The pet parent’s guide to Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year... as long as you make sure your pets are safe from deadly decorations, poisonous plants and treacherous treats... 

Posted: 05 December 2019

The pet parent’s guide to Christmas

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas... and while every pet parent wants their four-legged family members to feel part of the celebrations, there are plenty of festive perils to watch out for. Check out our comprehensive Yuletide guide to ensure that your furry friends stay healthy and happy this Christmas.

Deadly decorations

Anything that sparkles, dangles or flashes will be a magnet for many pets, especially puppies and kittens, so make sure decorations are placed well out of reach of inquisitive noses, mouths and paws. Avoid glass baubles at all costs – if they get accidentally smashed, sharp shards can cause nasty injuries. 

If you’re decking your halls with fairy lights, make sure they’re hung well out of reach of your animal residents. Not only could your pets get tangled up in them, if they bite through the wire it could result in an electric shock. This is particularly important if you have house bunnies as, in the wild, while burrowing, rabbits chew through roots and they will treat wires in the same way. Don’t be tempted to decorate small pets’ cages with tinsel or strings of sparkling lights – as well as being dangerous to curious nibblers, they’re likely to find flashing bulbs very distressing. And always switch your Christmas lights off at the mains when you’re not at home.

Go steady with spray snow – while it looks seasonally pretty, if your dog, cat or rabbit decides it’s something to be scratched at or licked off, they’ll ingest harmful chemicals.

Keep Blu Tack safely out of reach while you’re putting up cards and trimmings – if eaten, it may cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea.


Clear and present danger

The sudden appearance of mysterious boxes wrapped in paper and bows will attract the attention of playful pets. So, unless you want yours unwrapped and shredded by Santa’s little helper, keep them hidden away.

Once the present-opening frenzy is over on Christmas morning, collect up all the debris. Wrappings and bows can be dangerous if chewed or swallowed and there may be other toxic items lurking – from packets of silica gel often included in the packaging of shoes, handbags and even dog treats, to small parts of children’s toys that can easily be swallowed. 


Perilous plants 

Holly, mistletoe, poinsettia, amaryllis and lilies are all festive floral favourites – but they’re also highly toxic to pets. Avoid or position well away from inquisitive noses.

If you have a real Christmas tree, regularly vacuum up the pine needles as these can puncture your pet's intestines if ingested and painfully prick paws. Don’t let your dog drink the tree water, which is likely to contain chemicals. Nibbling or licking a real Christmas tree won’t do your pets any good either as these trees produce oils that can be toxic, making animals very unwell.  If you have a cat who likes to climb, make sure they’re never left unsupervised in the room containing the festive tree. Perhaps consider investing in a cat-safe one. 


Festive food for thought

The first rule of Christmas for every pet parent is to ignore those pleading eyes. Many of the festive food we humans love to chow down on can make our pets very poorly. It’s far better to keep your pets on their usual Burgess diet and play an extra game with them instead. Foods to watch out for include:

  • Mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake: Raisins and sultanas (as well as grapes) are highly toxic to pets, causing serious, potentially fatal kidney problems.
     
  • Nutmeg: This seasonal spice used in eggnog, biscuits and puddings is poisonous to pets, causing tremors, seizures and damage to the central nervous system.
     
  • Macadamia nuts: These can cause lethargy, increased body temperature, tremors, lameness, vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs.
     
  • Chocolate: This contains theobromine, which can be fatal to dogs if they eat it in sufficient quantities. 
     
  • Xylitol: This artificial sweetener sneaks its way into all sorts of foods – from peanut butter to jellies and jams and is highly toxic to canines. After a dog consumes a significant amount of xylitol, there is a massive release of insulin from the pancreas. This, in turn, results in a dangerously low blood sugar level and symptoms such as weakness, trembling, seizures, collapse, and even death.
     
  • Pigs in blankets: Fatty, salty meats such as pork can lead to pancreatitis.
     
  • Onions, shallots, garlic, leeks and chives: These all belong to the Allium species of plants and, whether uncooked or cooked, are toxic to pets. Initially there can be vomiting and diarrhoea, but the main effect is damage to red blood cells, resulting in anaemia.
     
  • Table scraps (in large amounts): A bit of cooked, lean meat with the fat trimmed off and a small amount of boiled vegetables, such as carrots, peas and broccoli, is OK as a treat for your dog, but table scraps should not be fed regularly as they are not nutritionally balanced and can lead to obesity. Cooked turkey bones can splinter and become lodged in an animal’s throat or perforate the intestinal tract, which can be life-threatening. Ensure turkey carcasses and bones are bagged-up and safely disposed of somewhere that your pets cannot get to them. 
     
  • Gravy: If made from meat juices, it can contain high levels of fat, which can cause pancreatitis.
     
  • Alcohol: In severe cases, when alcohol is ingested, there’s a risk of low body temperature, low blood sugar and coma. Make sure any unattended alcohol is kept out of reach to prevent curious pets from helping themselves to a sneaky tipple.

Party poopers

Unfamiliar people coming and going may unsettle your pets, so make sure they have access to a quiet room or familiar space, where they can escape from the party and potential over-the-top petting and treat giving from tipsy relatives or overexcited children. Cats and indoor bunnies will appreciate some hidey-holes to retreat to. Try to stick to your daily routine – such as feeding and exercise times – as this will help your pets feel less stressed by all the unusual activity. Check that doors are not left open, inviting pets to slip out unnoticed.

Most animals have incredibly sensitive hearing so the best advice is to avoid crackers and party poppers – and be pet aware when popping the cork on the prosecco. Small animals are particularly sensitive to high frequency sounds that we can't hear – so keep them away from televisions and stereos and consider carefully moving cages to quieter parts of the house if you’re having a party.

And... relax! Forewarned means you’re forearmed against potential festive pet pitfalls. Wishing you and your pets a very merry, healthy Christmas!


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Sources: rspca.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk, dogstrust.org.uk, cats.org.uk

 

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