How not to spend Christmas with your vet: Christmas dangers for pets and how to avoid them
Vets love their patients, it’s not a secret. But sometimes we really don’t want to see them. For Christmas, for example. Keep reading for what you need to know to spend Christmas with your pets safely at home.
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As every toddler parent quickly learns, our homes are filled with all kinds of potentially dangerous items that we, the grown-ups, regularly use without a second thought. It’s not much different with the furry family members and especially around Christmas time, when we like to add special things to our houses and menus. So, what should you keep an eye on?
Christmas decorations that could be a problem for pets
The typical Christmas decorations like Christmas trees, natural or artificial, the baubles and the tinsel on them, or the presents under, covered in wrapping paper and tied up with ribbons could all be played with, bits chewed off and swallowed. This can irritate or hurt their stomachs and guts making both dogs and cats vomit and/or have diarrhoea or even get stuck inside them (ribbons and kittens is a particularly dire combination).
A blinking tree is irresistible to energetic cats, it is known. They will attempt to conquer it, risking a fall. Playful dogs may also try to pull at garlands and cables and topple it over on their unsuspecting heads.
Other pretty dangers that could make them sick are traditional Christmas plants like poinsettias, hellebores, ivy, amaryllis or mistletoe. It’s worth mentioning here that all true lilies, popular for their amazing scent and lush flowers, are a huge danger for cats because they can give them fatal kidney failure.
More fragrant risks are embodied by scented candles (which can be knocked over and cause burns or a fire) and reed diffusers around the house, which usually contain irritating essential oils and ethanol.
Christmas foods that might harm cats and dogs
If there’s something that really says ‘Christmas’, then it is food. Rich food, sweet and savoury, roasted and baked, full of spices, and loads of it… its temptation for our pets increases tenfold during this time.
What should you particularly watch out for are the bones from roasts ending up with dogs or cats as they may either choke, break their teeth on or swallow big fragments of them. These can’t be digested and usually end up giving them a severe irritation of the stomach or getting stuck in their small intestine, both cases needing surgery.
Other troublemakers for our pets that we consume without a care are salty and fatty foods, spiced with black pepper and bay leaf which, in high concentrations, can cause a nasty case of pancreatitis in both dogs and cats. Mild irritations of the stomach can also be caused by ginger and saffron. The issue with the exotic condiments and spices in our kitchen is that they get their flavours from essential oils and aromatic compounds that humans tolerate and enjoy, but dogs and cats can’t digest.
Onions (leeks too!) and garlic in large amounts, or the concentrated stock in which they cooked, can affect their red bloods cells, causing anaemia.
Other everyday foods like raisins (of which mince pies are full!), chocolate, coffee beans, avocado and macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs as well. Chocolate is toxic to cats too, but since they can’t taste sweet very well and are generally possessed of a more discerning palate, are less likely to eat it.
Another serious risk in your kitchen is a sweetener called xylitol, usually found in sugar-free foods and chewing gum, please take great care not to allow your dog to eat things containing it, it causes severe drops in their blood sugar.
Make sure dogs and cats can’t get to fermented dough either, in their warm stomach it continues to rise, causing them to bloat, but also releases alcohol, which can end in alcohol poisoning, same as when they lick spilled alcoholic drinks. Since they are much smaller than us, even small amounts of a stiff drink can give them alcohol poisoning, which is as fun for them as a bad hangover is for us and potentially leading to serious consequences like a drop in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature.
Other Christmas happenings that your pet might not enjoy
While some dogs and cats like to meet new people and be in the thick of it, some will not be comfortable socialising with your guests. Especially if these guests are children, who tend to move fast, be quite touchy-feely and loud.
Be mindful of other noise sources during your Christmas party, like loud music, poppers and fireworks. Many dogs and cats have an aversion to sudden, loud noises and could get very scared.
How to make Christmas great for your pets
Make sure all decoration is out of reach, secured or fenced in, if necessary. Watch for counter surfers who may help themselves to people food, but also what lands in their feeding bowls. Keep a few days’ worth of digestive food and probiotics in house for mild cases of vomiting or/and diarrhoea. If you noticed they swallowed something they shouldn’t, talk to a vet asap and do NOT try to make them vomit at home.
Prepare for them a quiet room with their usual bedding, provide some white noise or smooth background music (a classic music radio station is ideal), favourite foods and toys and fresh water. Don’t forget a litter tray for cats. Then, based on your pets’ temperament, decide upfront if you want to let them be present in the common spaces or not.
If you let them mingle, make sure all windows and doors are closed, speak to your guests about what behaviours your pet would be ok with, then monitor them closely for signs of discomfort. Should you see them avoiding touches, folding their ears, showing big pupils and lots of white in their eyes or cowering, remove them to the quiet room prepared. For those who find it difficult to deal with the holiday upheaval, use calming aids like Adaptil or Feliway for a few days prior to Christmas and after it.
Last but not least, keep your (out-of-hours) vet’s details handy and register with us in case you need to speak to a professional.