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The dangerous foods you should keep away from your pets over Christmas

Ever wondered how safe the food you feed your pets over Christmas really is? Here at Burgess Pet Care, we know that it can be tempting to allow your pets to join in with the festivities and give them something to eat from the dinner table - but the truth is, this can be a lot more dangerous than it sounds. 

That’s why we’ve researched the effects the food that appears on our Christmas table can have on your pet’s health. While a lot of food might seem harmless enough on the surface, many parts of our festive feast can be damaging to your pets, even in small amounts.

We’ve found that pet owners across the UK have been Googling what festive foods their cats, dogs, rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, and gerbils, as well as their hamsters and ferrets, among other pets, are allowed to enjoy as a Christmas treat. 

After discovering that so many of us are eager to learn more about the foods that are suitable for our pets, we decided to run a survey with 200 vet surgeons and nurses from across the UK to find out exactly how your chocolate coins, brussels sprouts and turkey trimmings might affect your pet. 

The dangerous foods you should keep away from your pets over Christmas

 

Dogs:

  • Alcohol - Dogs should be kept away from alcohol at all times. Alcohol can cause intoxication, coma, and even death when ingested by dogs. 
  • Salt – Salt plays a vital role in the functioning of our pets’ bodies, which is why a controlled amount is present in our recipes. However, when eaten in large quantities, salt can cause an electrolyte imbalance in dogs, causing excessive thirst and dehydration, and potentially neurological symptoms.
  • Milk & Dairy - Many adult dogs do not have the sufficient amount of the enzyme lactase, meaning that the lactose in milk and dairy products such as milk, cheese, trifle, and cream can’t be broken down, leading to diarrhoea.
  • Vegetables - Small amounts of plain, cooked vegetables are fine for dogs - as long as they haven’t been cooked in fat, oil, salt or a sauce. Be careful of vegetables in the onion family such as onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives, because these can damage the red blood cells, causing anemia. 
  • Fat - Foods with excessive fat such as pigs in blankets and table scraps can cause dogs to become overweight or even develop pancreatitis. 

 

Cats:

  • Chocolate - The theobromine and caffeine in chocolate can be toxic for cats of any age and can potentially affect their nervous system and heart. 
  • Onions - Vegetables in the onion family such as leeks, onions, shallots, garlic and chives can cause anemia in cats, who are more susceptible to this than dogs. 
  • Alcohol - Cats and alcohol are a very bad combination. When ingested, alcohol causes intoxication and can result in coma, and even death in cats.
  • Bones - Bones from fish, poultry and other meats can cause obstruction and laceration of a cat’s digestive system when ingested. 
  • Milk & Dairy - Many adult cats don’t have the sufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme to properly break down the lactose in milk and dairy products, leading to diarrhoea.
  • Salt – While a small amount of salt, as found in our recipes, is an important part of a cat’s diet, large quantities of salt can lead to an electrolyte imbalance in cats. This can result in dehydration, excessive thirst and even neurological symptoms such as lethargy, tremors and seizures. 
  • Sugar - Sugary foods such as chocolate coins, fruit, cheesecake, and other Christmas desserts can cause obesity, dental problems and diabetes in cats. 
  • Fat - Foods with excessive fat can cause cats to become overweight, or even develop pancreatitis. Christmas foods with a high fat content include gravy and sauces, stuffing, pigs in blanket and Christmas desserts. 

 

Rabbits:

  • Cooked Vegetables - It is recommended that you only feed your rabbits raw vegetables. Soft, cooked vegetables are not as good for their teeth, and a lot of the important nutrients are lost in the cooking process. But you can still involve them in your Christmas dinner! While preparing your festive tea, keep a small amount of rabbit-safe veg to the side. Your buns will love tucking into these while you’re enjoying your festive feast.
  • Potatoes - Potatoes are high in starch and should be kept away from rabbits.
  • Chocolate - Chocolate not only contains dairy which rabbits cannot digest, but has theobromine which can be fatal when ingested. 
  • Alcohol - Alcohol can cause intoxication, coma, and even death in rabbits. 
  • Bread & Pasta - High-carb foods such as bread and pasta can cause very serious stomach issues in rabbits, including enterotoxaemia - a toxic overgrowth of bad bacteria in the intestinal tract. 
  • Meat & Fish - Rabbits are herbivores, meaning that they are not designed to digest or absorb nutrients from animal and fish-based foods. Keep them away from your delicious dinner table.
  • Sugar – To stay in good health, rabbits need to maintain a working digestive system. Sugary foods can lead to obesity and digestive system problems.
  • Salt – A small amount of salt is important for rabbits, which is why we include the right amount in of recipes. However, too much salt can cause an electrolyte imbalance, resulting in a change in appetite, excessive thirst, dehydration, and neurological problems.

 

Guinea Pigs:

  • Salt - When eaten in large quantities, salt can cause excessive thirst, dehydration and even neurological symptoms such as tremors and incoordination in guinea pigs. Guinea pigs do not need more than around 0.5g of sodium which they can get from Burgess Excel nuggets.
  • Onions – Foods from the onion family (onions, leeks, chives and garlic) can cause anemia in guinea pigs and should be kept away from them. 
  • Sugar - Sugary foods can cause a wide range of health issues in guinea pigs, such as obesity, dental problems and in some cases diabetes. 
  • Chocolate - Chocolate contains dairy which can be harmful to guinea pigs, but it also contains theobromine, which can be fatal when ingested. 
  • Alcohol - Alcohol can cause intoxication, coma, and even death when ingested by guinea pigs. 
  • Cooked Vegetables - Guinea pigs should only be fed certain raw vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage. Lots of the nutrients found in vegetables are lost when you cook them, plus guinea pigs prefer getting their teeth on the occasional crunchy piece of raw cabbage anyway. A great way to give them a guinea pig-friendly Christmas dinner is to save a small amount of safe, chopped veg for them while you’re prepping on Christmas morning. They’ll love the leaves from your cauliflower, or a piece of broccoli!
  • Potatoes - Potatoes are high in starch and should not be fed to guinea pigs.
  • Bread & Pasta - High-carb and high-sugar foods can cause bloating in guinea pigs and are definitely something to avoid. 

 

Chinchillas:

  • Salt – Salt is an important mineral in our pets’ diet, which is why we include a controlled amount in our chinchilla nuggets. However, large quantities of salt can lead to excessive thirst, dehydration and cause neurological symptoms in chinchillas. 
  • Onions & Garlic – Onions, and other foods from the onion family, can cause anemia when ingested by chinchillas.
  • Sugar - Eating high-sugar foods such as grains, fruits, nuts and sweet treats can lead to obesity and illness in chinchillas.
  • Chocolate - The theobromine in chocolate is highly toxic to chinchillas and can be fatal when ingested. 
  • Alcohol - Alcohol is very dangerous for chinchillas, causing intoxication, coma, and, in some cases, death. 
  • Cooked Vegetables - Chinchillas must only be fed certain raw vegetables. Most of the beneficial nutrients are lost when vegetables are cooked, and chinchillas prefer to eat crunchy veg generally. However, some chinchillas are very sensitive to the effects of fresh fruit and vegetables. They can cause an upset stomach and bloat. Therefore, it’s best to give very small amounts on uncooked fresh fruit or vegetables to your chinchillas.
  • Potatoes - Potatoes are high in starch and should be avoided for chinchillas.
  • Bread & Pasta - High-carb and high-sugar foods such as bread and pasta can cause bloating in chinchillas. 

 

Ferrets:

  • Salt - Salt is an important mineral for ferrets. However they should be able to get as much as they need from a complete ferret food, such as Burgess Excel Ferret Nuggets. Large quantities of salt can cause electrolyte imbalances in ferrets, leading to excessive thirst, dehydration and neurological symptoms.  
  • Fat - Excessive fat can lead to obesity and other related illnesses, such as upset stomachs and diabetes. 
  • Onions – Items from the onion family, including chives, leeks and garlic, can cause anemia when eaten by ferrets. 
  • Milk & Dairy - Ferrets aren’t able to digest the lactose found in dairy products such as milk and cheese. This means that feeding your ferret dairy can cause upset stomachs and even diarrhoea. 
  • Sugar - Too much sugar can be incredibly harmful to ferrets, leading to obesity and dental problems. Excessive sugar can also cause damage to their pancreas. 
  • Chocolate - Chocolate contains theobromine, which can be fatal for ferrets. 
  • Meat & Fish - Ferrets are more suited to meat than to fish and can be fed a raw meat diet. However, always be careful of making sudden changes to their diet. A ferret’s gut needs time to adapt to new food, so quickly switching over (even to raw meat) should be avoided. 
  • Potatoes - Ferrets should not be fed potatoes. Like cats, they have a short digestive tract which makes it very difficult for them to break down potatoes. They can digest some carbohydrates but giving them too much of these can lead to health issues. 

 

Hamsters:

  • Salt – While salt is an important mineral in a hamster’s diet, too much salt can cause dehydration and stomach upsets. Instead Burgess Hamster Nuggets have a controlled amount of salt. 
  • Onions - We recommend that you always keep your hamster away from vegetables in the onion family including garlic, leeks and chives because they can cause anemia. 
  • Milk & Dairy - Hamsters are not designed to digest dairy foods such as milk and cheese, unlike their mouse cousins. 
  • Sugar - Sugary foods can cause obesity, dental problems and diabetes.
  • Chocolate - The theobromine found in chocolate can be fatal for hamsters, so always refrain from feeding them any chocolate-based products. 
  • Bones - Bones can cause obstruction and laceration in a hamster’s digestive systems. 
  • Vegetables - It is safe to occasionally feed hamsters very small amounts of uncooked, fresh vegetables. Cooked vegetables aren’t suitable as they are too soft and have low nutritional value.

 

Gerbils:

  • Salt – A controlled amount of salt in your gerbil’s diet, as found in Burgess Gerbil Nuggets, is important for the functioning of their bodies. Foods that are high in salt can cause dehydration, as well as stomach and digestion issues, when fed to gerbils. 
  • Onions - Gerbils should not be fed vegetables from the onion family, such as garlic, leeks and chives, because they can cause anemia. 
  • Milk & Dairy - Gerbils are lactose intolerant. This means that feeding them dairy products such as milk and cheese can cause a range of digestive issues. 
  • Sugar - Foods that are high in sugar such as fruit and Christmas desserts can upset your gerbil’s stomach and lead to issues such as dental problems and diabetes. 
  • Chocolate - The theobromine found in chocolate is highly toxic for gerbils and can be fatal when ingested. 
  • Bones - Gerbils should never be fed bones or any food with bones in them, as these can cause obstruction and lacerations in their digestive systems. 
  • Meat & Fish - Gerbils are omnivores, but their natural diet consists of eating insects rather than other meat or fish. They can be safely fed very small amounts of meat, so long as there is no bone, salt, sauces, oil or spices on the food. For a tasty treat, consider feeding them dry mealworms – they’re bound to go down well.

 

Rats:

  • Salt - Foods that are high in salt can dehydrate rats and lead to issues with their hearts. Instead, Burgess Rat Nuggets have a controlled amount of salt, which is important for your rat’s health. 
  • Fat - High-fat foods can lead to obesity and problems such as upset stomachs and diabetes when fed to rats. 
  • Onions - Vegetables in the onion family such as garlic, chives, leeks and onions can cause anemia in rats, so should not be fed to them. 
  • Milk & Dairy - There is a wide range of cheeses that are unsuitable for rats, including soft cheeses and blue cheeses. Some rats are even lactose intolerant, so be careful when adding dairy products to their diet. Christmas desserts are very high in sugar, fat and dairy, making them unsuitable for rats. 
  • Sugar - Foods that are high in sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes when introduced into a rat’s diet. This is more dangerous for rats than other pets because they can actually become addicted to sugar over time. 
  • Chocolate - The theobromine found in chocolate is highly toxic to rats, meaning that eating chocolate can often be fatal. 

No owner can be blamed for wanting to include their pet in the festive spirit, but a lot of the food that we eat over Christmas simply isn’t suitable for our four-legged friends. Our in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, explains more about what Christmassy foods can be added to your pet’s diet this December. 

Burgess Pet Care reminds pets owners to be mindful during the holidays:

“The festive period can be great fun for us, but for our pets, it can be stressful. By keeping unsuitable foods away from our animals, we can prevent any physical harm coming to them. With tables laden with food, often in several rooms and bowls of snacks and potentially chocolate gifts stacked on the floor, it is easy for roaming pets to tuck into harmful foods. We need to remember to keep harmful food out of the reach of our animals and remind guests and especially children to do the same. We also need to remember to look out for our animal’s emotional health too. Christmas is a busy time, with extra hustle and bustle in and around our homes and a change in our normal routine. All of these can be emotional triggers for animals. To help minimise stress, try to stick to your pet’s normal routine as much as possible. Walk your dog like normal, consider moving your small animals to a quieter room and give your pets their regular food at similar times. The best gift you can give your pets this Christmas is your time. A little extra love and attention goes a long way.”

While your animals can’t join you at your Christmas dinner table, they can still get into the festive spirit. If you have a mature cat or a dog with a sensitive stomach or skin, consider trying out our dry food with Christmassy ingredients. Just remember to introduce any new foods gradually and try not to make too many changes to your pet’s diet. If it works for them, stick to it.

 

While there might be a lot you can’t feed your pet over Christmas, you can still give them some festive cheer. For example, there’s a lot that small pet owners can do to make hay and bedding more interesting. 

Consider sprinkling some of our herbs, such as Excel Country Garden Herbs and Excel Mountain Meadow Herbs, in and around their hay to help your rabbits’, guinea pigs’, or chinchillas’ emotional health by preventing boredom and encouraging their natural foraging instinct. Extra toys such as willow boards and cardboard tubes are also a great way to keep your small pets entertained. 

The main thing to remember is that a healthy diet leads to a happy pet. Overall, your pet won’t mind not sharing your Christmas dinner if the food they are eating is healthy and tasty. Instead, focus on spending more time with your pet by hand feeding them and interacting with them often - this is far more important than sharing your brussels sprouts. 

Christmas is a busy period for everyone, including your pets. With changes to your family’s daily routine, and new sights, sounds and smells, there’s nothing better than simply giving your pets a bit of extra attention to keep them happy this Christmas. 

Want more advice about what to feed your pet over Christmas? Get in touch with Burgess Pet Care today to find out more! 

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