Christmas is such an exciting time, so it’s no wonder that your pets want to get in on the action. Here are a few things to keep in mind during the festive season.
Christmas is the season for giving, but there are some foods and drink you should avoid giving your pet, including:
Pets can’t digest alcohol as quickly as we can, so a small amount can have a huge effect. Your pet can experience the feeling of being drunk and even get alcohol poisoning, which is unpleasant enough even when you understand what’s happening. The same applies to caffeine.
Yeast in dough helps it rise, which can cause your pet’s stomach to swell if ingested. When yeast ferments it produces ethanol, which can lead to alcohol poisoning. The smaller the animal, the greater the risk.
While cats can’t taste sugar, chocolate is bad for pets including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, ferrets and poultry. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it can be. This is because the cocoa contains the toxic chemical theobromine.
Some sweets are made with an artificial sweetener called xylitol which is poisonous to dogs. Plus the small size of most sweets make them a choking hazard.
If you want your pet to feel included, you can get Carob “chocolate” for dogs. For cats, rabbits and other pets, offer their favourite treat or try a new kind.
When cooked, bones can become brittle which means they can splinter inside your pet, becoming a choking hazard or piercing their internal organs.
Fatty and oily foods – like nuts, dairy products and meat drippings – can upset your pet’s stomach.
Some spices, including nutmeg, allspice and cloves can cause a poorly stomach and more extreme cases can lead to seizures. Dry spices can also lead to coughing and choking if inhaled.
You can give your cats and dogs other Christmassy flavours, like ginger, in small amounts when mixed in with their food – it can actually have health benefits. For your rabbits, hamsters and other small pets, you can give them sweet treats like a bit of carrot or safe herbs like parsley.
Most people wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a slice of Christmas cake or a mince pie. But you shouldn’t share anything that contains raisins or grapes with your pet as it’s poisonous for them.
If you want to give your pet a tasty snack, check to see whether your pet’s preferred food brand is doing festive-themed flavours. Alternatively put their favourite dry food or treats in a food dispensing toy to make it last a bit longer.
It looks cheerful and festive to us, but to our pets our Xmas decs are just interesting new toys to explore.
Some trees come with artificial snow, which shouldn’t be toxic but can upset your pet’s stomach. Generally eating the needles of any Christmas tree – real or fake – could make your pet unwell.
They could also topple it over and injure themselves. Secure your tree to the wall and try using tin foil or a citrus spray around it to put off your curious cat or determined dog.
For particularly persistent pets, you might need to completely barricade it off using a playpen. Some people have even resorted to hanging their trees from the ceiling, surrounding them with furniture or only decorating the very top branches.
It goes without saying, but if it’s easily breakable then it’s not worth risking near your pet. If you have delicate ornaments and baubles, put them higher up on the tree or shelf.
If eaten, your pet might be sick or you might notice their next toilet break is particularly shiny and that'll be the end of it. But if a sizable portion of tinsel is swallowed it could get stuck in your pet’s stomach or intestines and require an emergency vet visit.
Like tinsel, cats and dogs will think it looks fun to play with, but with the added danger of an electric shock if your pet bites through the cable. You can get pre-lit trees where the cables are contained within the structure, so there won’t be any tempting dangling strings of lights.
Obviously flames and pets don’t mix, but the paraffin wax that’s sometimes used in candles can also be harmful if swallowed. Some essential oils and artificial fragrances in scented candles can be toxic to pets if inhaled or ingested.
It’s not just Christmas trees that might not be good for your pets. Some festive plants are harmful to our cats and dogs, like:
Poinsettia is only poisonous in large quantities. Nibbling on it can irritate the mouth and throat and it has a bad taste. It can cause drooling, vomiting and stomach upset but your pet likely won’t want to eat enough of it to do serious harm
You can easily swap out these plants for pet safe ones, such as a Christmas Cactus, African Violet or Echeveria (a type of succulent).
Some animals like the taste of the adhesive on sticky tape but be careful they don’t swallow any chunks of plastic. They can also hurt their mouths and paws on the staples sometimes used to hold boxes together.
Long lengths of ribbons and string can get caught in your pet’s stomach or intestines so keep them out of reach or always supervise play.
Wrapping paper isn’t necessarily toxic for your pets to ingest, but large amounts can block their gut. But there is such a thing as edible wrapping paper so you can watch your pet open their presents worry-free.
It’s handy if anyone staying with you knows the house rules. For example what food your pet can and can’t have, banned behaviour and how to deter your pet from doing things it shouldn’t.
If you take your pet with you to stay with friends and relatives, bring some of their toys, blankets and food so they’ll have something that smells like home. Try to stick to your normal routine where possible.
It might take your pet a while to warm up to people and pets they aren’t familiar with, and some might not like “strange” people or animals at all. Introductions should go at your pet’s pace and give your shy pets somewhere safe where they won’t be disturbed if they want to hide.
If you have to leave your pet behind while you go away over Christmas, make sure they have their usual toys, bedding and routine. If possible, have someone they know looking after them until you come back.