Keep Your Furry Friends Safe This Christmas
Christmas is certainly a great time to spoil your beloved pets, home-cooked turkey dinner and vegetables with some delicious pet treats will certainly be on the menu for many lucky pets this Christmas. Some foods and items we tend to have in our homes at Christmas, however, can be harmful and even fatal to our pets. To help you keep your pets safe this Christmas, we’ve provided a list of foods and other items which should be kept away from your pets.
1. Chocolate – There’s plenty of chocolate around at Christmas, but however much your cat or dog looks at you with pleading eyes never feed them chocolate. Chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats and can kill them. Chocolate contains a chemical compound called theobromine. Whilst this chemical is harmless to humans, dogs and cats metabolize theobromine much more slowly than humans causing it to create a toxic response. Even small amounts of chocolate can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, but larger quantities can cause: seizures, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. The toxic dose for cats is significantly lower than in dogs, so even very small quantities could be disastrous. Don’t forget, dogs and cats are masters at opening presents (which may contain chocolates) and taking chocolates off the Christmas tree, so it’s best not to leave your pets with access to the Christmas tree and presents when you are not around.
2. Christmas Cake/Christmas Puddings/Mince Pies – These foods are full of dried fruits, which are toxic to dogs even in small quantities. Dried fruits such as raisins and currants can cause acute renal failure and even death. If you think your dog has eaten even the smallest amount of these items it would be prudent to seek immediate veterinary advice.
3. Grapes – These are toxic to dogs even in small quantities and can cause acute renal failure and even death. The impact on cats is unknown, but it is assumed that a similar toxic reaction is likely.
4. Nuts – All nuts, but in particular macadamia nuts and walnuts, are toxic to dogs. Nuts even in small quantities can cause the following symptoms in dogs: upset stomachs, vomiting, tremors, hyperthermia (increase in body temperature above normal), seizures, pancreatitis, staggering and joint pain. The impact on cats is unknown, but it is assumed that a similar toxic reaction is likely. There is also a choking risk for both dogs and cats.
5. Onions/Garlic/Chives/Leeks – These foods and all members of the allium family, contain thiosulphate which is toxic to dogs and cats. It is worth remembering that many foods, such as gravy and soup, contain these ingredients. Thiosulphate can damage your pet’s red blood cells inhibiting the distribution of oxygen around their body. This can lead to anaemia resulting in organ damage and potentially organ failure, depending on the quantity ingested. Symptoms may include vomiting, upset stomach and hypersalivation. Clinical signs may not develop for 1-5 days, accordingly. If you believe your pet has ingested these foods you should seek immediate veterinary advice.
6. Cooked Bones – When bones are cooked they become brittle and there is a much higher risk of them splintering or cracking. Cooked bones can cause: choking and vomiting as well the bone itself cutting the mouth and gums of your pet, or, perforating or blocking the intestinal tract. Accordingly, ensure that you do not feed your pets the cooked turkey carcass or any other cooked bones, and ensure that any turkey trimmings you put in your pet’s bowl at Christmas is free from small cooked bones. If you wish to feed your dog bones it is better to feed them raw bones or antler chews. You should always supervise your pet whilst they are chewing raw bones and antlers. If your pet is coughing or choking after chewing on a bone, it is advisable that you seek urgent veterinary advice.
7. Gravy – This tends to be high in sugar and salt and is likely to contain onions and alcohol, both of which are toxic to cats and dogs. So unless you have made a special gravy for your pet free of any harmful ingredients it is better not to add this to your pet’s Christmas dinner.
8. Alcohol – Dogs and cats usually ingest alcohol accidentally, due to trying a glass of alcohol that has been left where they can access it. Dogs and cats have smaller livers than humans and cannot process alcohol in the same way a human can. Ingesting alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, liver damage, and even cardiac arrest. Signs that your pet might have ingested alcohol include sleepiness, lack of coordination, slower breathing and heart rate, a drop in body temperature, excessive drooling, bloat and low blood pressure. It can take anywhere between 15 minutes and 2 hours for the signs of alcohol poisoning to develop. If you believe your pet has ingested alcohol you should seek immediate veterinary advice. Alcohol poisoning can also occur if your pet ingests bread dough.
9. Avocado – A fatty acid in avocado known as persin is toxic to cats and dogs. Persin is particularly concentrated in the stone, skin and the leaves, but all parts of the avocado should be kept away from your pet. Symptoms of avocado poisoning include vomiting and upset stomachs.
10. Caffeine – This contains methylxanthines and can be found in chocolate, coffee, tea, energy drinks, some soft drinks and diet pills. Dogs and cats metabolize methylxanthines much more slowly than humans causing it to create a toxic response. Even small amounts of caffeine can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, but larger quantities can cause: seizures, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. The toxic dose for cats is significantly lower than in dogs so very small quantities could be disastrous.
11. Poinsettias/Ivy/Amaryllis/Mistletoe/Holly/Lilies – All of these plants are poisonous to cats and dogs. Lilies and Amaryllis are particularly poisonous to cats and can cause kidney failure if even small amounts are ingested. This can even result simply from a cat brushing against the leaves or flowers of these plants and then grooming itself. So it is particularly important to keep these plants away from your pets, as they can be fatal to both dogs and cats. Mistletoe can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, breathing difficulties, seizures, and death. Holly and poinsettias can cause: upset stomachs, drooling and vomiting and in large quantities, poinsettias can be fatal.
12. Xylitol – This is an artificial sweetener found in many food products including reduced sugar and sugar-free products, low-fat desserts, cereals, beverages, toothpaste and chewing gum. Xylitol can be fatal to your pets if ingested. It is a five-carbon sugar alcohol and is toxic to pets. The xylitol once ingested causes a rapid increase in insulin which may lead to severe hypoglycaemia, liver poisoning, and liver failure. Shortly after ingesting xylitol, your pet may vomit, followed by symptoms such as muscle weakness, ataxia, unwillingness to stand, and seizures. It can take up to three days for signs of liver failure to appear so it is important to monitor your pets eating habits over the Christmas period and contact your vet immediately if you believe anything containing xylitol has been ingested.
13. Silica Gel – These are the small packets of beads found inside many toys and presents. Although they are not toxic, inquisitive pets may be inclined to eat them, so it is best to make sure they are disposed of properly. If enough packets are ingested this can cause a blockage in the intestinal tract, causing vomiting and stomach upsets. If you see any of these symptoms seek immediate veterinary advice.
Many veterinary practices are closed over Christmas Day and Boxing Day. However, if you require emergency veterinary assistance over the holiday period all practices will have an emergency 24-hour helpline, if you call your vet’s usual telephone number, most of them will have a recorded message providing you with a telephone number for urgent veterinary assistance.