How to care for your pets at Christmas
Christmas isn’t just an exciting time for children – many of our pets get caught up in the Christmas magic too. They can sense their owners are excited, or they can smell the special food or presents under the tree and know that it is a special time of year. But it can also be risky too. Although it is tempting to share a snack with your pet, many of the foods that we like to enjoy at Christmas can be very harmful to dogs and cats – and Christmas trees and decorations can be hazardous to their health too. So this week we’ve decided to create a little guide to help you through what should be the most wonderful time of the year.
Spaniel Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash
Christmas tips for dogs
Foods to avoid
If you want to treat your dog at Christmas, buy them something made especially for dogs, rather then snacks from your plate, as not all human food is good for them and many of the things we like to eat at Christmas can be particularly harmful. Chocolate, grapes, mince pies, Christmas pudding and some types of nut are toxic to dogs.
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which is similar to caffeine and can cause tremors and heart problems, even in small amounts. Avoid leaving chocolate where your dog may find it. If your dog is the sort to eat first and ask questions later, don’t put things where they might be tempted. Don’t leave chocolates out in dishes or hang them on your Christmas tree – especially if they are likely to eat the foil wrappers as well. Put wrapped edible gifts out of reach and make sure any visiting friends and relatives are aware of the risks.
Any type of grape – fresh, or preserved as raisins in mince pies and Christmas pudding - are severely toxic to dogs. Even a small amount can cause sever kidney failure. Most dogs will leave them alone, but certain breeds – and puppies - will tend to eat anything they find, particularly if they are wrapped in buttery pastry or smothered in cream. Make sure you keep them out of harms way, especially if your dog is a ‘climber’ and likely to get up onto a table or kitchen counter to get at a festive treat.
Some of the spices used in Christmas baking can also make your dog poorly. Cinnamon, although not toxic may cause vomiting - and large quantities of nutmeg may cause hallucinations and increased heart rate - although they would have to eat a lot to experience these effects - make sure you keep your cooking ingredients packed away just in case they decided to get their paws on the jar.
Onions and other similar veg (leeks, shallots etc) are toxic whether they are cooked or raw and can cause anaemia. Be especially careful if you have onion gravy as most dogs will be unable to resist this if they find it.
Macadamia nuts are known to cause increased body temperature, tremors, stiffness and lethargy so make sure you avoid feeding these too.
If you are going to feed leftovers to your dog, make sure that they don’t contain any of the foods mentioned above – and be aware of hidden dangers such as onions in gravy, raisins or spices. Cooked bones can splinter and cause severe problems too. If you insist in sharing your dinner, then stick to whole foods such as turkey, potatoes, sprouts, carrot, parsnips and peas. Any kind of sweet treat will contain sugar which is bad for their teeth so try not to feed these even if they don’t contain any of the other toxic ingredients mentioned above.
Retriever Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Dogs and Christmas Decorations
For some dogs, the baubles on the Christmas tree may be too hard to resist. Make sure you keep any glass decorations out of reach and if your dog likes to chew, make sure that they there are no decorations or gifts within reach – especially if they are going to be left unattended. If possible distract them with an early gift of a ball or a chew so that they have something else to focus on.
If you like to light candles at Christmas make sure you don’t leave them unattended where your dog might sniff them or knock them over.
Some Christmas plants can also be harmful too. Poinsettia, the beautiful crimson-leaved pant you see in supermarkets at this time of year can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach if eaten. Likewise, holly and mistletoe berries can cause a stomach upset, with American mistletoe more potent than the UK variety. Pine needles can cause intestinal damage too so make sure your dog is not eating somewhere that pine needles may stick to or contaminate their food.
Tabby in a Christmas Tree Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash
Christmas tips for cats
Foods to avoid
Although cats are less likely to eat any old food than dogs are, they still do and the list of things that are toxic to them is pretty similar to the list above.
Cats and Christmas Decorations
The main problem with cats at Christmas is keeping them off of the decorations – particularly if you have a young cat or a kitten.
Cat love to climb, so seeing you put up a huge tree in the corner of a room and then dangling baubles from it, they will naturally assume it is a new toy for them to play with and may become confused when you repeatedly remove them from it. It is more difficult to get a cat to understand that they must not do something and they don’t tend to respond to gestures and voice commands in the same way that a dog might.
If possible keep your cat shut away from the tree when you are not around and if this is not feasible, try to make your tree as cat-proof as possible. Make sure you have a sturdy stand that is difficult to tip over. Plan for the worst case scenario and make sure there is othing near the tree that could get damaged if it falls over and nothing on the tree (such as glass baubles) that could break. If you have a real Christmas tree that needs watering, make sure that it won’t come into contact with any electrical sockets if your cat does manage to tip it over and try to hang the most tempting baubles higher in the tree so that your cat doesn’t remove the low hanging treats. Don’t be tempted to let them have one bauble to play with as they may assume that this means it is open season on all of the Christmas baubles and annihilate the tree when you are out of the room. Keep their cat toys separate and create a little play area away from the tree, encourage them to play there and reward good behaviour with treats or cuddles.
Christmas time can be stressful and if your cat continually knocks the tree down it may be hard to keep your cool – however getting cross with your cat will not achieve anything and it is better to reward positive behaviour than to become angry, this will not achieve anything. Some cats will attack the tree decorations just to get your attention, so if possible try and make some time to give them the attention they need, as this should pre-empt any destructive tendencies.
When it comes to Christmas foliage, cats are more likely to have a chew on it than dogs are so keep any poinsettia, ivy, holly, mistletoe etc out of reach. If you have a living Christmas tree planted in soil try to keep the base covered to discourage digging and make sure that pine needles do not get into the cats food.
If you have a ‘full house’ over the festive period with lots of friends and relatives dropping in or coming to stay, a shy cat may become overwhelmed with this so try making them a bed somewhere out of the way so that have a safe place to sit away from all the noise.
Grey cat Photo by Stéphane Mingot on Unsplash
Christmas should be a happy time for all the family, which includes your pets. Take some time to make a fuss of your cat or dog, watch a Christmas movie together and appreciate them as much as you can.
Whilst we are here we’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of our customers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have you got any tips for pets at Christmas? Let us know in the comments section below!
(Main Pic: cuddly dog photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash)