Top vet tips to keep pets safe and happy this Christmas

We’re a nation of animal lovers and all love spending Christmas with our pets but do you know the dangers that could be lurking in our homes and how to keep your pet safe this year?
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Gemma Logan, a Christmas party expert at Fizzbox speaks to three experts, two top vets and a veterinary nurse, to find out how to keep your pets safe and happy this festive season.

Which Food Can Cause Problems for Your Pet Over Christmas?

Lizzie Kwint BVetMed MBA (Open) MRCVS, partner and veterinary surgeon at Medivet Canvey Island, said: “The Kennel Club found in 2021 that dogs are 75% more likely to be treated by a vet for eating toxic food at Christmas than any other time of year. Foods to be avoided include:

Keeping your pets safe at Christmas. Photo: FizzboxKeeping your pets safe at Christmas. Photo: Fizzbox
Keeping your pets safe at Christmas. Photo: Fizzbox
  • Chocolate - This contains theobromine which can affect the heart rate and rhythm and kidneys. Keep chocolate containing foods well out of reach.

  • Raisins - Even small numbers of raisins can cause kidney failure in some dogs. Treats like Christmas cake and mince pies should be avoided and shut safely away in a cupboard.

  • Alcohol - Alcohol can be fatal in dogs and cats if drunk and at best can make them very poorly. Dogs and cats love sweet drinks just like us so keep your glass off the floor or cover your glass when left unattended, so little noses can’t sneak in for a sip.

  • Bones (cooked or raw) - We are all tempted to sneak our pets the ham hock bone or lamb bone over Christmas or to put the turkey carcass out for the foxes. This should be avoided, not only could it make our own dogs or cats poorly as they can end up causing a blockage, constipation, a torn bowel or even broken teeth, it can also be very damaging to the local wildlife who can suffer the same consequences.

  • Onions and Garlic - Don’t you love a bit of stuffing with your roast? Our pets do too but this often contains large amounts of garlic or onions which can lead to anaemia and in some cases death. Best to keep that spare stuffing for your sandwiches.

  • Xylitol - This can be found in a number of sugar free sweets such chewing gum/nicotine gum. This is very toxic to dogs and cats and can cause low blood sugar, vomiting, seizures and even death. Keep those sweet treats well out of reach.

  • Nuts - These can be a problem for dogs and cats especially swallowed in their shells as they can cause intestinal blockages. But some nuts can also be toxic like macadamia nuts which can cause a high temperature, upset tummies and depression if eaten. Best to pick those nuts up straight away if you drop them and house them well out of reach of pets.

  • Fatty Foods - Sausages, bacon, pigs in blankets, turkey and chicken skin can lead to upset tummies and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) which can even be fatal for some pets.”

Other Christmas Risks for Pets

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Victoria Roberts BSc BVetmed MRCVS, GP small animal veterinarian at Hawthorn Vets in West Sussex, talks us through other risks for pets this Christmas:

  • Rock Salt/Road Grit - This contains sodium chloride (salt), which can be hazardous to pets. Can be licked off paws/fur after being outside. Ingestion of salt can result in a high blood sodium concentration leading to vomiting, lethargy, convulsions and kidney damage. Wipe feet and clean any exposed fur after walks or being outside.

  • Anti-Freeze - This is high risk if ingested. Anti-freeze toxicity is one of the most common causes of poisoning seen in cats but is also toxic to dogs although they are less likely to encounter it. Keep it locked away safely and clear up any spills quickly. It tastes sweet so cats love it but it can cause serious illness and often is fatal even if only a small amount is eaten.

  • Toys - Small parts can be swallowed and cause intestinal blockages and larger toys may be chewed up and lead to the same problem. Keep an eye on where children leave new toys and put them out of reach from pets. Younger dogs are far more likely to swallow such things

  • Batteries - Batteries are high risk if chewed and swallowed. They can cause obstruction, chemical burns and intestinal or throat damage. Both larger typical AA batteries and smaller disc batteries are a problem if eaten.

What Treats Can My Pets Have This Christmas?

Lizzie Kwint BVetMed MBA (Open) MRCVS: “Some steamed or roasted vegetables that have been cooked away from garlic and onions. These can include vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, bustle sprouts (who doesn’t love a sprout?) and cabbage. Dog friendly Christmas treats are fine in small numbers but remember some dogs' tummies can be very sensitive and, like us, too many treats can make them feel poorly or have an upset tummy. Limit the number given at any time especially if they haven’t eaten them before. Small amounts of boiled chicken or turkey. Remember roast meat may have been cooked with garlic or onions (especially if cooked with stuffing inside) so may not be safe.”

Should I Dress My Pet Up in a Christmas Outfit?

Victoria Roberts BSc BVetmed MRCVS: “Dressing your pet up at Christmas can be very cute and fun. Some things like jumpers provide the benefit of warmth and comfort. Ensure it doesn't cause your pet stress - your pet needs to be able to move around normally and not be restricted by the outfit. They also need to be able to eat, drink, see, hear and toilet without difficulty. Make sure they do not overheat - particularly if you own a flat faced breed like pugs and bulldogs that already struggle to cool themselves down. Avoid anything that they could become trapped in. Introduce clothing slowly and gradually using lots of positive reinforcement and treats. Do not force them to wear it if they do not wish to or are showing signs of stress - ears and tail down, head lowered, avoiding eye contact, unwilling to move or interact normally.”

Are Christmas Trees and Decorations Safe Pets?

Lizzie Kwint BVetMed MBA (Open) MRCVS: “As a general rule, it's safe to have a Christmas tree at home if you have pets. The majority of Christmas trees are low in toxins but if your pet chews on these they can irritate the mouth and throat as well as give a mild upset tummy. If you have a Christmas tree that’s real or fake, it's always worth getting a tree guard.”

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“Keep Christmas lights well above chewing level and tinsel well out of reach as this can be swallowed and cause blockages in the intestines. Baubles are fragile and can shatter and cut the mouth if chewed by dogs or puppies. If you are worried your pet may get into trouble with your tree or decorations, putting it inside a puppy pen or children's play pen can help to keep it well out of the way of naughty little visitors such as dogs, rabbits and cats.”

“Candles are best to be avoided if you have pets in the house over Christmas. It is easy for these to be knocked over causing a fire hazard and very common for little noses to get burnt when investigating these out of curiosity. Some candles may also have essential oils within them which can cause pets to become poorly signs of toxicity include wobbliness, trouble breathing, weakness and irritation to the face and nose. If you are worried your pet may have essential oil poisoning your vet should be contacted straight away. It is best to avoid candles in households where pets live where possible.”

How Can I Help My Pet Deal with Christmas Chaos, Noise and Multiple Visitors?

Victoria Roberts BSc BVetmed MRCVS:

  • Try to keep their routine as normal as possible . Make sure walks and food are at the same time as usual.

  • Give them a safe, quiet area they can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed by guests/noise.

  • Introduce new people quietly and slowly. It is often best to tell people to ignore the dog rather than trying to force interaction upon them if they are shy and/or stressed.

  • Use familiar toys, beds, old jumpers that smell of you if you have to visit other places or leave them for periods of time and try not to make that too long of a time.

  • Calming products or pheromone diffusers can be useful as well. Your vet can advise on which is best for you and your particular pet/situation.

  • If your pet suffers from severe anxiety and/or phobia then contact your vet and they may be able to provide stronger medication based on the animal and particular situation. Advice from a certified pet behaviourist can also be highly beneficial in understanding your pet and how best to provide support and training to reduce the issue long term.

What About Exotic Pets This Winter?

Kirsty Mott RVN BSc Hons (An Sci), registered veterinary nurse at Medivet Canvey Island said: “It's important to remember that reptiles depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. When the weather turns colder, it could alter the temperature or humidity in a reptile's enclosure. Check your temperatures stay in the adequate range for your species and consider changing to a higher wattage bulb or alternative heating system if heating proves inadequate to the temperature drop. It is always a good idea to keep spare heat bulbs available in case a replacement is required in bad weather. If you live in an area susceptible to power outages, try to prepare by keeping a thick blanket or other insulating material on hand to reduce heat loss in your enclosure. A thick blanket or towel is also useful to cover a vivarium or terrarium if you plan to have guests over the festive period. This helps to muffle sounds and reduce light, which can help in reducing stress to your pets. It also reduces stress in family members with a phobia!”

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“Humidity is often reduced in the winter, which could prevent a reptile from shedding properly. It can also cause dehydration which can be fatal to amphibians or invertebrates. Consider a humidity gauge in order to check levels are maintained. If the environment is drier, frequent misting of the enclosure may be required. Reptiles may require a larger bowl to submerge themselves in, amphibians and invertebrates prefer moss substrates, so ensure this is damp and retains moisture so it doesn't dry out. You can also make a mossy hide for reptiles, giving them a small humid area to help them shed whilst the weather is drier.”

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