Holiday Gifts that Send Pets to the ER

    Locally based pet insurance company Petplan warns that certain holiday gifts can often cost much more than the sticker price. It turns out that during the holiday season, when pets get “into” holiday gifts, they end up at the ER because their vets close for holiday hours:

    “Never has the phrase ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ been more ominous for pets,” jokes Petplan Veterinary Manager Elyse Donnarumma. “When you consider that the average claim paid for food poisoning is $585, or that foreign body removal surgery costs an average of $1,327, it is sobering to realize that those costs can easily double during the holidays.”

    Holiday gifts that mean disaster

    So, which gifts do pets typically get into and end up needing medical treatment because of it? According to Petplan, these are the top 10 holiday gifts that can unwrap disaster:

    1. Bows & Ribbons

    The bows and ribbons used to decorate wrapped presents are problematic. Ribbons can easily become linear foreign bodies. Avoid an expensive surgery by tossing wrappings in the trash (whether you pitch the gift, too, is completely up to you).

    Just ask Petplan policy holder Amanda Tollen, of Conshohocken, PA, about holiday ribbon. Her eight-year-old cat, Bella, racked up a $2,004.70 vet bill for a linear foreign body on December 27, 2015, when she got into the gift ribbon (see photo below):

    “I am so happy we got pet insurance for Bella,” said Tollen, who was reimbursed over $1,800 thanks to her policy option. “It really saved us a ton of money during one of the most stressful times of the year for our budget. You never know what your pet is going to get into or what illness they will come down with. Having Bella Petplan protected was one of the best decisions we ever made.”

    1. Fruitcake (and its modern-day equivalent, Panettone)

    Ew. Why anyone would give fruitcake as a gift is beyond me. But, if you are a lucky recipient of fruitcake make sure you keep it out of your pet’s reach. Currants, raisins and nuts are toxic to pets, and the spirits the cake is soaked in can be deadly to dogs and cats.

    1. Holiday Plants

    A snack on Christmas cactus can upset tummies. Christmas lilies can cause kidney failure in kitties. And while poinsettias aren’t as toxic as previously thought, its sap can cause an unpleasant rash.

    1. Scarf/Mittens Set

    Another favorite item of dogs. Why they feel the need to eat them, I’ll never understand. Keep them out of reach or donate them to someone who is in need.

    1. Lottery Tickets

    You may have a 1 in 14 million chance of winning your gift, but your dog is more likely to suffer a foreign body ingestion if he eats the envelope and paper.

    1. Houseguests

    Extra people in the house can trigger stomach upset due to stress and all that coming and going can make it easier for pets to dart out the door and get hit by a car. Also, family members who just don’t know how to properly interact with a cat or dog and respect warning signs of discomfort run the risk of getting bit. Heed the growl!

    1. Coffee/Hot Chocolate

    Coffee mug gift sets are a staple of office holiday giving, but whether there’s beans or cocoa inside, be sure to keep them away from your pet’s paws. The caffeine in coffee and chocolate can trigger hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, seizures and even death.

    1. Bath Products

    Bath salts pose the very serious threat of salt poisoning. Bath salts often contain magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) and sodium chloride (table salt), both of which can kill or permanently injure furry friends.

    1. Boxed Chocolates

    Chocolate contains theobromine, which can cause illness or even death in dogs and cats. If your dog eats chocolate, check out petMD’s chocolate toxicity meter and don’t hesitate to call the ASPCA poison line at (888) 426-4435.

    1. Socks

    You don’t want them, you hate getting them, and you’ll loathe them even more when you’re forking over upwards of $1,000 to have them removed from your pet’s intestine. Socks take Petplan’s top spot for the worst holiday gift, whether you’re on two legs or four.

    For info about Petplan and more pet safety tips, point your paws to

    holiday gifts and pets infographic

    Philly LEAST Pet Friendly City?!?

    Sure, Philly is notorious for it’s under-dog, somewhat abrasive “atty-tude.” We can take a little warming up to. But one thing I know for sure is that we LOVE our dogs. A quick walk down any city block and you’ll see a dog walking happily on a leash or playing in the park.

    So you can imagine my surprise when a representative from financial website WalletHub reached out to tell me Philly ranked as one of the LEAST pet-friendly cities in the U.S.

    Source: WalletHub



    In order to identify the most pet-friendly cities, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 100 most populated cities (excluding surrounding metro areas) across three key dimensions: 1) Pet Budget, 2) Pet Health & Wellness and 3) Outdoor Pet Friendliness.

    Data was obtained from sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics,, Zillow,,, TripAdvisor, and Pets Best Insurance Services, to name a few. The three dimensions listed above were evaluated on 19 weighted metrics. Each metric was graded on a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 representing the best conditions for pet owners. Overall scores where then calculated by taking the weighted average across all metrics.

    Here’s how Philly ranked:


    • 90th – Veterinary Care Costs
    • 39th – Dog Insurance Premium
    • 89th – Number of Veterinarians per Capita
    • 94th – Number of Pet Businesses per Capita
    • 31st – Number of Pet-Friendly Restaurants per Capita
    • 83rd – % of Pet-Friendly Hotels
    • 86th- Number of Dog Parks per Capita
    • 72nd – Number of Animal Shelters per Capita
    • 49th – Number of Pet Caretakers per Capita

    So, which city was the most pet friendly? Why, Orlando, Florida. (Of course, how could you now know that?) Orlando was followed by Birmingham, Alabama, Tampa, Florida, Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky (how many of those shelter dogs from the south are getting shipped up to our rescues?) and Scottsdale, Arizona.

    I decided to dig in a little deeper and reached out to WalletHub for some definitions:

    Question: How is the term “animal shelter” defined? Is it defined as intake shelters (city funded), no-kill only, rescues that use foster parents?

    Answer: The data for the number of animal shelters was obtained from and is mostly based on pet rescue and adoption facilities. 

    Question:  I didn’t see data for Philadelphia in the block for Pet friendliness of rental market. How is “pet friendly” defined and determined? Is there a penalty if the rental does not rent to particular breeds? Does the number of pets allowed in the rental factor in? Pet deposit required?

    Answer: The Pet-Friendliness of Rental Market key metric measures the percentage of pet-friendly rental units and it’s composed of two sub-metrics – 1. Percentage of Apartments that allow Dogs – 21 percent in Philadelphia (ranking 57th) and 2) Percentage of Apartments that allow Cats – 34 percent in Philadelphia (ranking 65th). For the Pet-Friendliness of Rental Market key metric Philadelphia ranked 66th overall. We did not factor in the number of pets allowed or the pet deposit required. 

    Youse Got it All Wrong

    Um, yeah. So that’s real scientific. Then again, New York, New York ranked the worst , so maybe there is a grain of truth in all of this. You can take a closer look at the the full report and decide for yourself.

    Zuke’s Mini-Naturals Ghost

    Disclaimer: In exchange for writing a review of the Zuke’s Mini-Naturals Ghost treats, Zuke’s donated two bags to be included in our raffle prize to help fundraise for the 2016 Philly PAWS Mutt Strutt. 

    Just in time for the Halloween festivities, all natural pet treat company Zuke’s has released their mini-treats in the shape of ghosts!

    zukes mini naturals halloweenWe’ve written about Zuke’s a few times now and we’re always happy to help spread the word about their product. At less than 3 ½ calories each, these teeny ghoulishly ghost-shaped bites are perfect for training dogs of any size. They are soft, too, which I like because Imogene and Dash are both seniors (and low on teeth). I like that I can grab a little handful, put them in my pocket, and I’ve got enough treats for an entire outing. And, most importantly, they like eating them!

    In addition to being shaped like little ghosts, the treats come in two fall-favorite recipes: Chicken with Spiced Apple and Turkey and Pumpkin. Not only are they  made in the USA, they do not contain any harsh additives, preservatives, wheat, corn or soy. They’ve even jumped on the turmeric bandwagon and added antioxidant-rich rosemary and turmeric for anti-inflammatory properties. But what I  like the most about Zuke’s is that they donate a portion of all treat sales to The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund (DCCF). Visit or check out @ZukesPets on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

    Zuke’s Mini Naturals Ghosts are available for around $5.79 for a 6 ounce bag at PetSmart locations. But hurry – this is one treat that won’t last long on shelves!

    What Would You Do if You Lost Your Dog?

    We lost our dog. And I never, ever thought that could happen.

    It was a normal night. Though I suppose it always starts like that. It would be odd for a story to begin with “It was an abnormal night; one that was itching for a horrible event,” but I digress.

    We, my boyfriend Austin and I, were concluding our night – turning off the TV, putting away our laptops, getting ready for bed. And any dog owner knows that the “getting ready for bed” process truly starts with walking the dog. Our dog, also known as the best dog in the whole world, is named Brody. He’s a black pug mix who weighs about 15 lbs. And he’s friggin adorable.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 4.36.44 PM

    Austin typically walks Brody at night because, true to Philadelphia living, there are cockroaches all over the streets and I prefer not to fraternize with that sort of creature. So he takes one for the team and braves the bugs each night. I typically head upstairs to play with our fat cat, Alley – she’s in need of a bit more activity – and this night was no different than the rest.

    About six or seven minutes after the door closes, I heard a horrible scream from outside. Even the cat got wide-eyed. Thirty seconds later, Austin comes careening through the door in a panic. “Babe! I need help! He ran off! He’s gone!!” To be honest, I thought he, or someone nearby, had been stabbed; that was the level of terror in his voice.

    It’s moments like these that no one really thinks about – because who would want to – and therefore, you never really know how you’ll act. If you had asked me a week prior, I probably would have described myself as the panicker in a situation such as this. Austin’s always been much more even keeled than me. But when the moment happens, all previous notions or suppositions are lost. Austin panicked. I, for some reason, remained eerily calm and pragmatic.

    I first grabbed Austin, tried to calm him down and looked him in the eyes to focus his mind.

    Austin described the situation: they were walking the normal route, nothing out of the ordinary, moving ridiculously slow and smelling every leaf that floated by. Then Brody got spooked. To this day, Austin still racks his mind for what could have possibly spooked him, but he lost his sh** and bolted. He ran straight through a four-way intersection. Austin still relives this moment with agita – the taste of bile and utter numbness that sets in when you’re about to watch your dog die.

    But for some blessed reason, Brody was able to run across those streets unscathed as he darted toward our off-street.

    By the time Austin got back to the house, he couldn’t see Brody anywhere. He ran inside to get me, and we both set out to find him. Austin hopped on his bike while I ran up and down the surrounding streets calling Brody’s name with the friendliest, un-pained voice I could manage in hopes of coaxing him home to me. It’s funny how another living thing (pet, child, etc) takes complete precedence. I completely neglected shoes, and ran out the door in my nightgown – no bra. Lucky for me, these bee stings pretty much stay put.

    After about ten minutes, I ran into Austin two streets over – nothing. I carried both our phones in my pockets, hoping someone would be able to come close enough to grab Brody and read the phone numbers on his tag, though both Austin and I knew that was unlikely – he’s not the type of dog to willingly approach others.

    We split up again, Austin on his bike, me on my still-nude feet. My mind had no concept of the ragged blisters forming on my soles; adrenaline had taken care of that.

    An hour later, we were still at a loss and my hard, organized shell was cracking. The only thing keeping me fastened together was knowing that I had become Austin’s rock – a position he’s played numerous times for me – so I could not break down yet. For him.

    I decided to go back to our street and focus on the nooks and crannies around there while Austin scoured the parks nearby. It makes me sick to even think this, but I was resigned at this point. It seemed like such an impossible battle to fight – I’ve never felt so helpless.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 4.28.25 PM

    While walking past our door once more, I saw a small black cat crossing the street a half block down. I knew it was a long shot; I didn’t even run. I moseyed down the street just so I could say I did. I turned the corner and my eyes locked with my frightened ball of fur. What I thought was a cat was in fact my Bro Bro.

    Relief poured down my face. I bent down, ensuring not to spook him, and called him over. He stood there, statuesque, covered in mud with a look of disbelief on his face. As soon as my arms wrapped around him I ran the half block to my house. Austin was rounding the corner just as I pulled out my phone and his face came to life.

    I held my focus as I approached our door. But once inside, I crumbled. All composure lost. For ten minutes we all just sat there. Partially in shock. Partially in prayer. Trying to make sense of a situation that we’ll never figure out.

    We don’t know where he went. How he got that dirty. Why he ran in the first place. But that’s not really for us to know. What we do know is every moment with him is precious and if we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now.

    Why ThePhillyDog has to Change

    Re-designing a site is hard work.

    ThePhillyDog & Boogie Gear Tables

    One of the 1st Fundraisers to Spread the Word

    I can still remember how excited I was when I received my logo from the designer I contracted on Etsy…it was the first tangible manifestation of all of my brainstorming and visions of where I wanted this site to go. In 2009, I wanted simplicity. I wanted a Liberty Bell with a Doxie (because that was the only dog shape that looked okay stretched across the Liberty Bell). I picked my font based on what had for business cards.

    Along the way, the site has changed a ton. Initially, it was just about getting events up, supporting the rescues, and talking about Dash’s separation anxiety. But when a company found my negative product review about their product, things changed. I’ll never forget the day I found a package on my porch with a ton of products, asking me to give them another try and apologizing for my bad experience. That was my Julie & Julia moment – “Ernestine, I have a comment.” But this time, it wasn’t my mother.

    It seemed as though the brands had found me. The products started pouring in – it seemed like every day there was a new dog toy or treat for Dash to try. It got to the point where when the mail came, Dash immediately sat, assuming it was something for him.

    I won’t lie – it was fun. A lot of fun. For a while.  Because it was also a ton of work. Brands send bloggers products but expect a full review and for you to share it on their social channels. Writing it up, taking photos, editing, posting…that all takes time. And I was still working full time as an attorney. So, I decided maybe it was time to start charging and making money for all of my efforts.

    I then began attending blogging conferences and trying to educate myself as much as possible about blogging and social media. My focus for the site turned to making money – advertising for the local Philly businesses. This required making sure my traffic was high to justify. In 2009, not many people wanted to pay for digital advertising, believe it or not. Bloggers weren’t valued as a PR opportunity.  And the hustle that’s required in keeping your traffic up (attending all of the dog-friendly events, meeting with businesses, etc.) is really hard to do when you are working full time.

    Keeping the site updated with events and what places are and aren’t dog friendly – well that takes a lot of work, too. Running giveaways consumes a ridiculous amount of time, and it was another feature brands started wanting. And when you spend all day at work on the computer and running around, the last thing you feel like doing is getting back in front of your computer to work on a site that was supposed to be fun. wasn’t fun any more for me. I didn’t look forward to sharing the upcoming events. I stopped doing product reviews because I couldn’t get them posted in a reasonable time. And then Dash moved in with my parents. I moved out of Philadelphia and into the suburbs. I didn’t have a dog and I didn’t live in Philly.

    Over the past year, I’ve made a few changes to get my work-life balance back in check. I decided it was time to stop focusing on making money with the site and start having fun again. But I can’t do it all alone. This site is for the dog loving community in the Philadelphia area. In order for it to be valuable to the community, I need the community to help. This can’t be a one-woman show any more.

    SO – I’m working on enabling as many features as I can to streamline things and provide the community with ways to add content and help share events and keep everything updated – including adding dog friendly events, posting adoptable pets, to getting businesses listed. I’m also hoping to add a recommendation and rating system that will help other dog owners make decisions on pet sitters and places to visit. Lots of great changes coming, so please bear with all of the site changes and updates. It’s a work in progress, for sure. I’ll be posting updates on new features as I get them implemented.

    Have a suggestion? Is there something you’d like to see on that isn’t there? Post your comment below and let me know!

    What if I die before my pets do?

    It’s always sad when a person dies. Their friends and families and even coworkers mourn, and they may take a long time to process their grief. But there is something even more profoundly sad when a pet parent dies, and their pets have no understanding as to why Mom or Dad never came home for them again. I am always sad for animals when they are given away to a shelter – or worse – put out on the street, unwanted. They never know why, or what they’ve done to deserve everything they’ve known to suddenly change. But a pet who loses his parents, especially to unexpected tragedy, is suddenly often surrounded by sadness, strangers, change and uncertainty – and the person who knew everything about what each look on their face meant is suddenly not there to be their friend, caregiver…their advocate.

    A client of mine was killed in a fluke accident. He was dad to two very old, very sweet pups, both with special needs. We were pet sitting for them at the time, and were called by his ex-girlfriend to inform us of the tragedy and to let us know the girls were safe with her, with whom they had once lived. Thank God.

    But what if the ex had no further contact with the dad? What if no one knew Josh had died?


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