Keeping your pets safe and happy at Christmas – Part One
This seems to have come around VERY quickly again this year, but December is here and it’s time for our annual festive post on keeping your pet safe during the festive period, with a list of food and drinks to avoid along with a reminder of the hazards of Christmas decorations! This year we’ve split the blog into two parts, so this week we’ll be taking a look at food and decorations and in the second part we’ll look at ways to reduce stress at Christmas, both for yourself and for your pets and how to spread some Christmas cheer by supporting some important animal charities.
As Christmas draws near, our homes are adorned with twinkling lights, festive decorations, and the delicious aroma of festive dinners. As we immerse ourselves in the joys of Christmas, it's crucial to remember that our pets and in particular, our beloved cats and dogs, share our homes and need special consideration during this time. Turning your home into a pop-up Christmas grotto can be confusing and even frightening for some pets and this week we’re taking a look at the foods and hazards to avoid, along with some ground rules for your visitors and Christmas guests, in order to ensure a safe and happy holiday season for you and your pets.
Paws off the counter! Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels
Foods that pets should never have: at Christmas or otherwise
- Chocolate: A holiday staple for many, chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to both cats and dogs, so make sure you keep all chocolate products out of reach. Some people find this advice a little confusing as most dogs have eaten a little bit of chocolate in their time – whether that was dropped by a child or licked off a cake and it’s true, a little bit might not harm them, but that doesn’t mean you should let them eat it. Not all chocolate contains theobromine – the highest levels of it are found in Baking chocolate and gourmet dark chocolate which are highly concentrated and contain around 130-450mg of theobromine per 28 grams (1oz). Standard milk chocolate usually contains about 44-58mg per 28g (1oz) and white chocolate poses a very low threat of chocolate poisoning with only 0.25 mg of theobromine per 28g (1oz) of chocolate. HOWEVER this is not an excuse to let your dog scoff your Milky Bar – it is still loaded with sugar and other things that are not good for pets. If you’re going to give them a treat, give them something healthy that is designed for pets. Also be very careful not to leave any wrapped chocolates or sweets lying around as even if they have low levels of theobromine, if they the eat plastic or tin foil wrappers along with the sweet, this will cause some serious harm.
- Xylitol: Another hidden danger in giving your pets chocolate, sweets, ‘human’ biscuits and cakes is Xylitol. This is an artificial sweetener that is commonly found in sugar-free treats. Xylitol can cause insulin release, leading to liver failure in dogs and it can sometimes be found in peanut butter which is often given to dogs in LickiMats or Kongs. Peanut butter containing Xylitol could be baked into Christmas cookies so always read the label and don’t leave anything lying around. Ensure all sugar-free items are safely stored away.
- Grapes and Raisins: These seemingly harmless snacks can lead to kidney failure in dogs. Keep fruit bowls and baked goods out of reach. Thankfully, most dogs instinctively know better than to eat a grape or raisin in the first place but if it is baked into buttery mince pies, sweet Christmas cake or a pudding that is smothered in cream or custard then it may prove too much to resist. Also make sure that they don’t have access to yours (or the neighbours) dustbins. A friend of mine’s dog once ate a discarded piece of Christmas cake, wrapped in tin foil (they ate that too!) that they had pulled out of a neighbour’s bin. No one wants a trip to emergency vets on Christmas day, so always be mindful of what your pet is up to, regardless of how much eggnog you may have had!
- Onions and Garlic: Two prevalent ingredients that are often present in holiday dishes, including stuffing and gravy, these can cause gastrointestinal irritation and damage to red blood cells. Keep an eye on the seasoning in your pet's proximity.
- Alcohol: Be cautious with alcoholic beverages, as even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful to your pet. Never leave drinks unattended and make sure that your pet has access to plenty of fresh, clean drinking water so that they don’t feel tempted to drink out of your glass. Some pets may be tempted by creamy festive drinks such as a Baileys or White Russian, which are invariably very strong, so keep your drink in your hand or tucked safely out of reach.
- Bones: While it may seem festive to share meaty bones, cooked bones can splinter and cause digestive issues or, in severe cases, puncture the digestive tract. Don’t offer these to your cat or dog and make sure they can’t fish them out of the dustbin once you are in bed!
Naughty cat photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels
Non-edible Christmas hazards
Of course, it’s not just the food stuffs that you should be careful with. If you’ve gone a little overboard with the decorations, your house could be presenting other new dangers to your pets.
- Lit Candles: Keep an eye on open flames, as pets may knock them over accidentally. Also make sure they are out of reach of cats as these naturally inquisitive beasts could sniff them and burn their whiskers or their nose. If you’re going out and leaving your pets at home, make sure all the candles are out before you leave. Consider flameless candles as a safer alternative.
- Poisonous Plants: Mistletoe, holly, ivy and poinsettia are commonly used to embellish our homes during the festive period but they can be toxic to pets. Opt for pet-safe decorations or place them out of reach.
- Christmas Decorations: Tinsel, ribbons, and ornament hooks can pose choking hazards or lead to intestinal blockages. Keep these items away from curious pets. Likewise glass baubles could fall and smash, cutting their paws so make sure everything is secure or use a safer alternative to decorate your home.
- Electric Leads: Cats and dogs may find these enticing to chew on. Secure them or use pet deterrent sprays to keep your pets safe.
Christmas tree cat photo by Pixabay on Pexels
Busting a few festive myths
Myth: A little bit of alcohol is OK for pets
Fact: Alcohol can be toxic even in small amounts. Do not give any alcoholic beverages to your pet. Give them fresh water instead.
Myth: Dogs can eat any leftovers from your Christmas dinner
Fact: While sharing a small amount of lean, unseasoned meat with your dog is generally fine, fatty and heavily seasoned foods, as well as those containing bones, can lead to digestive upset and other health issues. Stick to pet-safe treats to avoid potential problems.
Myth: Cats can safely drink a bit of cream from the Christmas dessert table
Fact: While the image of a cat lapping up milk or cream is a common one, many adult cats are lactose intolerant. Feeding them milk can lead to upset stomachs and diarrhoea. Give them fresh water instead.
Myth: Cats always land on their feet
Fact: While cats are skilled climbers, they can still injure themselves if they fall from a significant height. So don’t let them climb to the top of the tree in case it comes crashing down on them!
Remember, when in doubt, it's always best to consult with your vet to ensure that you're making the right choices for your pets during the holiday season.
Gift cat photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels
Ground rules for friends and family when your pets beg for Christmas food
Given the amount of hazards present in your home during the Christmas period and the fact that you may be hosting friends or family who are not familiar with your pet (or which foods or materials may be harmful to them) it is probably a good idea to set some ground rules and boundaries as soon as they arrive. You could even write them out and send them to your guests or print them out and pop them up on the fridge or somewhere prominent where everyone can see them.
- Don't Feed From the Table: Remind guests that pets have their own specially formulated food, and human food may upset their stomachs, however pleadingly they may look at you.
- Watch Your Plate: Advise guests to be mindful of where they place their plates and drinks and to keep them out of your pets' reach.
- No Bones About It: Ensure everyone knows not to share bones with your pets, as they can pose serious health risks.
Explaining the consequences of eating cooked bones and other hazards can help to drive the message home!
Christmas dinner photo by Nicole Micahlou on Pexels
A list of rules for your fridge:
- No Chocolate, No Xylitol, No Grapes: Keep Treats Away from Paws.
- Lit Candles Up High, Pets Down Low.
- Plants Can Be Harmful; Keep Them Out of Reach.
- Decorations Secure, No Chewable Fluff.
- No Alcohol for Pets; Stick to Water Bowls.
- Bones in the Trash, Not in the Dish.
- Avoid Onions and Garlic, Seasoning with Care.
- Keep the Kitchen Counter Clear. No Paws Allowed.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your holiday celebrations are filled with joy and safety for both you and your cherished pets, for a wonderful and hazard-free holiday season! Next week we’ll be taking a look at how to avoid stress – for you and your pets – and how you can share some holiday cheer with less fortunate animals too.
P.S. If you’re still looking for holiday gifts for your pet – or the pet lovers in your life – the Gravitis Pet Supplies store are shipping right up until the 21st December so it’s not too late to place you order and get them something that they really want! Check out our Gravitis Christmas Gift Guide.
Main photo by Elina Fairytaleon Pexels