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Christmas dangers for cats and dogs

The festive season is a wonderful time for celebration and fun! Here are some of the things to look out for to help you have a pet friendly Christmas with all the family.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Chocolate ingestion is one of the biggest risks facing pets at this time of year as we all enjoy treats as part of the festive season. Dogs are prime candidates for eating presents under the tree but cats can also be at risk. Avoid unnecessary trips to the vets by keeping chocolate treats out of reach. You can read more about why chocolate is an unsavoury treat for your dog or cat in our article.

Dried fruit

At Christmas there is a higher chance of your dog eating grapes and raisins than at any other time of the year! Dried fruit is in so many things we like to eat; mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, Stollen, Panettone, the list goes on. Grapes, raisins, sultanas and currents are toxic to dogs. However, the cause of their toxicity is still not fully understood. Our advice is to keep all food items that contain grapes or dried fruit out of reach of dogs. Please do not leave a mince pie out for Santa, even if your dog is carefully locked in their crate overnight, as they can be brilliant escape artists, or someone else might let them out without realising the risk. Read our article to find out what to do if your dog has eaten dried fruit.


You might decide to feed your dog a bone as a Christmas present or they might decide to help themselves to the turkey carcass. Either way, please think this through as bones can cause dental issues or block the intestine. For example, chewing on a bone can lead to tooth fractures, especially in young dogs that still have baby (deciduous) teeth. Bones can also cause an obstruction in the intestine, and sharp pieces can cause internal damage and pain. In some dogs, bones can also lead to constipation. Read more about what to do if your dog is constipated in our article.

Onions and garlic

The traditional sage and onion stuffing is often served with Christmas lunch but any ingredients, or dish that contains onions, should be kept well away from animals. As well as causing gastrointestinal problems, eating onions or garlic also damages red blood cells, which can result in anaemia.

Christmas decorations

We often focus on dogs eating things that they shouldn’t at Christmas, but cats and tinsel can also be a dangerous combination. Cats that might show no interest in other toys may suddenly love the Christmas tree and everything that goes with it. Most Christmas decorations are usually not toxic (unless they contain essential oils or certain foods) but they can present a danger to your dog or cat if eaten. The main risk is an intestinal obstruction, however, occasionally we also see problems if the decoration has a high metal content as well.


Cats and dogs see batteries as a great toy to play with; they can send it skittling along the floor and then chase to repeat the process. However, if a battery is eaten it can have serious consequences. They can cause a physical obstruction in the intestine, and may lead to poisoning in certain cases. Please do not leave batteries where your cat or dog can play with or eat them.

Christmas plants can be poisonous too

Lilies are the number one plant that should be avoided if you have cats in the house. Contact with any part of the plant can cause kidney injury and in some cases kidney failure. Dogs are not affected in the same way and ingestion is unlikely to cause anything other than gastrointestinal upset for them.

Poinsettia once had a reputation for being toxic to cats and dogs. However, further research has now suggested that toxicity associated with this plant is low and usually limited to mild irritancy of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. It can cause excessive salivation, vomiting and lethargy.

Mistletoe (the European plant rather than the American one) contains toxins but the plant actually has low toxicity to cats and dogs. The berries are the least toxic part of the plant. It can lead to abdominal discomfort and gastric irritation. Treatment is often only needed if vomiting occurs.

Ivy can irritate the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, and cause a skin reaction. There have also been reports of facial swelling, conjunctivitis and inflammation of the skin in animals which have rubbed their face along the plant.

Pine needles - Christmas trees drop sharp needles that can cause physical injuries and get matted in long coats. Some adventurous cats and dogs may also try to climb up the tree and fall, or manage to pull the tree down on top of themselves, causing injury.

Lesser known causes of toxicity in dogs and cats

Xylitol is extremely harmful to dogs. It is found in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets and chocolate. Last year there was a case reported in a dog that had eaten an advent calendar containing sugar free chocolate. The dog was very lucky as the owner had the foresight to take the packet with them to the vet clinic, which gave the vet the information they needed to administer the correct treatment! In smaller doses xylitol can cause a sudden, life threatening drop in blood sugar within minutes of being eaten. In larger doses it can cause severe damage to the liver, and lead to liver failure.

Scented candles and reed diffusers - wax can be a risk especially to inquisitive cats that investigate too closely and manage to get hot wax on themselves. The liquid in reed diffusers is a big risk as it can contain a variety of ingredients including essential oils, and ethanol. These ingredients can be highly irritating to the skin, often causing severe reactions, even if the area is rinsed straight away with soap and warm water. It can also have severe implications if the contents are consumed.

Alcohol - dogs and cats should not be allowed to drink alcohol. Remember not to leave alcoholic drinks on the floor or in areas where a dog or cat might might be able to help themselves. Signs that they have consumed alcohol are typically the same as in people. Due to their size the toxic dose is often quite low: depression of the central nervous system and vomiting are usually seen within 2 hours.

Macadamia nuts - although the toxic ingredient remains unknown, these nuts can cause fever, lethargy, tremors and lameness. Macadamia butter can also have a harmful effect on pets.

Peanuts - can cause stomach upsets and occasionally lead to seizures, which might be due to the salt on the peanut.

When to see your physical veterinarian

  • Has your pet eaten, or come into contact with, cinnamon or nutmeg, or any other potentially toxic food items? If yes, please seek veterinary advice. Contact your own veterinarian to make an emergency appointment.
  • Visit TVM UK for more information on common poisons that can affect your pet.

TVM UK have developed an easy to remember acronym S.P.E.E.D to help owners if they think that their dog has eaten something poisonous. Your vet only has a short, limited time frame to try and minimise the absorption of poisons so an immediate appointment is essential and potentially life-saving.

S - Stop access to any poison. It may seem obvious but stop your dog eating or licking any more of the substance.

P - Phone the vet. Keep your vet’s phone number and their emergency (out of hours) number handy in case you ever need them.

E - Emergency appointment. You cannot ‘wait and see’ with poisons as many do not affect your pet straight away, some can take several days to show symptoms, all the while doing damage to the internal organs whilst showing no sign on the outside. Getting your dog seen immediately gives you the best chance to get effective treatment for your dog.

E - Evidence. Knowing what the potential poison is will really help your vet make a rapid diagnosis and create the best treatment protocol for a successful recovery. If you have a label of the substance then take it with you to the clinic. If you don’t have a label but have access to the substance then bring a sample for testing (only if it is safe to do so and you are not putting yourself or anyone else in danger). If you don’t have a label or a sample but your dog has been sick, then bring a sample of this with you (if safe to do so) as the ingredient may be present in the vomit. If you don’t have access to any of these then don’t worry as your pet’s blood can be tested via certain laboratories.

D - Don’t delay. You cannot afford to wait, act straight away!

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