Christmas should be a time to eat, drink and be merry, not to be rushing our dog to the vets.
Unfortunately the festive season can bring with it a raft of potential health and safety hazards for our dogs, so here are our 8 tops tips for what to watch out for, and how to make sure your Christmas is one to remember for all the right reasons!
1. Food and drink
Christmas consumables are one of the biggest risk factors to our dog’s health over the festive period. Many of our Christmas favourites are toxic to dogs, and worse, a number of festive treats combine multiple toxins e.g. chocolate-covered, rum-soaked raisins! So make sure your dog doesn’t get their teeth into any of the following:
In 2016, the British Veterinary Association revealed that during the previous festive season in the UK, 80% of vets saw at least one case of toxic ingestion in pets during the last festive period, chocolate poisoning in dogs being the most common cause with 73% of vets seeing at least one case.
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine which is toxic to dogs. Chocolate poisoning can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive thirst, over-excitability, tremors, irregular heartbeat and seizures.
Theobromine is slow to digest, therefore you may not see symptoms for up to 24 hours after your dog has eaten the chocolate, however it is essential that you do NOT wait for your dog to start showing symptoms before seeking advice from their vet as it may be too late to help them.
The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains and therefore the more toxic it is. White chocolate doesn’t contain that much theobromine but still has the potential to be toxic in sufficient quantities. There is also a lot of sugar and fat in chocolate which can cause pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition of the pancreas (an organ located close to the stomach that helps to digest food) which causes pain and vomiting.
Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and mince pies
All of these usually contain dried grape products (raisins, sultanas and currants). Fresh grapes and their dried-out versions are highly toxic to dogs and even in small numbers can cause severe kidney failure.
Not all nuts are toxic to dogs, but even those that aren’t have a high fat content which can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs. In addition, large whole nuts have the potential to cause obstruction in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, an increased risk in small dogs.
Nuts which you must NOT give to your dog due to their toxicity:
Any nuts which are not fresh and may therefore be carrying toxic moulds
Symptoms of poisoning from certain nuts include fever, lethargy, tremors and stiffness / lameness.
Xylitol is a common type of artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free food and drink items which is toxic to dogs if ingested, and can lead to low blood sugar and liver failure.
Onion, garlic, leeks, scallions, shallots and chives
These are all species of the Allium genus of plants, and are toxic in both uncooked and uncooked forms. Early symptoms of poisoning include vomiting and diarrhoea, however the more serious, long term effect is damage to red blood cells leading to anaemia. Anaemia causes pale gums, tiredness, decreased appetite and an inability to exercise for long.
Be mindful of other produce that may contain these food items, for example gravy and stuffing, which can pose a risk to your dog.
Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in all alcoholic beverages. It is also produced when other food products ferment (i.e. when the sugars in them change to alcohol through a process involving living organisms such as yeasts, moulds or bacteria working in an oxygen-poor environment). This means, for example, if your dog eats raw bread dough (which contains yeast) or rotten apples (which carry mould / bacteria), when these are processed in the oxygen-poor environment of your dog’s digestive tract, ethanol is produced inside your dog’s body.
Ethanol poisoning most commonly depresses the functioning of the central nervous system, can damage the body’s cells and lead to death. Symptoms include: drowsiness, slow reflexes, uncoordinated movement, depressed or overexcited behaviour, flatulence, incontinence, decreased body temperature, slowed heart rate and breathing, unconsciousness and heart attack.
So, no sharing a tipple with your furry friend!
Much of the food on our Christmas dinner plates is often fatty and sugary, and if given to our dog can lead to indigestion, vomiting, diarrhoea and even conditions such as gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract with symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea and vomiting) and pancreatitis.
Bones should also be kept away from your dog since they can splinter and potentially puncture your dog’s digestive tract (cooked bones in particular are more fragile), and hard bones can lead to fractured teeth.
Make sure that leftovers are disposed of carefully so that your dog is not able to fish them out of the bin. In addition to the aforementioned risks, moulds in food can also produce toxins leading to rapid poisoning.
2. Christmas trees
Monitor your dog’s interaction with any Christmas trees in the home, and if necessary block access to them, for example by installing a dog guard around the base.
Eating pine needles from a real tree can give your dog a tummy upset, but riskier still is the potential internal damage which can be caused by the needles’ sharp tips.
If you have a real tree, also bear in mind that the soil and / or water in its pot can be a hazard too. It may contain bacteria, mould and /or plant food that can all be toxic to your dog if ingested.
3. Other plants
Other festive foliage also has the potential to spoil your dog’s Christmas, so best to keep all of these flora out of reach:
Poinsettia – this traditionally festive red-leaved plant can irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach if eaten, leading to excessive saliva and occasionally vomiting if chewed / ingested
Mistletoe – European mistletoe berries can also cause tummy upset if ingested, American mistletoe can be a lot more dangerous
Holly – although the leaves are of low toxicity, their sharp tips can cause internal damage if chewed / swallowed, and eating holly berries can lead to stomach upset
Ivy – Hedera species of ivy, which tend to be used in Christmas decorations in the UK, can cause upset stomach when ingested, as well as irritant and allergic dermatitis with prolonged or significant skin contact. American poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be a lot more dangerous
Consider whether any of your decorations could cause harm to your dog if chewed, swallowed or broken on the floor, either through toxicity, causing blockages in the airway / gastrointestinal tract, or cuts / puncture wounds inside or outside of the body.
Choose pet-safe options and ensure your dog cannot gain access to anything else that could present a risk.
Decorations which could be hazardous to your dog include:
Chocolate or alcoholic decorations
Thinking about what to give Fido this Christmas?
Opt for a toy or an extra special walk instead of food treats, and help keep your dog fit, active and stimulated this Christmas!
Be careful which human gifts are placed under the tree where inquisitive noses, teeth and claws may find them, in particular don’t leave out any of the following before (or after) gift-giving:
Food or drink items – these may be poisonous or cause your dog other digestive issues
Batteries – these can cause severe chemical burns to your dog’s mouth, throat and further along their digestive tract if chewed / swallowed, as well as potential gastrointestinal blockages
Silica gel – usually found in small sachets packaged with products such as shoes and electrical goods to keep them moisture free, these can cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms if ingested, however a potentially more serious consequence is obstruction in the intestines, especially in smaller dogs
Keep potentially dog-hazardous gifts somewhere safe and out of reach of your dog, and hand them out directly to their intended recipients on the big day.
Nicotine, whether in cigarettes, e-cigarette liquids or in nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum, is toxic to dogs.
Nicotine-poisoning symptoms include vomiting, excessive salivation and abnormally high blood pressure.
Ensure that your dog cannot access any nicotine products, including used cigarette butts in ashtrays or dropped on the floor. The cigarette butt is the most toxic part of a cigarette, because each time the smoker inhales through it, the concentration of nicotine in the butt increases.
Ensure that any visiting family or friends know to keep medications belonging to themselves or their visiting pets out of reach of your dog.
8. Be prepared
No matter how careful you are with your Christmas planning, accidents can still happen, so be prepared and check what your vet’s out of hours cover arrangements are over Christmas and New Year.
If you are going to be away from home with your dog over the festive period, research who the local vets will be in the area in which you are staying, and what their Christmas and New Year service provision will be.
When to call the vet…
No matter which potentially hazardous item your dog may have ingested or been in skin contact with, or how small an amount it might have been, call your vet as soon as possible so that they can advise on the best course of immediate action to take.
Symptoms are not always obvious or immediately apparent, but a lot of damage could be taking place inside your dog’s body, and the longer they are left without treatment, the worse this damage will become. In the worst case, you could lose your dog.
So don’t delay, don’t wait for symptoms to appear, seek veterinary help immediately.
We hope you have found our Christmas health and safety tips helpful, and enjoy a very merry Christmas with your canine companion/s!
To receive more tips, advice, news and stories about all things dog, subscribe to The Complete Canine Blog! It’s FREE and you only need to let us know your first name and email address, then once a month you’ll receive your personalised copy of The Complete Canine Blog with all of our newest blog posts straight to your email inbox!
“Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” with Complete Canine Dog Training.
1. Vets warn of festive perils for pets
2. Chocolate poisoning in dogs – an up-to-date guide
3. Christmas dangers for dogs
4. The dog owner’s guide to nuts and seeds
5. Ethanol poisoning in dogs
6. Holiday health hazards for pets