Keeping your Pet Safe

Christmas is a time for fun and indulgence and many pet owners like to involve their beloved furry friends in the festivities.

While there is no harm in spoiling your pet at this time of year, it is important to be mindful of the potential dangers and toxins that your pet can be exposed to.

Plants, trees, decorations and Christmas food can all pose a serious risk to your pet, leading to illness, injuries and in some tragic cases, death.

It is therefore imperative that pet owners are aware of the risks so that the festivities can be enjoyed without causing harm to their pets.

If you believe that you pet has consumed any of the following, we recommend that you contact your local vet or out-of-hours service immediately for advice.

Christmas Decorations

We ask the clients be wary when decorating their house, ensuring to keep delicate objects off the ground and firmly securing your tree if you have an inquisitive cat or particularly excitable dog. In particular, tinsel, glass baubles and tree lights can result in anything from an intestinal obstruction, to splinters in paws and occasionally electrocution.

Animals are particularly drawn to sparkly and shiny decorations, often mistaking them for playthings or chew toys. This can have severe consequences if tinsel and baubles get stuck in their abdomen.

Signs that your pet has ingested foreign objects include lethargy, vomiting clear bile and a difficulty passing stools. If you believe that your pet may have ingested decorations, it is vitally important that you seek immediate veterinary attention.

Dangerous Holiday Plants

The following plants can be harmful to both cats and dogs, with cats generally having a more severe toxic reaction to their ingestion, compared to dogs who usually escape with a sore tummy.

  1. Poinsettia Plants

    These attractive plants with large, shiny leaves and bright red flowers are popular at this time of year and often given as gifts. However, the poinsettia plant has garnered a bad reputation for being deadly to animals when ingested with many pet owners now treating it as persona non-grata in their homes during the Christmas festivities.

    It is now more widely accepted that the toxicity level of the poinsettia plant is grossly exaggerated, with ingestion of the foliage leading to irritation of the mouth, evident in increased drooling, as well as the gastrointestinal tract, leading to possible vomiting and diarrhea.

    While most pets will show only mild symptoms of toxicity from nibbling on a poinsettia plant, others may show more severe or prolonged symptoms. If you are concerned that your pet has eaten a poinsettia and is having an adverse reaction and/or is not recovering, it’s important that you seek veterinary advice as soon as possible so that we may reduce or prevent further symptoms.

  2. Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe

    Similar to the poinsettia plant, holly, ivy and mistletoe contain sap that can produce toxic reactions if ingested by both cats and dogs; however the symptoms are usually mild.

    The signs that your pet is suffering from holly or ivy poisoning includes mouth irritation, increased drooling, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe poisoning usually consists of mild gastrointestinal irritation, such as drooling, diarrhea and vomiting.

    Most animals will show only mild symptoms of toxicity following ingestion of these plants. However, some animals may have more severe toxic reactions, which is usually dependent on how much of the foliage is consumed.

    If you believe that your pet has ingested either holly, ivy or mistletoe and they are having a severe or prolonged reaction, we strongly advise that you seek immediate veterinary advice.

  3. Christmas Trees

    Christmas tree pine needles are mildly toxic to both cats and dogs if ingested. This often causes an upset stomach however the sharp needles can also cause internal damage to your pet’s mouth and gastrointestinal tract. They do also occasionally get stuck in unsuspecting paws.


  4. Dangerous Christmas Food and Drink

    It is normal for pet owners to want to spoil their beloved furry friends at Christmas and share their festive food with their pet. However, what can be a delicious treat for you, can pose a very serious risk to your four-legged friend. The 5 most dangerous Christmas foods are:

    1. Chocolate

      Chocolate is something everyone loves at Christmas and most of us know by now that it isn’t so good for our animals. We recommend that all pet owners remember to store foods containing chocolate well away from your four legged friends. We also advise against putting chocolate decorations on your tree and keeping chocolate advent calendars out of reach. Pets, like their owners, are drawn to the sweet smell of chocolate and will sniff it out if given the chance.

      Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which causes severe toxic reactions in both cats and dogs. Signs that your pet has consumed chocolate include vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and a rapid heartbeat. Some pets may also start to shake and convulse.

      The severity of your pet’s toxic reaction to chocolate depends on the type of chocolate consumed – darker varieties contain a high cocoa content and are considerably more toxic than milk or white chocolate varieties. No chocolate, regardless of cocoa percentage, should ever be fed to animals.

      If you believe that your pet has consumed chocolate,  we suggest that you seek immediate veterinary treatment. We recommend keeping a hold of the wrappings of the consumed chocolate so that the vet may see the exact ingredients and volume of chocolate ingested. The sooner they are seen and the contents of their stomach emptied, the better their chances of making a full recovery.

    2. Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding

      Grapes and their dried products, such as raisins, currants and sultanas are highly toxic to pets, especially dogs. It is uncertain why these foods are so toxic and in what quantities; some dogs will be severely unwell after eating only a few grapes, where as others can eat large amounts without showing any signs of toxicity.

      Given that mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake are mostly composed of dried vine fruits, it is vitally important that these foods in particular are kept well away from your four legged friends. These foods are additionally very high in fat, which can cause stomach problems and pancreatitis.

      Vomiting and diarrhoea are usually the first signs that your pet may be suffering from a toxic reaction caused by eating grapes or their dried products. However, this can develop into severe kidney failure, which can be delayed for 24 to 72 hours. Signs include urinating less frequently, lethargy and an increase in thirst.

    3. Macadamia Nuts

      While most nuts do not pose a toxic risk when consumed by pets, they can be a hazard for choking and bowel obstruction if swallowed whole. Nuts also have a high fat content, which can cause symptoms of stomach upset if eaten to excess.

      Macadamia nuts in particular, are toxic to cats and dogs. Signs that your pet may have be suffering from macadamia nut poisoning include a sudden onset of weakness, lethargy and unsteadiness. Lameness, stiffness, a high temperature, vomiting and tremors can also occur. Symptoms usually appear around 12 hours after consumption and can last for around 2 days.

      In order to protect your pet, we strongly advise owners to store nuts well out of reach of pets and in a secure drawer or cupboard. If you are offering nibbles during the festivities, make sure they are placed in an area where your pet cannot reach them.

    4. Alcohol

      Alcohol affects pets in much the same way that it affects humans causing them to become drowsy and wobbly on their feet. In severe cases where a lot of alcohol has been consumed, your pet can develop low body temperature, low blood sugar, seizures and coma.

      How badly your pet becomes affected by alcohol depends on its size and the amount consumed. Cats and small dogs can show affects after consuming as little as a tablespoon of alcohol, where as larger dogs may have to consume a little more before they become intoxicated.

    5. Leftovers

      We tend to cook more meat during the festive period, which means that there are more bones lying around. Many households usually have turkey or goose for their Christmas meal, and it is important to note that you should never feed your pet poultry bones. Even cooked beef bones can pose a problem because they become brittle when cooked and splinter more easily.

      Feeding your pet leftovers that contain bones can cause perforation or an obstruction of the intestinal tract which may require surgery to rectify.

      Many instances of bone consumption during the festive period occur when your pet has raided the bin. It is very important that you dispose of the carcass or leftovers in the outdoor bin and in a sealed bag.

      We also advise that you are vigilant when disposing of meat string, which can be a tempting toy for some pets, but can lead to problems if consumed.

      Another problem with feeding pets leftovers during the festive period is that the food we normally consume at this time of year tends to be very high in fat and salt. Pets cannot metabolise these foods which instead can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

      If you believe your pet has consumed leftovers and is showing symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite and abdominal pain, then please seek immediate veterinary advice.

    6. Mouldy Foods

      Mouldy foods contain lots of different toxins that can make your pet very unwell. In particular,  animals often take an adverse reaction toxins found in blue cheese which can cause tremors and seizures if consumed.

      To avoid this, we strongly recommend that you dispose of mouldy food in the outdoor bin and in sealed bags.

      We do hope you and your pet both enjoy the festive period and that this article has enlightened or refreshed your knowledge of any of the potential risks during this time of year. Again, if you believe that you pet has consumed any of the following, we recommend that you contact your local vet or out-of-hours service immediately for advice.