This site is optimised for modern web browsers, and does not fully support your browser version, we suggest the use of one of the following browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, some sections of the website may not work correctly such as web forms
Keeping your pet safe over Christmas
18 December 2015
Christmas is traditionally a time for family, food and frivolity. For most pet owners an emergency visit to the vets might be the last thing they would anticipate during the holiday season, but for some unfortunate pets this can be the end result of a little too much festive cheer. Many apparently harmless foods and other items around the house can be a potential cause of poisoning or illness in our pets.
Chocolate poisoning is one of the more common culprits amongst dogs. It is also toxic to cats, rodents and rabbits. The toxic component in chocolate is a substance called theobromine. The severity of the poisoning depends on the amount and the type of chocolate ingested – dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate and white chocolate is relatively non-toxic. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, hyperactivity and a rapid heart rate. In extreme cases convulsions (fits) can occur, and liver damage may develop in the longer term.
The high levels of caffeine in coffee can also be toxic to dogs, so take care how you dispose of coffee grounds from coffee makers! The clinical signs are similar to chocolate poisoning.
Grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas can cause kidney failure in dogs. The mechanism for this toxicity remains unknown, with some dogs seemingly unaffected after eating large quantities and others developing symptoms after as little as a few grapes or a handful of raisins. Christmas cakes, Christmas pudding and mince pies are all packed full of forbidden fruit.
Other poisonous festive foods include macadamia nuts, onions and mouldy foods (e.g. walnuts, bread and cheese). Artificial sweeteners containing xylitol (also found in sugar-free chewing gum) can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels and liver failure in dogs.
Plants such as mistletoe, poinsettia, holly and ivy can all cause an upset tummy. Whilst Christmas decorations and candles are non toxic they have the potential to cause an obstruction in the gut if they are eaten by an inquisitive dog or cat.
Finally, festive overindulgence in the form of a previously hungry dog and a now missing turkey can result in a nasty bout of vomiting and diarrhoea! So lock up your fruit cake, tie up your turkey and seal the selection box or Santa may be bringing you a little more than you bargained for this year...
If you are concerned that your pet has eaten something which might cause a problem, the first thing to do is contact your veterinary surgeon for advice. It is very helpful for the vet if you can get an idea of how much of a substance has been eaten, and also find any relevant packaging materials which might give more information about what might have been ingested.
To find out more about household poisons that may put your pet at risk, see our information sheet on poisons/household dangers or download our Keeping your Pet Safe at Christmas Information Sheet.