“It’s Christmas time, and there’s no need to be afraid”, sings the famous song; but if you’re lucky enough to share your life with a pet, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned around this time of year. Christmas is usually a time of sheer indulgence for us humans, with many of our halls decked with equal, if not more, amounts of booze and food than boughs of holly. But it’s this festive food and drink that can prove especially dangerous if it finds itself in the paws of the wrong family member.
Chocolate is well known for its high toxicity to dogs, with the reporting of any accidental ingestion to your vet strongly advised; and as with all suspected poisonings, time is of the essence. So please avoid hanging chocolates on your tree, or in gifts below, as a hungry pooch may unwrap these presents before you or your family comes down on Christmas morning, only to discover an incredibly sick dog exhibiting symptoms of chocolate poisoning; which include agitation, hyperexcitability, tremors, heart problems, and even life-threatening convulsions.
Another group of potential Yuletide pet dangers are grapes, raisins, and sultanas; including ones hidden in Christmas pudding, fruitcake, and mince pies. Ingestion of even a small quantity can cause severe kidney failure, and as with chocolate, any suspect patients must be reported to your vet ASAP. Remember all vet practices in the UK provide their own, or will direct you to another nearby clinic’s, emergency service - even on Christmas Day. With festive floral arrangements commonplace, seasonal plants like poinsettia, mistletoe, holly, and ivy can also cause digestive upsets to both dogs and cats, with cats also very susceptible to potentially lethal effects of lily pollen.
Other popular foodstuffs able to cause serious pet health problems include onions and anything containing traces of onion, which can not only cause gastroenteritis, but also damage your pet’s red blood cells, resulting in anaemia. Alcohol left lying around may also cause complications if swallowed, so make sure all beers, wine, and spirits are kept well out of reach. Macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, fever, tremors, lameness, and stiffness in dogs. Left-over turkey carcasses discovered by, or even fed to, hungry pets can cause gut perforation and constipation, with all other fatty foods having the potential to trigger a painful pancreatitis, as well as vomiting and diarrhoea. On the plus side if you must share your Christmas lunch with your four-legged friend then turkey meat, Brussels sprouts, and carrots are all acceptable as treats.
If you’re lucky enough to share the festive period with a feline friend, then please be extra careful of seductive decorations on your Christmas tree. Most cats love to climb trees anyway, real or artificial, but sparkly tinsel, shiny hanging decorations, glossy ribbons from gifts, and even boring string used for cooking can all resemble cat toys; but if swallowed can cause huge amounts of internal damage, including a condition called intussusception resulting in serious blockage, intestinal perforation, and emergency surgery.
Furthermore, traditional Christmas lights can pose a real danger to cats, puppies, and house rabbits if they decide to chew through electrical wiring. Ensure you hide or project all exposed wires with tough plastic tubes, and don’t forget to switch the power off when your tree is unsupervised; battery-powered lights are well worth considering instead. Hang decorations higher up your tree well out of paws’ reach, and be wary of fragile, glass baubles that can shatter and cut sensitive pads, requiring emergency treatment.
Away from all the edible dangers, another significant source of stress and anxiety that can affect our pets at this time, especially nervous ones, are visitors. Strangers (especially bringing their own dogs) and children must be forewarned about your pets (importantly how to safely approach them), and safe areas, quiet rooms, specific dens should ideally be prepared for them to hide away and de-stress in. Pheromone sprays and plug-ins may also help keep pets calm ad stress-free. Make sure all cat and dogs are microchipped (it’s now law with dogs) in case they panic with all the noise and escape. Antifreeze must also be stored responsibly at this time of year too, as its extreme palatability to cats means even tiny amounts can kill, for example traces swallowed either directly, or whilst grooming themselves after walking through a spillage.
Finally, never give pets as presents, and when spoiling your pet rotten this Christmas always spare a thought for lonely rescue animals spending perhaps another Christmas behind bars, and with no excited family fussing over them, making them feel special, or offering them gifts. So why not make a donation to, or sponsor an animal at your local shelter, or drop off old blankets, food, toys, or newspapers instead? Make your New Year’s Resolution to continue to feed and exercise your pet appropriately, and perhaps consider adopting a rescue pet in 2019? Wishing you and your pets a safe, happy Christmas, and healthy New Year!