I always love the Christmas adverts, every retailer and company competing against each other to be the sweetest, the saddest, the most poignant or funny. And more importantly - the most talked about. But people are talking about one of the Morrisons' adverts this year for all the wrong reasons, because it shows a child giving his leftover Christmas pudding to the family dog. Nothing wrong there you might think, unless you know that the innocent Christmas pudding can be fatal to dogs.
A lot of festive fare is dangerous because it contains raisins and sultanas that are potentially harmful to pets, possibly causing renal failure. Many families will ignore/starve a vomiting dog for 24 hours to allow for a change of diet but this time period would be crucial if the dog in question has been affected by eating dangerous foodstuffs. They might not know that their illness has been caused because they've been left to eat a stray mince pie!
I doubt after watching the advert dog owners across the land will be serving up mounds of figgy pudding to their hounds between now and Christmas but the casual, throwaway visual reference means that important messages about what it is safe to feed your dog are being undermined. A child could easily recreate what they have seen on screen if they didn't fancy eating their pudding.
Vets regularly see animals who have been fed food their owners didn't realise would make them ill and have a big job to do to ensure these messages are communicated. Most people know that chocolate is a common cause of poisoning in dogs, but what about avocadoes, onions, liquorice, peanuts, grapes - all can be toxic to our hounds. Fatty meats like pork, sausages and poultry skin can cause tummy upsets or even pancreatitis, chicken bones splinter and cause internal damage, but how often do we see dogs running around on TV with a string of sausages or a chicken leg?
Peter Jones, the president of the British Veterinary Association has responded to the advert with a statement that can be found in full here but says:
"It is vital that advertisers use animals responsibly and we are disappointed to see the Morrisons Christmas desserts TV commercial depicting a small boy feeding Christmas pudding to his dog... While we accept that many pet owners understand what is and what is not appropriate to feed their pets, children watch adverts and can be easily influenced by what they see. Veterinary organisations and animal welfare charities work really hard to promote messages about responsible pet ownership and TV adverts such as this one, with huge audiences, can undermine this work."
His advice is if you suspect your pet has eaten something harmful over the festive period seek advice immediately.
There is a campaign, being supported by Dogs Today magazine, The Mayhew Animal Hospital and vets and dog lovers from around the UK, urging the supermarket to pull this advert before any harm is done and have contacted them directly with the information and their concerns.
Remember, a couple years ago John Lewis cut a scene from a Christmas ad that depicted a dog being left out in the cold and snow as viewers were concerned that it condoned the mistreatment of animals. And this year the Advertising Standards Agency has received more complaints about a Boots advert that shows a child using a hairdryer on a dog - of course trying this at home could cause harm to both dog and child! In response a spokeswoman for the RSPCA says brands using animals in ads should make sure they are not causing them any "suffering or distress". The message to advertisers is clear - dog lovers will not tolerate unsuitable or inconsiderate use of them in adverts.
To follow the campaign see their Facebook page.