The 12 pet safety tips of Christmas

Make it a merry Christmas for all the family – including the furry, four-legged members! Do you remember the first time you saw a Christmassy pine tree, glittering tinsel, mysterious parcels and plates piled high with seasonal goodies? Didn’t you want to touch, smell and taste all the magical marvels on offer? It’s just the same for our pets – particularly
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9th December 2022

Make it a merry Christmas for all the family – including the furry, four-legged members!

Do you remember the first time you saw a Christmassy pine tree, glittering tinsel, mysterious parcels and plates piled high with seasonal goodies? Didn’t you want to touch, smell and taste all the magical marvels on offer?

It’s just the same for our pets – particularly puppies and kittens who’ve never experienced all the exciting sights, sounds and smells of Christmas before. That’s why, as a responsible pet parent, you need to be aware of the multitude of Yuletide perils to ensure your pets stay out of mischief. Our top 12 festive pet safety tips can help.

  1. Rockin’ around the Christmas tree

  • There’s nothing quite like a real Christmas tree, but if you get one, you’ll need to regularly vacuum up the pine needles as these can puncture your pet's intestines if ingested and painfully prick paws.
  • Don’t let your dog drink the tree water, which is likely to contain chemicals. Nibbling or licking a real Christmas tree won’t do your pets any good either as these trees produce oils that can be toxic, making animals very unwell.
  • If you have a cat who likes to climb, make sure they’re never left unsupervised in the room containing the festive tree. Rehoming charity Wood Green advises: “Some pets – kittens especially, enjoy climbing Christmas trees. We recommend keeping the tree out of reach, or securely tie the tree to ensure it doesn’t fall over.”
  • It could pay to invest in a pet-safe Christmas tree that starts halfway up, so your perfectly placed baubles are well out of reach of curious cats, puppies, house bunnies and any other free-ranging pets.

  1. Deck the halls

  • While you’re busy putting up all the cards and trimmings, make sure to keep Blu Tack safely out of reach – if eaten, it may cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Anything that sparkles, dangles or flashes will be a magnet for many pets, especially puppies and kittens, so make sure decorations are placed well out of reach of inquisitive noses, mouths and paws. Avoid glass baubles at all costs – if they get accidentally smashed, sharp shards can cause nasty injuries.
  • Also keep presents – especially festive chocolates – well away from curious pets. If they manage to track them down and decide to tuck in, it will make them extremely poorly and you’ll have to make an immediate trip to the vet.

  1. Christmas lights

  • If you’re a fan of twinkling garlands of fairy lights, make sure they’re hung well out of reach of your animal residents. Not only could your pets get tangled up in them, if they bite through the wire it could result in an electric shock. This is particularly important if you have house bunnies as, in the wild, while burrowing, rabbits chew through roots and they will treat wires in exactly the same way.
  • Don’t be tempted to decorate small pets’ cages with tinsel or strings of sparkling lights – as well as being dangerous to curious nibblers, they’re likely to find flashing bulbs very distressing. And always switch your Christmas lights off at the mains when you’re not at home.

  1. The holly and the ivy

  • Holly, mistletoe, poinsettia, amaryllis and lilies are all festive floral favourites – but they’re also extremely poisonous to pets. Avoid or position well away from inquisitive noses.
  • Wood Green advises: “Keep foliage decorations such as wreaths, table displays, and Christmas trees out of reach of any free-ranging small pets, as many are made of plants that are toxic to animals.”

  1. Let it snow

  • While we may all be dreaming of a white Christmas, sometimes it can be tempting to add a little fake snow to create a magical winter wonderland. However, go steady with spray snow – while it looks fabulously festive, if your dog, cat or rabbit decides it’s something to be scratched at or licked off, they’ll ingest harmful chemicals.
  • Also steer clear of snazzy seasonal snow globes. Emergency vet provider Medivet advises: “Some imported snow globes have been found to contain antifreeze which can be fatal if swallowed by your cat, dog, or rabbit. In fact, as little as one teaspoon for a cat or rabbit, or one tablespoon for a dog, can poison them and result in kidney failure. Avoid buying cheap, imported snow globes wherever you can. If you like snow globes, place them out of reach to avoid danger of breakage. Many cats will enjoy wandering amongst the contents of a cabinet and knocking things off as they go.”

  1. Santa Clause is coming to town

  • Whose turn is it to dress up as Father Christmas this year? While we humans love any excuse to don a funny hat or matching Christmas onesies, it’s best to leave our pets out of any dressing up fun. While your dog might not mind sporting a jaunty festive cravat or sparkly collar on Christmas day, it’s best to leave it at that and not dress your pets up in daft outfits.
  • Cats Protection advises: “It’s tempting to involve your cat in the festivities by buying a fun outfit or fancy-dress costume – after all, there are numerous images on the internet of cute cats dressed up in Santa suits or as elves. While it might be fun for an owner, however, it can make your cat feel very stressed. Costumes like this can restrict your cat’s movement, making them less able to express their normal cat behaviour, such as grooming or stretching. On top of this, the risk of an outfit being caught or snagged can result in injury to your cat.”

  1. Oh, bring us some figgy pudding

From mince pies to pigs in blankets, lots of the festive food we humans love to chow down on can make our pets very poorly – so ignore those pleading eyes! It’s far better to keep your pets on their usual Burgess diet and play an extra game with them instead. Festive foods to watch out for include:

  • Mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake: Raisins and sultanas (as well as grapes) are highly toxic to pets, causing serious, potentially fatal kidney problems.
  • Nutmeg: This seasonal spice used in eggnog, biscuits and puddings is poisonous to pets, causing tremors, seizures and damage to the central nervous system.
  • Macadamia nuts: These can cause lethargy, increased body temperature, tremors, lameness, vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs.
  • Chocolate: This contains theobromine, which can be fatal to dogs if they eat it in sufficient quantities.
  • Xylitol: This artificial sweetener sneaks its way into all sorts of foods – from peanut butter to jellies and jams and is highly toxic to canines. After a dog consumes a significant amount of xylitol, there is a massive release of insulin from the pancreas. This, in turn, results in a dangerously low blood sugar level and symptoms such as weakness, trembling, seizures, collapse, and even death.
  • Pigs in blankets: Fatty, salty meats such as pork can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Onions, shallots, garlic, leeks and chives: These all belong to the Allium species of plants and, whether uncooked or cooked, are toxic to pets. Initially there can be vomiting and diarrhoea, but the main effect is damage to red blood cells, resulting in anaemia.
  • Table scraps (in large amounts): A bit of cooked, lean meat with the fat trimmed off and a small amount of boiled vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, peas, sprouts and swede, is OK as a festive treat for your dog, but table scraps should not be fed regularly as they are not nutritionally balanced and can lead to obesity. Cooked turkey bones can splinter and become lodged in an animal’s throat or perforate the intestinal tract, which can be life-threatening. Ensure turkey carcasses and bones are bagged-up and safely disposed of somewhere that your pets cannot get to them.
  • Gravy: If made from meat juices, it can contain high levels of fat, which can cause pancreatitis.
  • Alcohol: In severe cases, when alcohol is ingested, there’s a risk of low body temperature, low blood sugar and coma. Make sure any unattended alcohol is kept out of reach to prevent curious pets from helping themselves to a sneaky tipple.

  1. Good tidings we bring to you and your kin

  • If children are coming who aren't used to being around pets, have a chat with the family beforehand to make sure the children understand how to behave around animals.
  • Dogs Trust advises:Encourage children to be calm and not approach the dog when the dog is eating or sleeping. And remember, never leave a child alone with a dog.”

  1. Silent night

  • Most animals have incredibly sensitive hearing and can be upset by unexpected bangs and pops. The best advice is to avoid crackers and party poppers – and be pet aware when popping the cork on the prosecco.
  • Small animals are particularly sensitive to high frequency sounds that we can't hear – so keep them away from televisions and stereos and consider carefully moving cages to quieter parts of the house if you’re having a party.

  1. Christmas wrapping

  • Once the present-opening frenzy is over on Christmas morning, collect up all the debris. Wrappings and bows can be dangerous if chewed or swallowed and there may be other toxic items lurking – from packets of silica gel often included in the packaging of shoes, handbags and even dog treats, to small parts of children’s toys that can easily be swallowed.

  1. Do they know it’s Christmas?

  • While we humans enjoy a get together during the festive season, unfamiliar people coming and going may unsettle our pets. Make sure they have access to a quiet room or familiar space, where they can escape from the party and potential over-the-top petting and treat giving from tipsy relatives or overexcited children.
  • Cats and indoor bunnies will appreciate some hidey-holes to retreat to. And don’t forget your outdoor pets too – Try to stick to your daily routine – such as feeding and exercise times – as this will help your pets feel less stressed by all the unusual activity. Check that doors are not left open, inviting pets to slip out unnoticed.

  1. All I want for Christmas is you

Your time and attention are the best Christmas present your pets could wish for, so make sure they don’t get forgotten while all the festivities are going on.

RSPCA has these great tips for helping your pets to enjoy Christmas too:

  • Stick to their routine – try to keep food, exercise, bed and toilet break routines the same, as consistency can help pets feel more secure.
  • Introduce new people carefully – if you have guests coming over, let your dog or cat meet people at their own pace.
  • Give your pets somewhere cosy and quiet to retreat to – away from all the excitement, where they won't be disturbed by anyone. Leave toys there to help them associate the area with positive experiences.
  • Don't leave them alone too long – although Christmas is a busy time and there's a lot to do and people to see, be careful about leaving your pet alone for too long.
  • If you're spending Christmas day with friends or family and your dog is coming with you, take something that smells familiar, like their bed, to help them feel secure. Take some of their favourite toys and chews to help keep them entertained.
  • Provide extra bedding for outdoor pets and keep their enclosures clean, as wet bedding will freeze on cold nights and this could make them ill. Always ensure they have fresh clean water to drink and check at least twice a day that it isn't frozen.
  • Make sure nocturnal animals such as hamsters are kept somewhere they aren't going to be disturbed during the day.
  • Keep visitors' pets away from small furries, as they could frighten them!      

Wishing you and your pets a very merry, healthy Christmas!

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