The 12 days of Christmas for cats and dogs

We all like to get into the Christmas spirit and I am no different. My dog’s Christmas presents have already been bought (don’t ruin the surprise for them!) and I am sure that they will love their bag of treats but the best thing for them on Christmas Day will be their walk.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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In our previous article, we talked about many common Christmas dangers for pets, such as chocolate. In this article we will focus on some of the lesser known problems, which can catch out even the most well informed owners, and how you can keep your pet safe.

The Christmas tree

In our household, the issue of when the Christmas tree goes up is a topic of hot debate. As a vet, a Christmas tree comes with many potential dangers that can affect our pets. Over the festive period, altercations between pets and Christmas trees have caused some serious injuries.

  • Fairy lights: keep cables away from the ground to prevent electrocution and strangulation.
  • Baubles and tinsel: try to hang decorations, especially chocolate or gingerbread, out of reach of pets. Both may cause gastrointestinal problems or obstruction. If tinsel is swallowed, never attempt to pull on the available end as this can damage the delicate intestinal walls. Instead, seek immediate veterinary help. Other decorations may break into sharp pieces and damage paws or the intestine.
  • The tree: most Christmas tree species are potentially toxic. Ingestion can cause side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea or salivation, although these effects are not usually life threatening.
  • Batteries: prevent them being chewed or swallowed as they can leak harmful chemicals or cause an intestinal obstruction.

If you suspect your pet has eaten any of the items listed above, please seek the advice of a vet as soon as possible. Some items can be removed by induction of vomiting and symptomatic treatment, and others may require surgery.

Mulled wine

Mulled wine is often enjoyed at Christmas but owners may not be aware of the dangers that alcoholic drinks pose to pets. Even very small amounts of alcohol can cause vomiting, disorientation, muscle tremors or seizures, and even death in pets.

Ingredients, such as the sweetener xylitol, are highly toxic in small doses. Others toxins include raisins, hops, and spices, such as nutmeg. To protect your pet here is some advice:

  • Keep all alcoholic drinks and food out of reach of pets.
  • Ask family members and guests not to leave drinks unattended and clean up spills.
  • If your pet has ingested alcohol, please seek immediate help from your registered vet clinic. If possible, take the bottle or packaging to show your vet exactly what has been eaten.

The cheeseboard

Christmas lunch wouldn’t be complete without a cheeseboard. So what are the dangers for our pets? There are some risks that come from the cheese itself, whereas others are found in the accompaniments.

  • Blue cheese: contains roquefortine C, which is made by a fungus that is used during production. If ingested by dogs, it can lead to tremors and seizures for up to 48 hours.
  • Other cheeses: all cheese has a high fat content. This can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. Fatty foods can also cause pancreatitis, which is very serious and painful inflammation of the pancreas. Treatment normally involves hospitalisation.
  • Grapes: most dogs are susceptible to grape poisoning, which can cause fatal complications such as kidney failure. Read more in our article on grape and raisin poisoning. If you suspect your dog has eaten even a small number of grapes please seek immediate veterinary help.
  • Chutney: many recipes contain onions and garlic. Cats are particularly susceptible to the allium family, which can cause gastrointestinal upset, as well as severe anaemia.

Christmas plants

Whether you are a keen wreath maker, or like to put up a few sprigs of holly, there are some popular Christmas plants that pets should avoid:

  • Holly: spikes can cause damage to the intestine. Berries can also cause diarrhoea and vomiting if eaten.
  • Mistletoe: European varieties are not considered toxic. However, the berries can cause vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten.
  • Ivy: can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, or act as a foreign body if eaten. Contact irritation can occur with skin exposure.
  • Poinsettia: salivation and vomiting may occur if ingested. However, toxicity is generally low.


Many of us are partial to smashed avocado on toast but few people are aware that they can be harmful to our pets.

  • Avocado flesh: contains a chemical called persin. Different species have varying susceptibility to persin. Whilst in dogs and cats this is generally low, it can still cause a stomach upset if eaten.
  • The stone: this can cause an intestinal obstruction, which may require surgery to retrieve.


Often used in cooking around Christmas time, some varieties of nuts pose a risk to our pets. Nuts have a very high fat content and may cause a stomach upset, or even pancreatitis, in dogs that are prone to this condition.

In a nutshell:

  • Walnuts: these are susceptible to mycotoxin contamination. Mycotoxins can cause seizures, tremors or other neurological symptoms.
  • Macadamia nuts: the mechanism of toxicity is not well understood, but ingestion of macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, unsteadiness, tremors, vomiting and hyperthermia. This often occurs between 12 and 48 hours after being consumed.

And there we have it, a guide to some of the lesser known risks for pets over the festive period. Being well informed can go a long way to keeping your pet safe. From all of us at FirstVet, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

If you have any questions or concerns, book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.

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