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Preparing for Christmas: The Dangers of Xmas Treats

‘Tis the season to be careful! With Christmas quickly approaching, this blog aims to highlight all of the dangers for our four-legged furry friends.

Poisonous Food and Drink

  • Chocolate: It’s well-known that chocolate is poisonous to dogs. The chemical in it, theobromine, is more potent in darker chocolate, and can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, panting/fast breathing, seizures, restlessness and can be fatal. Theobromine is equally toxic for cats and rabbits. Hanging chocolates from the Christmas tree or advent calendar can make a tempting treat for your dog, so remember to keep them out of reach. If you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate it is important to contact your vet immediately for advice.

  • Dried fruit, grapes and nuts: Whilst not all nuts are toxic for pets, macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, tremors and high body temperatures in dogs. Nuts also pose the risk of gastric obstruction if swallowed whole. Grapes and dried fruits, such as raisins and currants, are highly toxic to both dogs and cats. Ingestion can result in kidney failure. We suggest keeping your furry friends away from the mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas pud! If you suspect your pet has ingested grapes or raisins it is really important that you contact your vet straight away for advice.

  • Alcohol: For many people, the festive season results in more alcohol consumption. It’s important to remember that alcohol has a similar effect on your pets and can result in them becoming drowsy. In severe cases, consumption of alcohol can also result in low blood sugar and body temperature resulting in comatose.

  • Artificial sweetener: Xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener, poses a risk for most furry creatures such as dogs, rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs. Xylitol is commonly found in the sweets we consume over Christmas and is highly toxic causing seizures, liver failure, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and if untreated it can lead to death in pets. If you suspect your pet has ingested xylitol it is important that you act quickly as the quicker the treatment the better the outcome.

  • Leftover dinner/ fatty foods: It’s a common misconception that it is OK to give leftover bones to pets. Bones, even big ones, can splinter when chewed. These splinters can cause obstruction and/or perforation in both the throat and stomach and cause serious issues. Onions are also a lesser-known risk for pets, onions can cause stomach upsets in dogs. Most Allium species of plants (including onions, garlic, and leeks) can damage red blood cells, resulting in anaemia. Because of this, it is also best not to let your furry friend eat leftover stuffing containing onions or garlic. Avoid offering your pet fatty foods such as bacon, ham, meat trimmings etc this Christmas. Whilst we are sure they will love the taste it might not love them. Foods high in fat not only lead to unnecessary weight gain but can also harm their digestive systems. Rich foods with high-fat content can cause pancreatitis flare-ups in our pets. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea. The high salt content of these foods can also make our pets excessively thirsty. It is best avoided all round.

Poisonous Plants

  • Poisonetta: Poisonettas are notoriously Christmassy however when consumed by cats, or dogs they can irritate the mouth and stomach and induce drooling and vomiting. Although they are not the most toxic plant, we suggest keeping them out of reach from pets.

  • Holly: A holly plant is generally considered to be low toxicity however consumption of the berries can result in your pet getting an upset stomach.

  • Mistletoe: Similarly, ingestion of mistletoe berries may upset your pet’s stomach. Although most animals that consume mistletoe are fine, large consumption can lead to drooling, sickness and diarrhoea.

  • Ivy: Although ivy used to make Christmas wreaths is not as poisonous to pets as American poison ivy, prolonged contact with it can cause irritation, and indigestion can result in stomach issues.

  • Lillies - This is particularly important because most Lillie's pose a significant risk to our cats and can, unfortunately, prove fatal. It is important to note that in some species of Lily that all parts of the plant are toxic from the leaves, petals and stamen, including sometimes the water in their vase. Please avoid having Lillie's in the home if you own a cat. In some cases, we see cats have brushed past the Lily pollen and then licked their fur causing toxicity. If you think your cat may have come into contact with a Lily or ingested any please call your vet immediately.

  • Christmas trees: Christmas trees can also cause stomach pain if eaten, especially to rabbits. When swallowed, the needles from Christmas trees can cause internal damage. They can also get stuck in your pet’s paws and cause discomfort both externally and internally. We also advise using a secure base to stop it from falling for cats and kittens who may try to climb your tree.

Other Hazards

  • Decorations: Glass baubles and other glass decorations are dangerous for cats and kittens who climb in Christmas trees. They can also be risky for dogs who may mistake them for a ball. If broken, glass ornaments can lodge in your pet’s paws. Or worse, if ingested they can cause internal damage. Tinsel, ribbon and other decorations made of plastic, or foil may also obstruct the stomach if consumed and they don’t tend to show up on Xrays easily. We suggest not leaving your pet unattended around your decorations.

  • Wrapping paper: The toxicity of wrapping paper is relatively low however if consumed in large amounts, it can also cause obstructions to the stomach.

  • Candles: Always keep lit candles out of reach from your pet to avoid your pet getting burns or/and even starting a house fire. When you can, opt for natural candles rather than ones made from paraffin. Paraffin wax releases harmful wax when burnt and may irritate your pet - particularly smaller pets such as rats with sensitive respiratory systems. It’s also important to remember that whilst our favourite Christmas candles smell delicious to us, pets have a stronger sense of smell than humans do, so will experience the smell of scented candles more intensely which can be stress-inducing.

  • Lights: Always be wary of decorative lights around teething puppies, cats, and house rabbits. Cats, puppies and rabbits are curious and may try and chew on Christmas lights. Always keep them supervised around lights and turn them off if you go out to avoid your pet getting a fatal nasty shock.

  • Potpurri: Potpourri, when consumed, can also result in significant gastrointestinal effects in both cats and dogs.

  • Batteries: With lots of new gadgets come lots of batteries, keep these out of reach of your pet, if ingested they can cause very serious burns to the stomach and intestines.

  • Antifreeze(Ethylene glycol): Is highly poisonous to cats and dogs, as it is quite tasty to pets, they will lick up any spillage, even a teaspoon amount can be fatal. Symptoms occur within 30 minutes to 12 hours of exposure and can be wobbling, unsteady on their feet, drooling, vomiting, seizures, excessive thirst and urination. The symptoms then tend to resolve after 12 hours giving a false sense to the owner that their pet is ok, but without treatment, more internal damage is silently progressing to severe kidney failure which occurs 36-72 hours after ingestion. Immediate treatment is required if you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze.

  • Rock Salt: This time of year we will often see the gritters out and about gritting the roads with Rock salt. Rock salt is a mixture of salt (sodium chloride) and grit. This is used to help de-ice roads and pavements during the colder months. Rock salt can be a danger to our pets, especially dogs and cats. The danger comes when our pets walk through the grit and then lick it from their paws or fur. For this reason, it is difficult to say how much needs to be ingested for signs of toxicity to be seen. It is important that you wash your dog's feet after walking on pavements that have been salted to reduce the amount they may ingest. If your dog is showing any signs of salt exposure such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, lethargy, wobbly walking, excessive thirst or urination, tremors please contact your vet.

Lastly, don’t forget, the festive season can be stressful for your pet, with increased visitors and disruption to their daily routine. Always make sure your pet has a safe space to retreat away from the party and exercise them before guests arrive.

It’s not all doom and gloom, the festive seasons offer a great opportunity to bond with your furry friends and spoil them! Taking the right precautions and being aware of the dangers can help make sure your Christmas runs smoothly.

A fantastic number to have to hand over the Christmas season is the Veterinary Poisons Helpline, this essential service can give you advice when you suspect your pet may have eaten something they shouldn’t.

If you’re concerned about fireworks in the lead up to Christmas and New Year, make sure you check out our blog on ‘Preparing For Firework Season’.

We hope you have a happy and safe Christmas!


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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