Christmas Dangers For Pets (keeping your pet safe in the festive season)

Mar 23, 2022 | Cats, Dogs

Christmas is by far our favourite time of year. Whether you celebrate this holiday or another one, the magic that surrounds this time of year is infectious. Strangely enough, it is also our busiest time of year at the Animal Emergency Service.

Unfortunately, most of the things we see coming through the doors are preventible. So, although we love to meet all your furry friends, we would rather they were happy, healthy and at home.

Our tips for keeping your pets safe at Christmas

We’ve put together some of our top tips for keeping pets away from Christmas dangers. Plus Dr Alex share her top tips for keeping pets safe from danger during the festive season below:

Christmas Ornaments

Working with animals always keeps you on your toes – you never know what to expect when you press the button to shoot that X-ray of the vomiting Labrador who eats everything without a second thought!

This is a problem throughout the year with all different breeds, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what they will ingest.

Christmas tree ornaments, batteries, bows/ribbon on presents, string/cooking twine and tinsel are probably the most commonly ingested items. But even the things you would never expect an animal to eat can be a hazard. This silly pup ate a Xmas tree of chocolates that was held together by pins. In total 28 pins were removed from this little guy’s stomach. He recovered well but his poor family had a very stressful Christmas.

Cats and puppies in particular may be attracted to those shiny objects, and often end up being accidentally swallowed! Keep ornaments out of reach to keep your pet safe from unintentional ingestion.

How to keep your pets safe from Christmas ornaments

The best way to keep your furry friends safe is to create a barrier between them and the decorations. There are bitter sprays and other products out there to try and deter animals from chewing on things they shouldn’t but the only way to be absolutely sure they don’t eat it is to not give them the opportunity.

Keep decorations and wrapping materials in sturdy sealed containers when not in use, and place a puppy gate or some other sort of barrier between your pets and the Christmas Tree (bonus: this will also deter overly curious children from prematurely opening their presents!).

If you are worried that your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t have, the best thing to do is get them to your local vet ASAP. They can be made to vomit under supervision or have an X-ray taken to investigate and only then the safest steps can be taken to remove the offending object/s.

NEVER attempt to make your pet vomit at home! Despite ‘how to’ options on Dr Google, there are too many risks associated with causing pneumonia, salt intoxication or oesophageal damage. Vomiting should always be induced under veterinary supervision.

Dog fights at Christmas time

Dog with boxing gloves onChristmas is a time for families to get together and celebrate. Many times it is the first time in a long time that family members have seen each other, contributing to that magical feeling of the holidays.

Consequently, it is also a time where pets are brought together that have not yet met, or would not normally spend so much time together in a small space. Dominance and territory are part of our pets language. As pet owners, we need to be aware of this and respect their boundaries.

In the emergency room we see countless dogs coming in with dog fight wounds after being brought together at the family barbecue or left alone in the yard while the families go off to celebrate. It is important to be aware of our pets social cues and to make sure that we properly introduce pets before placing them together in what can be a very stressful situation.

Tips on avoiding dog fights

One of the biggest contributing factors to these fights is food. Food is a very high-value commodity in the animal world and as many animals come from single pet homes, they may not be used to being fed around others. If you are taking your pets over to a friend or family members place, try not to feed them in the same room as the other animals, ask other guests not to feed your pets and make sure that all bones, food bowls, and other high-value items are out of reach for the time that the dogs are together.

If your dog does get into a fight with another animal the most important thing to remember is to protect yourself. Dogs fighting do not differentiate between their owners and the dog they are fighting and if you try and get in the middle they may turn on you by mistake. The last thing you want is to have to bring your pet to an emergency vet, and yourself or a family member to the people emergency hospital.

Christmas food, treats, and leftovers

Christmas treats

We all know that chocolate isn’t good for dogs, but neither is fruit cake! Fruit cake is full of raisins, which causes kidney failure in dogs. Macadamia nuts also cause gastroenteritis and severe joint pain.

Family BBQs

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the traditional Aussie BBQ, but unbelievably there are some hazards to be on the lookout for. Animal Emergency Service sees a number of patients per year who have swallowed BBQ skewers, which has the potential to perforate the gastrointestinal tracts and must be surgically removed. Onions are also something to be aware of, as large amounts of onions are toxic for dogs, destroying their red blood cells causing anaemia.

Chocolate at Christmas

Dog with chocolate in its mouthIt is well known now that chocolate is toxic to dogs/cats but it is still something we see all too often. Christmas and chocolate go hand in hand so it’s inevitable that at some point there will be some kind of cocoa product in the house. Chocolate contains the toxins caffeine and theobromine which cause vomiting and diarrhoea on the mild end of the toxicity range and seizures or heart arrhythmias on the severe end.

So, which types are the worse and how much does my animal have to eat to be toxic? The toxic dose for each dog will very depending on their size and the type of chocolate eaten. Cooking chocolate and dark chocolates are by far the most toxic with as little as 5-10g causing a potentially severe reaction in a small dog. Even baked goods made with cocoa powders or cocoa nibs can be very hazardous. White chocolate contains little to no theobromine or caffeine so the chance of a toxic effect is much lower but the high sugar content can still be an issue causing gastrointestinal upset.

If your animal ingests one of these products the best thing to do is pick up the phone and call the nearest vet. We can calculate the toxicity level based on their weight, the type of chocolate and how much your pet has ingested and recommend the next best steps.

Christmas leftovers

Everyone loves to treat their pets over the festive season – however, avoid giving your furry friends leftover fat and table scraps as it can lead to gastroenteritis and pancreatitis. Instead, opt for a low-fat dog or cat treat.

Dog eating meat off a boneThe Christmas Ham has long been a staple at all hot and cold Christmas dinners and we all know the leftovers are great to keep your family fed for the next week. Every year in the week after Christmas, however, our hospital is filled with dogs who are vomiting, have diarrhoea and are suffering from tummy pain. While ham itself is usually fine for our furry friends to eat, the addition of this and other high-fat foods into our dogs diet while trying to clean up our leftovers can cause issues.

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas and is induced in large part by the ingestion of high-fat foods. The diagnosis of pancreatitis will likely lead to a few days in hospital, and in severe cases, it can actually be lethal.

It is best if you want to feed your pet some Christmas leftovers to ensure you are only feeding very small amounts of food that they have been exposed to before and that you know is safe for them to eat ie. NOT the cooked bone!!

Bones that bind

Cat eating meat off a boneOn that note, it seems only fitting to be aware of the Christmas hazard of BONES! Bones are a highly contested subject amongst pet owners and within the Veterinary community.

As an emergency vet, we have seen all different problems that arise from feeding dogs bones: broken teeth, mouth injuries, bones stuck in mouth, bones stuck in the oesophagus, bones stuck in the trachea, bones stuck in the intestines, bones stuck in the rectum (particularly uncomfortable for everyone involved) and then there are the bones that are no longer stuck as they have perforated the intestines and gone into the abdomen.

As you can see there is a theme: bones get stuck, animal comes to an emergency vet.

Regardless of the hazards a lot of people still wish to feed their dogs bones and may have done so successfully by being very careful with how they do it.

Tips on feeding your dogs bones

The main rule of bones and dogs: no cooked bones. Cooking bones makes them inherently brittle and they splinter too easily, allowing smaller bits to be ingested and cause injury to the mouth, teeth and intestinal tract.

Second, only allow your dog to chew on the raw bones, not ingest them. This means that the bones need to be large enough that your dog cannot fit the whole bone in their mouth and they need to be supervised while they have it. The bone itself is very porous and if ingested and it actually manages to make its way to the large intestine (colon), it can cause severe constipation and potentially lead to your animal needing an enema.

Beach and park outings

The dangers of heat stroke are eminent with the hot Australian climate – it is best to leave your pet at home with adequate shade and water while you take a trip to the beach or the park. Heat stroke can be fatal for pets, winding them up spending the holidays recovering in hospital.

Stress in pets

One thing that not a lot of pet owners realise is how the disruption in routine can really affect our pets. In the festive season, we are often having get-togethers with new people, there are new animals in the house, new furniture, or owners are going away for extended periods of time.

Kitten and puppy with Santa hats on

Stress-related illnesses are on the increase in pets during the festive season. This effect is most notable in our feline friends, where it often shows up as an increase in the cases of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) or interstitial cystitis.

The exact link between stress and interstitial cystitis is not well known, but there is a well-documented link between stressful events and the onset of clinical signs.

Tips on avoiding stressed pets during the festive season

So, how do we decrease the stress that this season can cause for our pets? Try and keep your animals’ routine as stable as possible. If you have a particularly sensitive animal and you are going away, try to have someone pet sit in your home so they don’t have to leave their comfort zone.

If you are having a holiday party try and have a separate area for your pet to get away from all the noise, new people and other pets. There are also some great products out there that release calming pheromones into the environment to help your pet adjust.

From everyone at Animal Emergency Service, we wish you a very merry and safe Christmas, and a happy New Year!

We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the lands, waterways and skies across Australia. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and Elders past and present.