How to ensure a safe Christmas for your pets

Christmas hazards for pets

Christmas is a time to enjoy with family and friends- a time of year for relaxing and  forgetting about the usual daily hassles and stresses. It is easy to get a bit too relaxed, and to forget about the animals. Christmas can have its own hazards for pets, and some simple planning can prevent a crisis over the holiday period.

On Ireland AM this week, we discussed the best way of ensuring a safe, enjoyable Christmas for pets.

Avoid over-indulging.

This is the biggest risk to pets over Christmas and the most common reason for emergency veterinary call outs over the festive break. We humans tend to overindulge at Christmas, but it’s best to continue to feed your pet their normal diet. If you add in too much seasonal variety you may end up with a problem.

A few morsels of turkey are fine, but don’t overdo it.

It is tempting to provide a bowl heaped high with Christmas dinner for the dog. Turkey, sprouts and cranberry sauce may be provide your dog with five minutes of pleasure as the food is devoured, but the resulting stomach upset could destroy the relaxed atmosphere at home. “Turkey tummy” is a well-known pet ailment, seen by vets across the country on St Stephens Day.

Avoid dangerous Christmas treats

Bones from fish, pork, and poultry, alcoholic beverages, chocolate or even just Christmas cake, can all can be harmful or toxic to pets. (Yes,Christmas cake: raisins are a known, but rare, cause of kidney failure in dogs). Don’t allow friends and relatives to give your pet special treats.

It is best to have strict house rules about feeding the pets, so that accidental over-indulgences are avoided.

Be aware of specific seasonal hazards

Keep pets out of the kitchen when you are cooking, to avoid spills or burns if they get underfoot. Some plants and other items associated with the holiday season can be toxic to your pets.

  • Mistletoe and antifreeze are two substances that are highly toxic. They should be kept out of reach of pets at all times.
  • Holly berries and poinsettia leaves are also potentially poisonous, so plants should be kept out of grazing distance of your pets (although they generally just cause mild gastrointestinal irritation) .
  • If you have lilies or amaryllis in your home over Christmas, be aware that they are toxic to cats.

One question I am often asked is “what about those silica gel sachets that are often in present packaging”? These are not as dangerous as people fear, with the main problem being that if they are swallowed they can become lodged in the intestines as foreign bodies, just like any other small object. If they burst or are chewed, the risk of their ingredients causing a problem other than a gastrointestinal upset is only small.

Be careful with the Christmas tree

Dogs and cats can get into trouble around the Christmas tree. Tinsel and ribbons are fun to play with, but can cause disastrous torsions of the intestines if it is swallowed. Curious puppies can easily swallow tiny Christmas tree toys, and these too can cause an obstruction. Lively kittens can cause complete chaos when they decide to clamber to the top of Christmas trees.

Make sure that your tree is well embedded in its stand if you think that your cat may attempt an ascent.

Christmas tree lights are another hazard. I knew a hyperactive Labrador puppy called Dan who went suspiciously quiet behind the sofa. His owner was about to investigate what he was up to, when there was a loud bang and a flash. She pulled the sofa out to find poor Dan lying dazed on the floor, having chewed right through the electric cable leading to the Christmas tree. Dan recovered very rapidly, but it could have been fatal. The message is simple: do not leave unpredictable animals alone anywhere where they can cause damage.

On Christmas Day, try to maintain the normal routines for your pets

They do not understand that it is Christmas, and they will expect you to behave in the same way as you always do. Take your dog for the usual stroll in the park or along the seafront. You’ll enjoy the break in the open air too. Give your cat his usual rattle of dried food when you come down for breakfast. There will be plenty of unpredictable events during the rest of the day for your pet to cope with, so the more that is “normal” the better.

May you, your family and your pets enjoy a lovely Christmas this year.

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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