Keeping Your Pets Safe This Christmas

Christmas is such an exciting time of year, but it can bring hidden dangers for our pets

Created: 17/12/2018 Updated: 25/08/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

christmas, dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, rabbits, winter advice

I love that moment when you sit down at breakfast and start to think about where the Christmas tree should go and which of the many different decorations you might use this year. If we trust the retailers to signal the start of Christmas, it would clearly be the day after all the Halloween stuff gets put away, but, for many families, the run-up to Christmas starts sometime in the middle two weeks of December and, from that moment, the anticipation begins to build and build and build!

This year, we have a new arrival in the family in the shape of a six-month-old Springer puppy (having lost our beloved fourteen-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador), and to say that things are different would be a huge understatement! This morning, as we sat down for breakfast, our conversation turned to that heady subject of Christmas decorations just as the puppy stole the second of our paper napkins for the process of ritual shredding and it occurred to us that we should be really careful about leaving any decorations within puppy reach – which for a Springer is around the height of four feet!

Of course, not everyone has a new and hyper-energetic puppy, but there are some serious considerations that we all need to think about as Christmas approaches if we are to keep all of our pet cats and dogs safe over the holiday period.

Christmas lights and electric accessories

The first, and perhaps the most obvious one, is to keep all electric cables from Christmas tree lights out of reach or well hidden from view – a cable guard is a great idea – so that cables are neither accessible or available to be chewed by cats, dogs and house rabbits too!

Christmas gifts come in all shapes and sizes and may even include electrical gadgets that need a mains supply or items which are rechargeable. If you’re visiting Auntie Elsie and she points out a convenient 13 amp socket to charge your new smartphone, bear in mind that the charging cable will have a magnetic appeal to most house pets too.

Christmas decorations

The need to choose with care applies to all tree decorations; we have a responsibility to all our young children and pets to ensure that we only buy non-toxic decorations - as the combination of glitter and bright colours makes them especially attractive.

Glass tree decorations look lovely, but they can shatter and have caused many injuries to pets in previous years. Candles are also a risk, don’t leave lit candles anywhere where your pets can access them or knock them over.

We love the look of many Christmas plants such as poinsettias, amaryllis, mistletoe, orchids, holly and ferns but these are all poisonous to cats and dogs. The same goes for pine sap and we need to be careful to prevent our pets from gnawing at real Christmas trees. Fallen needles from both real and artificial trees can be a problem if ingested by pets and they should be vacuumed up each day.

Dog in front of Christmas lights

Watch out for chocolate

Christmas is a time of absolute indulgence for most people and having a chocolate-laden Advent calendar or some edible decorations on the tree holds real appeal. Bear in mind that chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats as it contains theobromine. A low hanging chocolate Santa will be irresistible but can be lethally toxic to our pets if eaten.

Other toxic Christmas foods

Watch what your pet eats over the Christmas period. Friends and family may not realize that some foods can be dangerous to cats and dogs and mistakenly feed them to your pet. OSCAR Helpline team advises pet owners to avoid the following foods:

  • Turkey Bones - The bones can split inside and injure your pets. They can also get lodged in the throat.

  • Sultanas And Raisins/grapes- Toxic to pets

  • Nuts - Nuts for dogs can be extremely toxic. As few as six macadamia kernels can lead to weakness or paralysis.

  • Mince Pies - Just like us, our pets can gain weight from unhealthy foods. Fatty foods can cause Pancreatitis. That's why we should give them grain free pet food. Mince pies also contain dried fruit such as raisins and sultanas.

  • Christmas Cake, Christmas pudding or Stollen- All filled with raisins and nuts! It would be best to ensure that any cake is kept out of reach.

  • Stuffing - Onions in stuffing can be toxic. The chemical Thiosulphate can weaken red blood cells, causing them to gradually fall apart. Other toxic vegetables include: cauliflower, cabbage, garlic, peppers

  • Sausages in Bacon - Salty foods cause dogs to drink too much water, and eating or drinking too much, too quickly, can cause a condition called bloat. Dog bloat can be life- threatening.

  • Clementines - Clementine pips and other pip-based fruit contain Cyanide, which is poisonous.

  • Cheeseboard - Dairy products are high in fat, which can cause Pancreatitis, gas, and Diarrhoea.

  • Alcohol - Dogs are more susceptible to the poisonous effects of alcohol and it can lead to death.

  • Crisps - Salty foods can lead to sodium (salt) poisoning and high blood pressure

Cat reaching for Christmas decoration

Christmas dinner

Most of us love the traditional Christmas dinner with plenty of rich foods and it is a rare household that doesn’t think it’s a good idea to share our celebration with the family pet by adding a little something extra to their evening meal. However, changing our pets’ diets is something that should be properly thought out and carried out over a period of three or four days of gradual change if we are to avoid an upset tummy, so adding a dollop of sausage meat and turkey gravy to the pet’s normal dinner is unlikely to sustain a healthy gastric performance and will inevitably result in unwanted smells or far worse! Those smells tell us that all is not well in the food processing department and, as our pets are unable to tell us that for themselves, killing our pets with kindness should be resisted – even at Christmas.

When should I call the vet?

Calling the vet out over Christmas will be a particularly expensive decision but, if your pet has eaten chocolate or chicken bones or a big lump of fruit cake, veterinary treatment may be vital and leaving the dog for a day or two to see how he gets on, or (worse still) to save the additional cost, is simply not an option.

Dog sat with owners wearing Christmas Jumpers

The guests have arrived

It’s not only the exotic changes to our houses and diets that puts pets at risk at Christmas. When visitors come to the house, ensure that doors and gates are properly closed - even when children may be continually in and out of the house. Remember, a scared pet will see escape as a primary option and an open window presents as good an opportunity for escape as an open door.

Children will need supervision and shouldn’t be left alone with pets who may not know them or (if they are unused to children) may be scared of them. Make your pets a safe place - maybe a spare bedroom or utility room - where they can escape for a bit of peace and quiet. Make sure you put familiar toys, water and the pet’s normal bedding in there too.

Burning off all that turkey

For most of us, a long walk after lunch is a great way to overcome the lethargy of a Christmas afternoon and taking our dogs with us will help tire them out and restore a bit of normality to their routine. After all that excitement, a return to a predictable routine with regular feeding and exercise will soon restore some normality which will be greatly appreciated by the whole family and our precious pets.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.