For humans, Christmas means seasonal foods, treats, and often overindulgence, but it can mean a confusing change of routine for pets. Their homes often have new obstacles due to Christmas decorations, unfamiliar visitors, additional noise, and of course numerous edible temptations. With some sensible planning and a watchful eye your pets can enjoy a safe and happy Christmas too, and the following are some things to be mindful of at this time of year.
Even though we might overeat at Christmas we generally do so knowing the risks. Giving pets more than they should eat however, should be avoided, and they really should stick to their standard diet over Christmas. If you’re planning to give them different things, it’s important to understand what they can and can’t have.
Cooked meats in small quantities are mostly fine to feed to dogs and cats, but don’t give them cooked bones which can splinter and cause throat and intestinal injuries. Also, be careful to avoid giving them meat or anything covered in sauce, gravy or marinade, particularly if you’re not sure of what they contain. The spices and seasonings in them can’t be tolerated by animals the way they can by humans. Their digestive systems are different to ours and limits what they can safely consume, and anything spicy and hot is off the list.
Even though it's a standard Christmas treat for us, animals should never be allowed to eat chocolate as it can cause seizures and death in both dogs and cats. Darker chocolate contains more cocoa and is therefore more toxic than than milk or white chocolate, but they should not be allowed any chocolate regardless of its type. This includes chocolate flavoured milk, and even plain milk and other dairy products should be avoided due to the lactose intolerance of many animals.
Something that often accompanies chocolate is coffee and tea, and both should be avoided by pets due to the caffeine they contain which can cause seizures, abnormal heart rhythm and potentially death. The same applies to other caffeinated drinks such as cola.
Christmas always seems to create an abundance of sweets, and whether they’re sugar-free or not, they can contain a highly toxic substance for pets, Xylitol. Xylitol, a sweetener used in products such a sugar-free gum, lollies and mints, causes a sudden release of insulin in an animal’s body that leads to seriously low blood sugar. Even a small amount can cause lethargy, loss of balance, permanent brain damage, liver failure and death.
Other foods that should be avoided include Christmas cakes and puddings, and anything that contains raisins. Grapes should also be avoided. Unbaked dough can expand in their stomachs and potentially restrict blood supply, and the yeast can create alcohol which is also toxic
Other things on the do-not-share list include garlic and onions, macadamia nuts, avocado, salty foods, and foods with a high fat content. Also, some Christmas plants and flowers such as poinsettias, mistletoe and holly are poisonous to pets.
Not only food can be a hazard to pets at Christmas - Decorations can also be a problem, and sparkling and interesting shaped decorations can be a temptation to your pet who might want to paw or chew them. They can be sharp and have rough edges and some will break easily if pressure is applied. Keep an eye out for your pet heading towards decorations, especially flashing and flickering lights, sparkling ribbon, tinsel and anything that could cause a choking or suffocation risk such as plastic wrapping paper and round baubles.
Round decorations may appear to your dog to be a ball, and it’s natural that they may want to pick them up. Broken in their mouths, they can cause considerable injury; Shards of plastic or glass can lacerate inside their mouths and their intestines, which would require surgery. The safest place for decorations is out of reach of your pet. Hang them higher on trees and in places that are inaccessible to your pet. Also be careful of hanging food on your tree such as chocolate or candy canes. Some animals can skilfully unwrap them to get to the treats inside. Worse still, some might eat them with the wrapping in place.
If you have a cat be careful of tinsel and string, which if swallowed can obstruct their intestines. Decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhoea could be signs that they have an obstruction.
It’s important that visitors are also aware of what your pet can’t have. Their good intentions to treat your pet could lead to disaster. Keeping an eye on your pets over Christmas and taking some sensible precautions will ensure that your furry family members enjoy the festive season too.