We are now entering the time of year when Christmas decorations start to appear and seasonal music becomes the soundtrack to our lives. The festive season will be a great source of excitement for most, including many dog owners.
However, it is important to be aware of the hazards that can come alongside the celebrations. Food is a big part of Christmas tradition, but several festive favourites are poisonous for dogs and decorations can also be a danger for curious pooches.
Knowledge is the best way to avoid any scares for four-legged friends this Christmas, so Dr Jessica May, UK lead vet at FirstVet, has provided some advice for dog owners looking to steer clear of danger over the holidays.
Festive food and drink
Most of us enjoy treating ourselves to some chocolates over the festive period, but it is vital to keep them out of reach of dogs. Cocoa contains a chemical called theobromine, which is toxic to dogs and can cause a wide range of symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea. To avoid any chocolate crises, keep your stash in a high cupboard or surface, to prevent it falling into the wrong paws.
Dried fruit features in many classic Christmas foods, including mince pies, Christmas pudding and stuffing. However, grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants are all toxic for dogs. Therefore, caution is crucial when leaving mince pies out for Santa! Again, keep these tasty christmas treats well away from your canine’s reach to ensure their safety.
Most owners will be no stranger to a pooch’s plea for scraps at the dinner table, but you should think twice before giving them some leftover turkey. Small bones found in meat can be dangerous for dogs, particularly if they splinter, and can cause intestinal blockages, constipation or dental issues.
Always check that any meat that you do feed your dog is boneless and is part of a balanced diet – and try to make sure that dogs don’t over-indulge during the festivities.
Onions and Garlic
Some of the lesser known dangers for dogs are onions and garlic. These ingredients are a staple of any sage and onion stuffing, but they can also cause serious health problems for dogs. Onions and garlic can cause gastrointestinal upset for dogs and can also damage red blood cells, leading to anaemia. It is a good idea to keep any Christmas trimmings well out of reach of furry friends for this reason, and to be cautious about storing any onions and garlic away from curious noses and snouts.
Sweets should be kept away from dogs due to their high sugar content alone, but they can also contain an ingredient which is toxic for dogs. The artificial sweetener xylitol can be found in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets and chocolate. If consumed, it can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels and, in larger quantities, can even cause liver failure.
This one may seem obvious, but it can be all too easy for dogs to get to if an alcoholic drink is placed on or spilled on the floor. If dogs do consume alcohol, it can cause depression of the central nervous system and vomiting, so all alcoholic drinks should be kept well away from dogs and make sure to clear up spillages before a dog decides to investigate.
Decorations, gifts and games
While keeping dangerous foods away from dogs is vital, inedible decorations can also cause problems, particularly for playful and inquisitive dogs or puppies. Although most decorations are not poisonous, they can still cause issues if dogs swallow them. This might lead to gastrointestinal blockages or choking hazards, so the best way of avoiding an unwanted trip to the vets this Christmas is to keep small or chewable Christmas decorations above ground level and out of reach.
Christmas tree decorations can be a particular problem, especially any breakable baubles or smaller trinkets on the tree, so consider creating a small barrier to keep your dog away from the tree.
Another object that can present potential hazards for dogs is loose batteries. Trying out new toys or gadgets may mean that stray batteries can escape on to the floor and be found by a wandering dog. If eaten, batteries can cause a physical obstruction in the intestine, potentially leading to poisoning, so it is important to keep track of batteries while changing them over.
Decorative plants and flowers are often seen as part and parcel of getting into the Christmas spirit but they can also be a source of pain and irritation for dogs. Plants such as mistletoe, lilies and poinsettias can cause stomach upsets and ivy can also cause irritation of the skin and mouth. As such, it’s best to avoid using them in your home if you have a dog.
Although prevention is the best way of keeping your dog healthy, accidents can happen. If you think that your dog has ingested anything potentially harmful, make sure to speak to a vet as soon as possible. Keep any wrappers, bottles or containers that may give details as to what they have eaten, approximately how much and at what time it was consumed. If disaster does strike, the vets at FirstVet are available all day for advice within around 20 minutes throughout Christmas, so make sure to get a professional opinion as soon as possible.