Christmas – a pet owner’s survival guide

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As the countdown to Christmas begins, many of our homes will start to fill with Christmas trees, baubles, visitors, gift wrap and food.  We take a look at some of the festive pet hazards that lurk within our homes, and how to help your pets stay calm.

Dangerous dinners
Leftovers from the Christmas meal, such as turkey bones shouldn’t be given to your pet.  Bones can splinter easily causing damage to the intestine, and can cause choking if they get stuck in your pet’s throat.  Christmas stuffing often contains onions and garlic both these ingredients contain the toxic ingredient thiosulphate.  This can cause haemolytic anaemia, where the pet’s red blood cells burst while circulating in its body.  Symptoms may include; laboured breathing, liver damage, vomiting, diarrhoea, and discoloured urine.

Mushrooms should also be avoided as certain types can be fatal and avoid giving your pet any fat trimmings too, as this can cause pancreatitis.  ‘Pigs in blankets’ (sausages wrapped in bacon) are a delicious addition to any Christmas plate, but the high levels of salt can cause a dog to drink too much water, which can develop into a life-threatening condition called bloat.

Nasty nibbles
Entertaining guests typically brings with it platefuls of nibbles such as nuts, raisins, grapes and clementines.  However, Macadamia nuts, walnuts along with most varieties of nuts contain high amounts of phosphorus which can lead to bladder stones.  And, as little as six nuts are enough to cause some dogs to develop muscular tremors and paralysis in their legs.

Raisins and grapes are toxic – in large quantities these have proven fatal, so keep the mince pies to yourself! Clementine pips and the kernels of plums, peaches and apricots are easily dropped onto the floor, but these contain a type of cyanide compound that can poison a dog if it eats enough, resulting in dilated pupils, breathing difficulties, hyperventilation and shock.

Terrible tipples
Most of us enjoy a tipple during the festive season, but remember that alcohol should be strictly kept in the hands of humans and away from furry paws!  Dogs are much more susceptible to the poisonous effects of alcohol and ingestion can lead to laboured breathing, behavioural changes, hypothermia, seizures and cardiac arrest.

The Christmas tree
Our pets can be very curious whenever something ‘new’ comes into the environment and that includes the annual Christmas tree.  Puppies and kittens can be especially interested in the glass baubles and trinkets placed on a tree, so do supervise your animals when they are in the same room or area as your tree.  You may want to consider popping your tree on a raised level surface out of reach of young curious pups and kittens.  And, be aware of your pets drinking any Christmas tree water; the stagnant water can be very toxic to our four-legged friends, especially to cats.

If you cannot supervise your furry or he/she  simply finds it too hard to resist the temptations of the fur-tree and presents that lie underneath, then limit your pet’s access to this area completely.  Remember to create a lovely cosy ‘safe place’ for your four-legged friend away from busy areas of the house, pop tasty treats in their bed or for dogs, use food puzzle and or chew toys to occupy your pooch, and ensure there is water in that area too.

Poisonous plants
There’s nothing better than a kiss under the mistletoe, but make sure your pet doesn’t eat any.  Mistletoe and holly berries are very poisonous, if eaten these can cause cardiac problems such as low heart rate and low blood pressure.  Poinsettias are a favourite plant to spruce up your home at this festive time but ingesting a small amount can cause gastritis.

Ghastly gifts
Pets, especially dogs, are particularly curious of mystery packages so, make sure you keep any edible treats stored safely away.  Chocolate is bad for dogs as it contains a compound called xanthines.  Ingestion of chocolate can cause muscle tremors, difficulty in breathing, irregular heartbeats and in some cases it can be fatal.  Once you’ve opened your gifts, make sure you safely dispose of the wrapping, especially plastic bits such as bows and ribbons.  Fake snow, tinsel and foil are all potentially dangerous.  These can make your pet very sick and can cause serious, if not fatal, digestive problems or lacerations in their throat and mouth.

Outdoor encounters
Make sure you keep antifreeze for your car out of your pets reach.  While many solutions have been updated, every year a number of animals are accidentally poisoned by it.  The substance tastes sweet to pets, which encourages them to drink.  As a precaution, don’t allow your pet to drink from any puddles particularly while out on a walk, as it may contain antifreeze, car oil or other substances that could be harmful to your pet.  Make sure you also wash and dry your pet’s feet when you come in from a walk; grit and salt from the pavements or roads can irritate the skin and cause stomach upset if your four-legged friend licks their paws.

Dressed tDSC01054o impress
‘Tis the season for silly paper crowns, Christmas jumpers and scarves.  While many of us like to dress to impress for the festivities, most animals are not keen on dressing up unless they are used to wearing a dog coat or similar, or have been taught to wear items through careful desensitisation training from a young age like our dog model Howard.

Keep calm and carry on
And finally, Christmas typically brings with it visitors to our homes and lots of excitement.  This can, for some pets, cause upset in their routine and therefore lead to stress.  Well meaning visitors may unwittingly scare our animals if they ‘dive in’ to say “hello”.  Instead, encourage your visitors to leave your pets alone until everyone has settled down, then call your dog over – if he wants to interact then he can choose to do so.  If your dog has a tendency to jump up, have the dog on a lead and food treats to hand, create space away from the visitor and reward your dog for remaining on all four paws (check out our article on jumping up).

However, if you have lots of people coming over or some visitors who are uneasy with animals, it’s best to keep your pets away altogether, so your four-legged friend can chill out in his ‘safe place’ on his own rather than get any mixed messages or into a pickle.  Pop on some calming music, such as Classic FM to mask the sounds of excited visitors, provide well-packed stuffed puzzle feeders such as Kongs, to occupy your dog and help him settle.

Help keep things calm by purchasing pheromone sprays or plug-ins such as Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs, and pop an old t-shirt you’ve slept in onto the dog’s bed in his ‘safe place’.

Alternatively, pop a dab of natural Lavender oil under your pet’s collar or on a handkerchief in your dog’s ‘safe place’ (out of reach) as this may also promote calmness.  Adding Dr Bach’s Rescue Remedy for pets into Fido’s water or onto a dog biscuit daily can also reduce anxiety at this busy time of the year.

Have a happy and safe Christmas with your pets!

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