Christmas – A pet owner’s survival guide

Although Christmas may be quite different for many of us this year due to the global pandemic, the countdown to Christmas has begun.  Our homes may fill with Christmas trees, baubles, gift wrap and food.  And for some, it may mean welcoming for the first time this year close friends or family into our homes; all of this can impact our pets.  Furthermore, according to recent data shared by the Kennel Club and Agria Pet Insurance dogs could be up to 86% more at risk of poisoning in December.  Read my tips on we can help pets stay safe and calm during the festivities. 

The Christmas tree & decorations

Winnie – 15 weeks old, Dec 2020

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. 

Consider popping your tree on a raised level surface so it is out of reach of curious puppies and kittens or secure the tree to the wall, popping delicate decorations higher up to avoid it being toppled over.  Avoid pets drinking any Christmas tree water; the stagnant water can be very toxic to our four-legged friends, especially to cats.  Training a reliable recall (where you can call pets away from distractions), “leave it” and “drop” are key life skills and especially handy with the extra temptations around at Christmas!

If you cannot supervise your pet or they find it too hard to resist the temptations of the tree and presents that lie underneath, then limit their access to this area completely.  And, create a lovely cosy ‘chill out’ zone for your four-legged friend away from busy areas of the house.  You can do this by popping tasty treats in their bed or use food puzzle / chew toys to occupy them; ensure your pet also has access to water, and for cats – a litter tray in this area too.

Poisonous plants

There is nothing better than a kiss under the mistletoe, but make sure your pet does not 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.


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 extremely sick and can cause serious, if not fatal, digestive problems or lacerations in their throat and mouth.

Management of pets and the environment is key

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.  


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.


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.

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.


Dressing up pets can cause stress unless they’ve been trained for it

Dressed to 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.

Visitors, ‘chill out’ zones and calming aids

Although it will be a quieter Christmas for many this year, what visitors you will be allowed within your support bubble may still lead to lots of excitement.  This can, for some, cause upset in our pet’s routine and even stress in some cases.  For example, well-meaning visitors may unwittingly scare our animals when they ‘dive in’ to say “hello” enthusiastically.  Instead, encourage your visitors to leave your pet alone until everyone has settled down, then call your pet over, offering a low hand to the ground – this gives our pet choice as to whether they do want to interact or not. 

If your dog has a tendency to jump up at visitors, then have him on a lead and plenty of food to hand and create space away from the visitor.  Reward your dog for remaining on all four paws (check out our article on jumping up).  Using barrier systems such as baby gates, dog panels and pens can be a great way to deal with visitor arrivals and exits safely, as well as use when you come to sit down for your Christmas meal.  Encourage your dog to settle down in his chill out zone by providing plenty of scrummy stuffed food puzzle toys and ensure this zone is well-established before Christmas comes by feeding and encouraging nap times in there.

Using food enrichment toys can help promote calmness

If you have visitors who are uneasy with animals or young children are visiting, then it’s best to keep your pets away altogether for the short time they are there to avoid getting our pets getting into a pickle.  To help your pet with this, ensure they’ve had exercise prior to the visitor’s arrival, such as a long walk for your dog or a good play with your cat.  This means your four-legged friend can then settle in this chill out zone having expended some energy.  Pop on some calming music in the chill zone to mask the sounds of excited visitors and again, provide your dog with well-packed food puzzle toys, or hide treats around the room for your cat.

Help keep things calm by purchasing pheromone sprays or plug-ins such as Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs and have this in the chill out zone, and also pop an old t-shirt you’ve worn onto your pet’s bed to provide emotional comfort.

Natural calming aids can support pets during the festivities

Alternatively, you could pop a dab of natural Lavender oil under your pet’s collar – or – dab a little onto a handkerchief and place this into the chill out zone (out of reach).  Finally, other calming aids you may want to consider include nutraceuticals (supplements that can help pets to relax such as YuCalm, CalmEx, and Serene-Um), or purchase Dr Bach’s Rescue Remedy For Pets which can be placed either into your pet’s water or onto a treat.

Have a happy and safe Christmas with your pets.


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