The biggest cause of poorly dogs and cats over the festive season is sometimes our own fault. We want to treat our beloved pets as part of the family during the festivities including giving them a taste of our own Christmas indulgences. This is not just the Christmas dinner itself, but anything that your pet is not used to.
Most owners in this country feed their pets a consistent diet throughout the year. The digestive system of our modern pets has adapted to this type of diet, so when they are suddenly faced with turkey and all the trimmings, gastroenteritis (an upset stomach) is often the result. No laughing matter when you have a houseful of guests and your veterinary surgery is shut!
Even rabbits and guinea pigs can suffer the same problem when given a Christmas treat, such as unfamiliar sprout peelings! In most cases, the gastrointestinal upset will resolve with no need for treatment, but an alarming number of pets each year get seriously ill as a result.
So remember this December…
- Carry on feeding your pet as normal this Christmas
- Find non edible ways of involving them in the fun. Toys, walks and attention are just as good!
- Avoid giving any new food treats (even ones designed for pets) if they are unfamiliar.
- Store food carefully. Beware of dogs and cats helping themselves to uncovered food on surfaces and low tables.
Don’t eat that! It’s poisonous!
Although there are a few things which really are poisonous to our pets, most of the things they may eat (which they’re not meant to), will just make them poorly. The golden rule is – if in doubt, give your veterinary practice a shout!
Things that are very toxic to dogs
- Chocolate – contains a toxic ingredient called theobromine. Dark chocolate contains the highest level of this substance. Milk chocolate and white chocolate contain lower levels. If you know how much your dog weighs and how much and what type of chocolate they have eaten, your vet will be able to work out whether enough has been eaten to cause a problem. It is worth noting that garden mulches made from cocoa shells contain very high levels of theobromine – so gardeners beware if you have a dog.
- Raisins – in mince pies, Christmas pudding and fruit cake. These are very toxic and can cause kidney failure in some dogs. Not all dogs will be sensitive but unfortunately there is no way of knowing which will be affected. Give your veterinary practice a call if you are unsure.
- The holly and the ivy! Both these festive plants, often used as decorations, can cause dogs to get poorly if eaten. They can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Similarly mistletoe and peanuts can make your pooch poorly if they eat enough.
Things that are very toxic to cats
- Lilies – Often we like to adorn our houses with these big beautiful blooms at Christmas. However make sure they are out of the way of our feline friends who are extremely susceptible to kidney failure from ingestion of any part of this plant. Even licking their fur having rubbed against the plant can cause a problem.
- Paracetamol – Us humans may have good reason over the festive season to take the odd painkiller but don’t leave them lying around so your cat can get hold of them. Paracetamol poisoning in cats is invariably fatal.
Peace lilies, Cyclamen and Poinsettia are all very popular Christmas plants but can cause sickness, drooling and depression if eaten. Fortunately the symptoms are self-limiting and the prognosis is excellent.
Batteries, electricals and tinsel can present a hidden hazard
- Pets are inquisitive, especially young cats and dogs, and will play with, chew or swallow batteries. Batteries can cause electrical or chemical burns inside the body. Some contain mercury (especially the little disc ones) which is a poison and can be a problem if the battery is inside the body for a long time. However, the good news is that severe effects are rare and as long as the battery has been swallowed whole, it will pass through the gut intact without causing a problem.
- Do supervise young curious puppies, kittens and house rabbits at all times. It is not uncommon for them to chew through the Christmas tree lights and give themselves a bit of a shock!
- Tinsel and ribbon is beautiful around the house at Christmas, but pets can find it an incredibly eye-catching toy. If eaten, these pretty decorations can cause gut impactions which can cause serious injury to your pet.