Christmas hazards for pets

Christmas should be a time for enjoying the company of family, friends and pets. We should be able to relax and forget our normal daily worries. However, there are risks for pets, and the last thing you want to be doing on Christmas Day is rushing your pet to the vet.


Chocolate is now a well-known hazard to pets. Although chocolate can poison animals, the amount that needs to be eaten for toxicity is quite large. Very few dogs would be given enough chocolate as treats to become poisoned, unless there were very unusual circumstances. I know that many people give their pets pieces of chocolate, and I have only seen a few cases of chocolate poisoning. The most common crises happen when dogs manage to sniff out stashes of chocolate. Dogs don’t know when to stop and they will happily eat bar after bar, or layer after layer of rich chocolate. That’s when fatalities can be seen.

Why is Chocolate Poisonous?

Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which affects the heart by causing the steady beat of the heart to become irregular. If an animal ate enough chocolate to become poisoned, you would see some or all of the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhoea, increased urination, muscle tremors, and finally seizures and coma . Seizure and coma occurs because the heartbeat can become so erratic that the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, and the brain stops functioning.

How much is too much?

The type of chocolate that is eaten may determine whether poisoning occurs because different types of chocolate have different amounts of theobromine. Dark chocolate contains more theobromine than milk chocolate. A small dog like a Jack Russell would have to consume 15 ounces (3/4 lb) of dark chocolate or 40 ounces (2 lb.) of milk chocolate. I doubt that someone would accidentally leave this large amount of chocolate around the house or that most pets would eat it even if they had access. And certainly nobody would every give that sort of quantity of chocolate to their pet as a treat!

Other Dangers

There are other equally dangerous things to keep away from pets over the holidays, and to ensure a happy holiday for everyone, it is worth mentioning a few of the hazards.

Watch out for extension cords

Both dogs and cats may be inquisitive about an electric cord that might sway from the tree branches or meander across the floor. Young pets especially may be tempted to bite on the cord, which might give them a nasty mouth burn, even cause electrocution.

Tree decorations

Tree decorations, such as garlands, strings of beads and even glass balls can all be accidentally swallowed by pets, and can potentially cause an obstruction. Pet owners should make sure that decorations are high enough to be out of the reach of their pets. Festive plants can also cause a hazard. The leaves and stems are often chewed by pets while humans are out of the house. Although most are not poisonous they can irritate the mouth and stomach causing retching and vomiting.


Liquid potpourri is toxic to cats. Inquisitive cats may attempt to taste this scented liquid if it is left within reach, so again, care should be taken.


Bones and meat wrappers from holiday meals are like magnets for pets. Vets often see pets a day or two after a Christmas with stomach upsets, as a consequence of irritations and obstructions caused by these. Make sure that such items are firmly placed in the fridge or a tamper-proof bin!


Lastly, don’t forget about Christmas wrapping materials. Colourful string, ribbons, pieces of plastic and wrapping paper (especially if it was wrapped around food) are all tempting to your pet.

What can you do ?

You can’t lock up the tree and presents in a room by themselves and although you can put up a gate to keep the dogs out, keeping a cat out of a main room that people are waking in and out of is next to impossible. The next best thing to do is make sure that your cat has his own amusement- perhaps a scratching post with lots of toys and catnip to keep him interested and away from the tree.

It is important to be aware of the potential hazards to pets at Christmas time, but it is equally important not to worry too much! Christmas is a time for enjoyment. Go on –spoil your pets a bit. Buy each animal a small present! Give them a little extra food!

May I take this opportunity to wish everyone out there (two-legged and four-legged) a very happy Christmas!

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