First aid part 3: Christmas dangers for pets

DrPaul -

First aid part 3: Christmas dangers for pets

That festive time of year is nearly upon us, which means our homes will soon be full of people, food and decorations. Whilst the holidays are usually fun and family filled, it’s worth acknowledging that this is also one of the busiest times for emergency vets.

This is largely because many of those holiday goodies can be hazardous to our pets. So to keep our four-legged friends out of trouble this Christmas, make sure that you, your family and all visitors are vigilant and informed as to the risks for pets.

Here is a quick list of hazards with some guidance on what to do if your pet manages to get hold of them.

• Chocolate
• Lillies
• Grapes, Sultanas and Raisins
• Onion-allium species (leeks/garlic/shallots)
• Mouldy food
• Alcohol
• Macadamia nuts
• Poinsettia flowers
• Holly Berries & Mistletoe Berries
• Pine Needles
• Christmas tinsel/angel hair

Thankfully, most pet owners now know that chocolate is toxic to pets. What’s less known is the fact that it’s a substance in the chocolate called Theobromine which is toxic and, depending on the amount ingested can, cause signs varying from excitability right through to seizures and death. Dark chocolate with high levels of cocoa contains the most theobromine, which are usually the ‘posh’ types of chocolate we see more of around Christmas. Most emergency vets are familiar with toxic doses of chocolate so if you have an emergency then phone the vet with your pet’s weight, the weight of the chocolate they’ve eaten and the cocoa content.

An equally urgent emergency is if your dog eats Xylitol, which is used as an artificial sweetener in many things, especially chewing gum. This substance can cause your dogs blood sugar to drop suddenly resulting in seizures and in some cases rapid liver failure. If your dog gets hold of this then you should phone your vet immediately.

Grapes, raisins and sultanas can be less predictable as toxins as it appears that only some dogs are susceptible. Many Christmas time favourites contain these fruits so to be on the safe side, it’s best to avoid them all together.

Our Christmas foods often contain garlic, onions and shallots which can also cause problems in dogs if eaten in large quantities. Stomach upsets and even blood disorders can result.

For our feline friends, Lillies should be avoided in your Christmas flower decoration. The pollen is incredibly toxic to cats and can cause acute kidney failure if ingested.

You should also be careful with your decorations which cats and dogs see as great playthings. I’ve seen dogs ingest glass baubles, and cats have a distinct attraction to tinsel and angel hair, all of which can cause bowel injury and obstructions.

If you know your pet has ingested anything that is potentially harmful, it is always best to act fast. Taking your pet to your nearest open veterinary practice so that they can induce vomiting is usually the most effective form of treatment, but this needs to be done within 3 hours of ingestion. Additional treatment may be required depending on the severity of your pets presenting signs and the nature of the toxin ingested. If you are unsure how harmful the substance is it is always best to be safe and speak to you Veterinary provider or contact the Veterinary Poisons Information Service who operate a 24-hour advice service.

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.