‘Tis the season to be careful
Knowing what cats and dogs can and can’t eat or drink is a concern that becomes more focussed than ever at Christmas. It’s a time when there will be more temptation, enticing smells and novel tastes to explore.
This is also a time of year when pet owners need to exercise a little more caution and awareness of where potential hazards may lie. More than just the things that cats and dogs should not eat, you need also to watch out for unusual items around the house – such as Christmas decorations – that might attract their interest.
As a pet owner, you may be looking for guidance on a number of key concerns at Christmas, to make sure it’s a safe and happy time for Christmas pets. In this article, our veterinary specialists have provided guidance on each of the following questions we’re often asked:
- What foods should cats and dogs avoid?
- What are the Christmas hazards for pets?
- What winter precautions are needed for pets’ safety?
- What do I do if my cat or dog swallows something they shouldn’t?
What foods should cats and dogs avoid?
The first thing to bear in mind at Christmas is that it shouldn’t be a time of tension regarding your pet’s safety; it’s simply a time for a little extra care and attention.
Remember showing that you love and care for your pet can be far more about what you don’t allow your pet to eat, than the treats they receive. The simple watchword is ‘awareness’ and making sure all members of the family and any guests are aware of what is safe for your pet.
For example, it’s a common misapprehension that it is fine to give leftover bones to pets. It’s not. All bones, even big ones, have the potential to cause problems if swallowed. Bones can splinter when chewed and there is the risk that fragments may get stuck in the oesophagus or cause damage to the throat and stomach. Take care when giving your pets any bones. As with all the suggestions below, being extra careful means your pet being safe.
What shouldn’t pets eat?
Top five food types to avoid:
Can cats and dogs eat chocolate?
This is an absolute NO, at any time of year. There is a chemical in chocolate called theobromine. It triggers vomiting, diarrhoea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, problems with the heart, and can be fatal. The darker the chocolate, the more severe the effect.
TIP: Don’t put chocolates on or under your Christmas tree, and never leave them lying around.
Can cats and dogs eat mince pies?
Again, this is a NO. Grapes, currants, sultanas, and raisins are all poisonous for dogs. For dogs, even the smallest amount of Christmas pudding can cause severe kidney failure. It is unknown if these foods also pose a risk to cats, but it is advisable to avoid.
TIP: Keep mince pies, Christmas pudding, and any other food with these ingredients well away from your pets.
Can cats and dogs eat macadamia nuts?
These nuts are often found in biscuits and used as snacks at Christmas time. They can bring on weakness, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs.
TIP: Say no to macadamia nuts for your pets.
Can cats and dogs eat stuffing?
It is best not to feed your pet leftover stuffing since it often contains onions and/or garlic which are both toxic to dogs and can cause stomach upset.
TIP: Simply don’t feed your pet leftover stuffing.
Can cats and dogs eat cheese?
If your pet has a healthy diet then morsels of cheese as an occasional treat are acceptable, but be aware that some types, such as blue cheese, can produce toxins that cause rapid onset convulsions in dogs.
TIP: Cheese as a treat only in moderation but to be avoided if your dog is lactose intolerant.
Two other areas to watch out for are alcohol and sweets.
Of course, nobody would knowingly give their pet alcohol but, if it is within easy reach, your pet might well try a sip. That is when problems arise. Alcohol can cause serious problems for pets, including vomiting, diarrhoea, decreased coordination, and tremors. It can lead to low blood sugar and coma in severe cases. Avoid leaving drinks around or food containing alcohol, such as chocolate liqueurs.
Sweets, chewing gum and some cakes can contain sugar substitutes such as xylitol. Xylitol can induce the release of insulin in dogs, resulting in low blood sugar and even liver damage. Although other artificial sweeteners don’t have such severe effects, they may cause gastrointestinal discomfort or upset so it’s best to become an avid ingredient-checker and avoid giving your pet food containing artificial sweeteners.
For more insights, from one of our medicine clinicians, watch our video: Festive canine advice from Davies.
What are the Christmas hazards for pets?
Care around the Christmas tree
It is not just the food temptations that make Christmas a time for extra vigilance. Any cat or dog would be intrigued by a colourful bauble lying on the floor. One pounce and it turns into shattered glass, potentially lodged in their paws.
As much as everyday hazards like that may present a threat to your pets, accidents could happen that have wider ranging effects; trailing wires from Christmas tree lights could look like an invitation to a tug-of-war game, but could have an adverse effect on everybody’s Christmas if the tree comes tumbling down.
Christmas tree lights can cause burns or electrocution if chewed. This is a particular risk to cats. There is also risk of strangulation or injury if your pet becomes entangled in the lights, so keep them away from pets or only have them in rooms where pets are always in your line of sight. Salt dough ornaments are also risky and can cause a potentially fatal salt toxicosis.
Are there other specific Christmas precautions for pet safety?
Keep wrapping paper and presents out of reach of pets and avoid using ribbons for wrapping
If dogs eat a lot of wrapping paper, it can cause an obstruction in the stomach. Cats may want to play with ribbon but if ingested it can cause a blockage or twisted intestine and will need medical attention. The same goes for tinsel.
Keep candles away from pets and make sure any lit candles are supervised at all times
Ingestion can cause choking. And there is also a fire risk if your pet knocks a candle over.
Store batteries away from pets and make sure toys using batteries are stored away when not in use
Batteries can cause serious internal damage if chewed or swallowed by pets. Alkaline batteries leak a caustic substance that can burn your pet’s mouth, oesophagus or stomach. If you suspect your pet has swallowed a battery, contact your vet immediately. For a quick guide on ensuring a happy and healthy Christmas for your pets, see our Top Tips.
Certain plants pose potential problems too:
What Christmas plants are dangerous or poisonous to pets?
- Christmas tree: Sharp tips can cause internal damage if swallowed. Cats and kittens may also try to climb the tree. It is advisable to secure the base of the tree to reduce the chance of it falling over. Glass baubles can easily break and create sharp shards which are dangerous to animals.
- Holly: The berries can cause stomach upset.
- Ivy: Can cause stomach upset when ingested, and irritation to the skin with prolonged contact.
- Lilies: Be careful with lilies if you have a cat. Lilies are poisonous to cats, as is the water they are placed in.
- Mistletoe: Can cause drooling, retching and vomiting.
- Poinsettia: Can cause irritation to mouth and stomach, overproduction of saliva and sometimes vomiting.
What winter precautions are needed for pets’ safety?
Apart from taking care about what your pets consume, there are a number of easy precautions you can take to keep them safe out of doors.
Micro-chipping: Before the season sets in check that your pet is micro-chipped and that your details on the chip are up to date (current address and phone number).
Avoiding the cold: For dogs particularly, you should consider reducing walk times when it is very cold, and keep them more active indoors. Avoid walking your dog on ice. A dog coat for winter walks will reduce sharp drops in body temperature. Always dry pets’ paws after walking in wet conditions.
Most importantly: Contact your local vet immediately if you see signs of hypothermia.
Antifreeze is dangerous: Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is highly toxic. Even in small amounts it causes severe damage to internal organs. Pets are tempted to drink it because it’s sweet but it is also potentially fatal if swallowed. Symptoms include twitching muscles/eyes, lethargy, vomiting, drinking more than usual, unsteadiness, seizures, fast breathing and collapse.
While it is easy enough to store out of reach of pets there may be two situations of which you may be unaware. Firstly, imported versions of snow globes can contain antifreeze. Secondly, if you have added it to an outdoor water feature your pet may have access to it there. Always make sure you buy antifreeze that contains a bittering agent; this discourages pets from drinking it.
What do I do if my cat or dog swallows something they shouldn’t?
It is a good idea to have emergency contact details for your vet to hand over Christmas when most practices will be closed.
We wish you and your pets a happy and safe Christmas.
For a quick reminder of the tips covered in this article see our Ten-point Guide for Healthy Pets this Winter.