of?
Dr. Margie Sherk (15:25):
Well, I mean, we love our cats and we love, certainly this year if the numbers don’t lie, we’re loving our alcohol and we might want for ourselves to relax a bit have a nice glass of something, maybe it would be a toddy or something. Whatever it is, cider, don’t give your cat any of that. Cats don’t have the alcohol dehydrogenase they need to break down the alcohol in their livers, so please don’t let your cats drink from your whatever lovely thing you’re enjoying, no matter how much you love your cat.
Dr. Andy Roark (15:57):
That sound great.
Dr. Margie Sherk (15:58):
Give them some [crosstalk 00:15:58] instead.
Dr. Andy Roark (15:59):
That’s a good one to leave on. Margie, thank you for being here. I really appreciate, always appreciate your time. I hope that you will come back and talk with us again.
Dr. Margie Sherk (16:07):
Anytime. Would love it. Love seeing your friendly face.
Dr. Andy Roark (16:09):
Thanks my friend.
Dr. Margie Sherk (16:10):
Okay. Take care.
Dr. Andy Roark (16:11):
Take care of bye-bye.
Dr. Margie Sherk (16:12):
Dr. Andy Roark (16:13):
And that is our episode. That’s what I got for you guys. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you got something out of it. As always, if you did go ahead and leave us an honest review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. That is how people find the podcast. It always means the world to me. It’s a nice thing that you can do. It really makes my day. That’s it guys. Otherwise, I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. Take care of yourselves. I’ll see you soon. Bye.