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Avoid these festive pet perils for a calmer Christmas, warn UK vets

Author: Charlotte Austen-Hardy Published: 19th December 2023 12:05

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has warned pet owners of the risks posed by unsuitable food and other festive perils over the Christmas season


The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has warned pet owners of the risks posed by unsuitable food and other festive perils over the Christmas season. Traditional treats, presents, decorations and chocolates will be arriving in many households this month. But these seemingly innocent pleasures must be stored securely by pet owners if they want to protect their pets and avoid an emergency trip to the vets this year.

Chocolate, raisins and other dried fruit – such as that in mince pies or Christmas puddings - onion, garlic, xylitol in sugar-free products and seasonal decorations like mistletoe and holly can all be dangerous, and even fatal, to dogs and cats if eaten. BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession research carried out last year revealed that four in five companion animal vets saw at least one case of toxic ingestion over the 2021/2022 festive period. 

Our most recent stats showed that 76% of vets saw cases of chocolate poisoning and 69% saw dogs taken unwell after easing raisins or sultanas. Around a fifth (19%) reported cases caused by the artificial sweetener Xylitol. Foreign body ingestion in dogs was also common, with gifts for humans, being the most common cause (14%) while consumption of Christmas decorations and gifts for pets (12%) were also highlighted by vets as causing issues.

And dogs weren’t the only animals requiring emergency treatment: more than a quarter of vets (27%) also saw cases of toxic ingestion in cats, who were most likely to have ingested non-food items such as seasonal plants like holly or mistletoe (reported by 18% of vets) or antifreeze (seven per cent). Thirteen per cent of vets saw cats with foreign body ingestion.

British Veterinary Association Junior Vice President Liz Mullineaux, said: “Vets across the country will be on call over Christmas but there’s nothing we’d like more than empty waiting rooms and all of our patients safe at home. Unfortunately, the fun human festivities include a lot of potential perils for pets. So we strongly recommend being vigilant and taking a few key precautions to keep your pets happy and healthy over the festive period.  

“Keep all tempting treats, decorations and anything else a pet may mistake for food out of their reach to prevent an emergency visit to the vet. We also recommend keeping pets to their normal diets and avoiding feeding them any human food. But if you are concerned your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t, please do contact your vet as soon as possible.”

Top tips for keeping Christmas hazard-free for pets

  1. Protect your pet from poisons: A range of festive treats and traditions, such as chocolate in advent calendars and sweets, raisins, xylitol (found in sugar-free treats), nuts, grapes, liquorice, poinsettia, holly and mistletoe are toxic to cats and dogs. 
  2. Keep decorations out of reach: Ribbons, wrapping paper, baubles, tinsel and tree lights can seem like appealing playthings to cats and dogs but can be very dangerous if broken, chewed or swallowed. Batteries for Christmas gifts also need to be kept safe as, if ingested, they may cause severe chemical burns to the mouth, throat and stomach.
  3. Forget festive food for pets: We all enjoy a richer diet over Christmas, but fatty foods and Christmas dinners shouldn’t be shared with the animals of the household. They can trigger sickness and diarrhoea or other conditions from gastroenteritis to pancreatitis, so try to stick to your pet’s regular diet and routine. Too many treats can also lead to pet obesity.
  4. Keep away the bones: Cooked bones, including turkey bones, should not be given to pets as they can splinter and puncture the digestive tract.
  5. Know where to go: Even with all the care in the world, animal accidents and emergencies can still happen. Make sure you’re prepared by checking your vet’s emergency cover provision and holiday opening hours or, if you are away from home, use the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Find a Vet facility.

For more information on pets and poisons, download Animal Welfare Foundation's free Pets and Poisons leaflet.

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