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Christmas Hazards for your dogs - What are they and how to avoid them?

26/11/2021 - Christmas Puppy & Dog Advice

Don’t Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly!

As anyone who has spoken to our Christmas-mad founder, Zoe, recently will be well aware, the holidays are fast approaching! Christmas is a wonderful time to indulge in tasty treats that often don’t make an appearance for the rest of the year, to get our homes feeling cosy and Christmassy with traditional decs, and enjoy some well-earned time with loved ones – our pups included. It’s a time to sit back, stick the telly on and relax with a belly full of food! The last thing we want to happen is for the festivities to end in tragedy for our beloved pets. So, what can we do to make sure our pets can also enjoy a safe, relaxing holiday season curled up on the sofa with us?
Unfortunately, a lot of the novel food items and decs we bring into our homes at Christmas are hazardous to our dogs – from poisonous plants to toxic treats, it’s important we know what needs to stay on a high shelf, in cupboards or be avoided altogether! Many vets report an increase in emergency visits over the festive period and, with some seasonal hazards being potential fatal, a particularly expensive Christmas may be the best-case scenario if your pup gets hold of some of these…

Toxic Treats

Chocolate: possibly the foodstuff most infamous for threatening our dogs’ health, and commonly found in tins on coffee tables and hung on Christmas trees throughout the holidays!

Why is Chocolate bad for dogs? It contains a stimulant called “theobromine,” similar to caffeine, which dogs struggle to metabolise effectively. This means the substance can build up in their system, leading to common symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea and more severe symptoms such as tremors, seizures, irregular heart beat and heart attacks. It’s important to note that dark chocolate and baking chocolate are particularly dangerous, due to their high cocoa content.

How can we keep our dogs safe? Consider giving Christmas tree chocolates a miss and keep your selection boxes safely tucked away in cupboards and on high shelves. Never leave dogs unattended around chocolate and be sure to call your vets immediately if you are worried they have ingested any.

Christmas Cake, Pudding and Mince Pies: This iconic trio epitomise Christmas, but all of them are extremely hazardous for our dogs, most notably because of the raisins, sultanas and currants found in all of them.
Why are these bad for dogs? Raisins, sultanas and currants are all types of dried grapes, and grapes are famously dangerous for dogs. While the exact reason why is still unknown, what we do know for sure is that they can cause acute kidney failure in dogs – and just a few grapes can be enough to cause this. Symptoms can occur within hours and include vomiting, diarrhoea, drinking excessively, not eating and abdominal pain. Acute kidney failure can occur within 48 hours of ingesting grapes.
How can we keep our dogs safe? Just like with chocolate, make sure these Christmas treats are kept well out of reach of your pups and never leave them unattended around them. With even a couple of grapes having the potential for harm, it’s important not to absent-mindedly leave leftover bits of Christmas cake on end tables! If you suspect your dog has ingested anything containing grapes or raisins, be sure to call your vet ASAP!
 
Cooked Bones: Many of us love to offer our dogs some leftovers and a Christmas roast is certainly a treat the whole household deserves to partake in! However, the cooked bones in chicken and turkey are a definite no-go!
Why are these bad for dogs? Once cooked, bones become much more brittle and can easily splinter. Bones splinters can cause choking, cut our dogs’ tongues/throats/gums, cause intestinal obstructions and even pierce our dogs’ digestive tracts.
How can we keep our dogs safe? Make sure meat is kept high up on kitchen counters during preparation and dogs are not left unattended around it! Dispose of carcasses in outside bins, so your dog isn’t able to scavenge them from the rubbish.

Xylitol: This artificial sweetener is also sometimes listed as “birch sugar” in ingredients lists, and is found in many sweet foods as an alternative for sugar.
Why is this bad for dogs? Xylitol causes dogs (as well as cats, cows, rabbits and more) to release a massive amount of insulin, resulting in a drop in blood sugar levels. This can quickly lead to weakness, tremors, seizures, collapse and even death.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Check ingredients lists of all items carefully, and avoid bringing xylitol into the home. If anything you buy does contain xylitol, take extra care to keep it well out of reach of your dogs. Call your vets immediately if your dog gets into any xylitol-containing snacks!

Alcohol: While we may enjoy a festive tipple, we all know that alcohol isn’t particularly good for us humans, but did you know that it is even more toxic to our dogs?
Why is this bad for dogs? Alcohol can easily make humans ill if they drink enough of it, but it usually takes quite large quantities to do so. For dogs, even a small amount of alcohol can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, tremors and even comas or death.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Never leave drinks around where dogs can access them – keep them up on high surfaces, well out of reach. Ensure spillages are cleaned up promptly.

Blue Cheeses: Though a divisive snack in many households, blue cheeses are common festive treats, with the holiday season being the prime time of year to pick up a top-quality blue cheese.
Why are these bad for dogs? The fungus used to make blue cheeses contains a substance called “roquefortine C,” which can cause vomiting, panting, tremors, high temperatures and seizures – among other symptoms – in dogs.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Ensure any blue cheeses are kept well out of reach of dogs and be sure to clear away any leftovers promptly.

Macadamia Nuts: Nuts are another common snack during the holidays – with macadamia nuts a popular favourite. Unfortunately, these tasty treats can also pose a health risk for our dogs.
Why are these bad for dogs? All nuts are high in fat, so have the potential to cause gastrointestinal upset in our dogs. They may even cause inflammation of the pancreas – aka pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts, however, are a particular hazard. Just like with grapes, we don’t know exactly what it is about macadamias that cause problems for our dogs, but symptoms can occur within 12 hours even after ingesting only a small amount, and can include vomiting, ataxia (loss of coordination), weakness, high temperatures and tremors.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? It’s tempting to leave bowls of nuts out on display on coffee and end tables, but it’s best to keep these tucked away in a cupboard or high out of reach.
 

Dangerous Decs

Christmas Trees: The true sign that the season has begun in many households is when the Christmas tree goes up! A Christmas staple, real pine trees are yet another potential hazard for our dogs.
Why are these bad for dogs? Pine needles can cause cuts to dogs’ mouths, stomach upset and can even potentially perforate the intestines.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? The safest option is to consider an artificial tree. If you have a real tree in your home, be sure to keep it watered and vacuum up any dropped needles daily, and avoid leaving your dog unsupervised around the tree. 

Salt Dough Ornaments: By mixing just three ingredients – flour, salt and water – we can create long lasting homemade ornaments that are unique and sentimental.
Why are these bad for dogs? Due to the high salt content, ingesting these ornaments can quickly lead to salt toxicosis – or salt poisoning – in both our dogs and cats. Signs of salt poisoning include: vomiting; diarrhoea; lethargy; ataxia; excessive thirst & urination; tremors; seizures; comas; and even death.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Many salt dough ornaments are hung on Christmas trees, where they could be easily snaffled by our pets. Consider creating ornaments you can set on high surfaces such as a wall unit, or keeping them in rooms your pets don’t have access to. 

Tinsel: One of the all-time classic Christmas decorations, tinsel is a fun and versatile item found wrapped around trees and bannisters and strung around rooms all through the holiday season.
Why is this bad for our dogs? Though tinsel is not toxic, long, string-like items are often a bit temptation for our dogs and cats alike. Not only can tinsel potentially cause a life-threatening obstruction in the intestines, ingested tinsel – and similar items such as yarn, ribbon and strips of fabric – can become something called a “linear foreign object.” This is where one end of the item becomes lodged somewhere in the digestive tract, becoming taut as the muscles of the intestines continue trying to push the item through the system. Once taut, as the muscles contract and the intestinal walls rub against the item, it can cause cuts and even perforate the intestinal wall. Not only is this incredibly painful and difficult for surgeons to resolve, but perforating the digestive tract can lead to bacteria-laden material leaking into the abdominal cavity and causing peritonitis and sepsis – life-threatening conditions.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? It’s difficult to find a pet-safe alternative to tinsel, since most items which could do the job, such as ribbons, pose similar – if somewhat reduced – risks. So it’s best to simply consider avoiding tinsel in areas your pets have access to!

Christmas Lights: Whether decorating indoors or outdoors, Christmas lights are a go-to for any household aiming for that holiday feel!
Why are these bad for dogs? When we pull out the Christmas lights for the year, chances are we are introducing lots of novel wires and cables to the house that weren’t there before. Many of them are being plugged into mains sockets low to the ground, or contain battery packs. Dogs and cats are naturally inquisitive and will often chew new items in their environments, cables included, leading to electric shocks.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Consider using extension leads designed to cut power when damaged, tape loose wires out of the way and ensure your pets are always supervised around any Christmas lighting in the home.

Poisonous Plants

Many of the plants we traditionally associate with Christmas are toxic to our pets, some of these include:
Poinsettia, Mistletoe, and Ivy: this classic trio are all mildly toxic, and may cause drooling, diarrhoea and vomiting if ingested.
Holly: There are many varieties of holly and they vary in toxicity – eating the leaves or berries can cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea. The spiky leaves can also damage the mouth, throat and intestines. 
Lilies: notoriously dangerous for cats as they can cause kidney damage, dogs who ingest lilies are also at risk. Lilies contain colchicine alkaloids, which damage the red blood cells and cause organ failure. Ingesting lilies can lead to convulsions and even death for our pups.
Potpourri: This popular decorative item has a few aspects to it which can be harmful to our dogs. From pinecones which can present a choking hazard and cause intestinal blockages, to dangerous plants used in the mix, to essentials oils which can be toxic for our pups. There are a huge list of potential symptoms due to potpourri exposure depending on the exact cause of the problem, ranging from drooling, lethargy and loss of appetite to ataxia, tremors, burns on lips/gums/tongue/skin and difficulty breathing. Many of these symptoms can be caused by absorption through the skin and do not require the dog to have ingested any of it, so it’s always best to keep potpourri well away from our pets.

What can we do to keep our dogs safe? We would always advise avoiding bringing dangerous plants into our animals’ homes. It’s worth considering some pet-safe alternatives such as the Christmas Cactus instead of Poinsettia and Mistletoe, or White Orchids instead of Lilies. 

Perilous Presents

Batteries: Whether in Christmas lights, ornaments or new gadgets, Christmas often means more batteries are in use around the house!
Why are these bad for dogs? It might not seem like something to worry about, but vets report ingestion of batteries does increase around the Christmas period. This can lead to heavy metal poisoning and chemical burns.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Make sure we never leave batteries or small items such as toys, containing batteries, lying around. Ensure any battery-operated decorations and lights are also out of reach and pets are not let with them without supervision.

Small Toys and Toy Parts: Whether young or old, getting new toys at Christmas is always fun!
Why are these bad for dogs? It’s not always easy for dogs to know which toys are theirs and which are ours, and new items come with new smells and textures – the temptation is strong! Not to mention, dogs love to be involved – so if we’re interested in it, they’re bound to be, too! Many dogs will happily eat anything interesting, whether it’s edible or not. This can easily cause blockages, stomach upset or intestinal damage.
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Be mindful when opening new gifts, and make sure new toys are kept well out of reach of your pup.

Rawhide: This dog treat has been around for a long time, and many Christmas-themed treat packs contain rawhide items.
Why is this bad for dogs? There are many concerns surrounding rawhides – from strong chemicals used in the manufacturing process, to the risk of contamination with diseases such as salmonella. One of the most common and immediate risks of rawhide, is its potential to cause digestive problems – it can swell up to 4x the size in the stomach, and is not easily digested, leading quickly to blockages. It has also been known to be a choking hazard, breaking off and being swallowed in large chunks and sometimes become stuck in the oesophagus.  
What can we do to keep our dogs safe? Luckily, there are loads of much healthier, safer chews out there for our pets! Keep an eye out for our upcoming Christmas Gift Guide for our favourite rawhide alternatives!
As we can see from the list above, there are lots of festive items out there which pose a risk to a dogs. It can feel daunting, figuring out what we can and can’t risk having around our four-legged family. Really though, the solution is simple: always err on the side of caution, and keep things out of reach and not left with your dog unsupervised unless you are completely confident it is safe to do so.
Don’t worry, though – it is safe to tip those sprouts straight into the dog’s bowl! It’s a Christmas miracle!
 


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