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10 Dangerous temptations for your pet during Christmas

Beautiful Christmas decorations, fragrant flowers and food in abundance. Christmas is a wonderful holiday for both humans and animals. But Christmas can also be dangerous for our beloved pets. Here we list the most common temptations that can be dangerous and toxic to your dog or cat at Christmas time - and how to avoid them!

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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During Christmas, many families have many more things than normal at home; decorations, candles, and presents, but also more food. In addition, we often have guests and therefore do not have the opportunity to keep such a close eye on our pets as usual, which increases the risk of cats and dogs getting into mischief.

To minimise the risk of problems occurring, it is wise not to leave food, sweets, candles, or presents and ribbons within easy reach of pets. If you have children, it is wise to talk to them in advance. Teach them which items and types of food can be dangerous to pets, to reduce the risk of them accidentally giving the cat or dog something inappropriate.


1. Christmas food

Christmas food often has a high fat and/or salt content, therefore it is rarely suitable for pets. There is a risk of causing stomach problems, vomiting and diarrhoea. Dogs are also at risk of pancreatitis if they eat fatty foods. This is a painful condition that leads to diarrhoea and vomiting. Whilst the prognosis is often good, some dogs may not recover.

Many Christmas foods also contain onions or garlic, such as traditional sage and onion stuffing. As well as causing gastrointestinal problems, eating onions or garlic damages red blood cells, which can result in anaemia in dogs and cats.

To avoid tooth fractures, especially in young dogs that still have baby (deciduous) teeth, constipation and life-threatening penetrating injuries to the intestines, do not give leftover bones to dogs as cooked bones are brittle and shatter easily causing sharp splinters. Read more about what to do if your dog is constipated in our article.


2. Chocolate

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. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which can cause major problems for both cats and dogs, including the risk of stomach problems, salivation, palpitations and, in the worst case, heart problems, coma, seizures and even death. Avoid unnecessary trips to the vets by keeping chocolate treats out of reach.

If you are unsure whether the amount of chocolate that the animal has ingested can cause poisoning, always contact a vet for emergency advice. To make it easier for the vet, it is useful to know what your animal weighs, what type (dark, milk or white) and how much chocolate has been eaten. If there is the slightest chance they have eaten chocolate, a vet visit for an emetic is recommended. Please do not try to induce vomiting in your pet at home, especially using salt, as it risks causing salt poisoning. Read more about chocolate poisoning in our article.

Xylitol is extremely harmful to dogs. It is found in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets and chocolate. In small 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. A case was reported of a dog that had eaten an advent calendar containing sugar-free chocolate. The packet was taken to the vet clinic, which ensured that the appropriate treatment was administered to the dog! Read more about xylitol poisoning here.


3. Poisonous plants

Curious cats may want to investigate new indoor plants or flowers. Several of the plants we may have around at Christmas are toxic to cats and dogs. If you notice that they take an interest in a certain plant, it may be wise to check, and if necessary move it to a safe place, or throw it away.

Plants that can cause poisoning include:

  • Lilies: number one plant that cats must avoid. 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; ingestion may cause gastrointestinal upset
  • Amaryllis: whole plant is poisonous and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Christmas rose (Hellebore): the whole plant is poisonous and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Poinsettia: associated toxicity is usually mild and causes excessive salivation, vomiting and lethargy
  • Mistletoe (European plant): low toxicity to cats and dogs. The berries are the least toxic part. Ingestion can lead to abdominal discomfort and gastric irritation
  • Ivy: can cause irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. Facial swelling, conjunctivitis and inflammation of the skin may also be seen
  • Pine needles: sharp needles from Christmas trees may cause physical injuries or get matted in long coats. Adventurous cats or dogs who try to climb the tree may fall, causing injury


4. Fermenting dough

Fermenting dough can cause alcohol poisoning in your pet. In addition, remember not to leave alcoholic drinks on the floor or in areas where pets might be able to help themselves.

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. The animal will behave in a similar way to alcohol intoxication in humans. They are at risk of injury and, in the worst case scenario, the animal can become unconscious.


5. Grapes and nuts

Grapes and raisins can cause poisoning in both dogs and cats. Kidney problems can occur as a result. Grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants are used in so many recipes at Christmas but they are extremely toxic to dogs. However, the cause of their toxicity is still not fully understood. Read more in our article.

Nuts can cause a blockage in the intestine if swallowed. Macadamia nuts can cause poisoning, which is seen as tremors, vomiting, diarrhoea and weakness.


6. Ethylene glycol (antifreeze)

Typically used as an engine coolant or antifreeze in vehicles, ethylene glycol tastes sweet. Both dogs and cats like the taste; however, it is very toxic and can cause fatal kidney damage. Read more in our article.


7. Tallow balls

Tallow balls made of fat and seeds that are hung up for birds can cause problems. This is partly due to the very high fat content, which can cause an upset stomach or lead to pancreatitis. In addition, if the animal swallows a large piece or the surrounding net, both could lead to an obstruction or intestinal foreign body.


8. Fertiliser

Take care when watering your Christmas tree, especially if adding plant food. Dogs and cats can be poisoned if they drink any spare water. Although cases are rare, it may cause mild stomach and intestinal irritation.


9. Presents, ribbons and string

It is not uncommon for the cat or dog to play with presents or ribbons. Carefully remove any ribbons or stings from packaging. Do not assume that ribbons or string will come out "the natural way", even if it has done so before. If a pet swallows a piece of string, it can lead to major problems. String can get stuck under the tongue. They can also thread along the intestine causing concertina effect and perforation, which risks serious illness or death

If the animal has swallowed string, contact your nearest open veterinary clinic for an emergency appointment. An emetic will be given to remove the string before it cause damage. Alternatively, xrays and abdominal surgery may be required to safely removed the string.


10. Candles and other decorations

Make sure that cats and dogs cannot access candles. If they knock over a lighted candle, it can cause painful burns and risk your home being set alight.

Beware of fragile Christmas decorations. If they break, pets and children can get injured. Decorations that are eaten may cause damage or blockage of the intestine.

Reed diffusers contain a variety of ingredients including essential oils, and ethanol. These ingredients can be highly irritant 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.

Cats and dogs see batteries as a great toy to play with; however, they can cause a physical obstruction in the intestine, and could lead to poisoning in certain cases.


When to see your physical vet

  • If you think your dog has eaten, or come into contact with, any of the food items above, please seek veterinary advice. Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets, or contact your registered vet to make an emergency appointment
  • If you are unsure whether your pet has eaten something poisonous, try to find out what it is. Depending on the item or plant, the treatment will vary
  • If your pet becomes acutely ill and you see a vet, take a sample of the item with you so that treatment can be tailored accordingly
  • 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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