Our pets are part of the family, we want them to be part of our Christmases with us. However, Christmas can be a bit overwhelming for our furry friends.
Christmas is a time for change – new things come into the home, new people come to visit, and the normal routine is different. This can be worrying for our pets. Some of our festive habits put our pets in danger – Christmas plants and foods can be toxic to them. The weather is colder, the nights are darker - all of this can put our pets at risk.
We, as owners, need to take a little extra care to keep our pets happy and safe.
Christmas Food and Drink
A lot of the food and drink we enjoy at Christmas can be damaging to our pets. Even food that is not toxic can be too rich and cause our pets a tummy upset. Try to avoid treating your pets with unfamiliar foods. Remember any new food can cause illness, so it’s best to stick to their usual diet and familiar treats only.
Some foods and drinks are toxic to our pets. If you think your pet has eaten something toxic, call your vets right away, don’t wait for your pet to become ill. In some cases, severe illness can be avoided by early treatment, so please call us asap.
Here are a few of the most common toxins to cause vet visits at Christmas…
Alcohol causes symptoms of drunkenness very readily in our pets, they have a very low alcohol tolerance. Keep alcoholic drinks well out of reach.
Raisins and other dried grapes are common ingredients in Christmas cake, mince pies and stollen. These are toxic and cause kidney problems. The number of grapes or dried grapes eaten doesn’t match how bad the illness can be - a dog could eat a handful of grapes and be very ill, another might eat more and be fine. Don’t risk it with your pets, keep all festive treats out of pets’ reach.
Chocolate is a popular stocking filler and tree decoration – it’s common we let our guard down and place the chocolate somewhere it could be found by inquisitive noses. Be strict with yourself, no treats on or under the tree where they could be dug out by pets, and if someone gives you a present and you’re not sure what’s in it, don’t place it under the tree, put it away somewhere safe.
Christmas decorations are a hazard to our pets. They are often stringy, shiny, and dangling somewhere, so very tempting to a curious cat. They can also be delicious if you are an inquisitive dog, or fun to gnaw if you’re a busy house bunny.
Decorations can be fragile and sharp when broken, so can cause injury. They can contain toxic substances, for example, snow globes might contain the toxic substance ethylene glycol. They can also cause a blockage of the stomach or intestines if swallowed, which can be life-threatening.
Please be careful where you place your Christmas decorations and supervise pets carefully.
Poinsettia, mistletoe, holly, and ivy can all be toxic to pets. New plants are of particular interest to our pets, so if you bring in something seasonal, be sure to keep it out of reach.
As a time for getting together, Christmas is a sociable season. But our pets are not always as keen on visitors as we are. Even the most confident dogs and cats can find large gatherings or loud Christmas games a little overwhelming.
Provide your pets with somewhere they can go, where it is quiet and calm. A bed in another room or a den under a table can be very helpful. Familiar blankets and toys can help them feel secure.
Sometimes a food distraction is appropriate – you could use a stuffed Kong toy for a dog so they can focus on that instead of your guests. Stuff the Kong with something they are used to eating to avoid any tummy upsets. Never leave a pet unsupervised with a chew.
Be sure to take time out from socialising to give your pets their usual fuss and attention – quietly and on their own. Keep your pets walk, mealtime and cuddle routine as close to normal as possible.
If your pets seem happy to be amongst the mayhem, then be sure to give them space – never allow children to bully dogs or cats into having fuss or attention. If your pet moves away, let them go. Never force a pet to wear a festive outfit or take part in photos or games if they are not keen.
The best present you can give your pet is your time. Yes, lots of pets seem to enjoy something yummy to eat, but they don’t know this is you giving them love, and new foods can make them ill. A new collar or jacket is lovely, but more for you than them let’s be honest! Dedicate your pets a chunk of your Christmas – whether it be a longer than normal walk, making a cardboard castle for your bunnies to run wild, or playing chase with a catnip mouse for your felines.
Some pets feel the cold more than others. Rabbits often cope better with cold than we expect but may need additional shelter in the harshest conditions. They still need plenty of exercise in the winter months, so be sure to provide them with access to a run as well as a warm, well-bedded hutch. If the grass is frozen and they usually graze, be sure to provide plenty of hay.
Most dogs will cope well in cold weather if they’re moving. Exercising your dog in the cold is fine if they’re running about and having fun. If they look bored or withdrawn take them home. Slower pets, like older pets with joint disease, might need coats as they can’t keep warm by running about.
Try to make sure cats have free access to your house, via a cat flap, so they can come and go as they please in cold weather. If you usually open a door for your cat to get in and out, be sure you are available if poor weather is forecast and shut them in early if needed.
Keeping your pets visible can help reduce the risk of accidents on dark winter nights. High-vis jackets, collars and harnesses are very useful. Cats are particularly at risk of road traffic accidents after dark, so if you shut your cat in at night, you can adjust their routine to get them in a little earlier. Make changes gradually so you don’t cause them stress.
Christmas is a time for sharing love with the whole family, including our pets. The gift of a safe, secure environment is the best gift you can give. Provide a comfy bed, healthy food, some fuss for those that enjoy it, and space for those that don’t. Spend time together playing games, walking, interacting, and having fun in your pet’s favourite ways. That’s the best recipe for helping your pets have a happy Christmas.