Pet proof your Christmas and stay off Santa Paw’s naughty list

Animal lovers are being encouraged to keep their pets safe this festive season by pet proofing their Christmas, ensuring anything which may be mistaken for a tasty treat is out of paw’s reach. The warning comes as new research from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) reveals four in five companion animal vets saw at least one case of toxic ingestion over the 2021 Christmas period.  

The festive season brings with it presents, decorations and yummy festive food. But these seemingly innocent pleasures can be deadly if eaten by animals. 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.

New Voice of the Veterinary Profession research shows that thousands of vets treated dogs for toxic ingestion last Christmas season, with 76% seeing cases of chocolate poisoning and 69% seeing dogs taken unwell after easing raisins or sultanas. Around a fifth (19%) reported seeing cases caused by the artificial sweetener Xylitol.

Foreign body ingestion in dogs was also common over the 2021 festive period, with gifts for humans, including small parts of children’s toys, being the most common cause (14%) while consumption of Christmas decorations and gifts for pets (12%) and wrapping (five per cent) were also highlighted by vets as causing issues.

But it’s not just dogs who should be on Santa’s naughty list: 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, including seven per cent seeing cases caused by Christmas decorations and three per cent by wrapping.

British Veterinary Association President Malcolm Morley said: “Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year but not if you end up with a poorly pet. Being vigilant and taking a few key precautions is all that is needed to keep your pets happy and healthy over the festive period.  

“Keep all edible items, decorations and anything else a pet may mistake for a tasty treat out of their reach to help prevent avoidable emergency visits to the vet. We also advise keeping pets to their normal diets and avoiding feeding them any human food. If you are concerned your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have, 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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