How to pet proof your Christmas

Taking a few precautions will help avoid poorly pets over the festive season. Check out our 5 top tips… Glittering trees, sparkly lights, mysterious parcels, tubs brimming with chocolates and plate after plate of delicious-smelling festive food – it’s no surprise that our pets wonder what on earth is going on and want to get involved in all the fun!
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20th December 2023

Taking a few precautions will help avoid poorly pets over the festive season. Check out our 5 top tips...

Glittering trees, sparkly lights, mysterious parcels, tubs brimming with chocolates and plate after plate of delicious-smelling festive food – it’s no surprise that our pets wonder what on earth is going on and want to get involved in all the fun!

But pet parents beware – Christmas with all the trimming brings a whole host of hazards for our furry family members, which could result in an emergency visit to the vet.

In fact, research from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) reveals four in five companion animal vets saw at least one case of toxic ingestion over the Christmas period.

What festive items cause pets the most problems?

Voice of the Veterinary Profession revealed that that thousands of vets treated dogs for toxic ingestion, 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, which sneaks its way into all sorts of foods – from peanut butter to jellies and jams – and is highly toxic to animals.

Foreign body ingestion in dogs was also common, 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 (5%) were also highlighted by vets as causing issues.

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 (7%). In addition, 13% of vets saw cats with foreign body ingestion, including 7% seeing cases caused by Christmas decorations and 3% by wrapping.

British Veterinary Association President Malcolm Morley advises: “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.”

We couldn’t agree more – follow our 5 top tips for a pet-proofed Christmas...



At this time of the year, many of the foods we love to tuck into can cause our pets all sorts of problems – so those pleading eyes must be ignored.

Burgess in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes MVB MRCVS, advises: “As a treat, dogs could have a little cooked lean meat (no skin, no gravy) and some boiled carrot and broccoli, but it’s best to keep your pets on their usual diet to avoid upset tummies.”

Festive foods on the blacklist include:

  • Pigs in blankets: Fatty, salty meats such as pork can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Mince pies and Christmas cake: Raisins and sultanas (as well as grapes) are highly toxic to lots of animals, 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.
  • 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.
  • Meat-free options: Products such as Quorn may contain onion and garlic, so it’s best to avoid giving them to your pets.
  • Cooked turkey bones: These 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.
  • 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 ingest it in sufficient quantities. Make sure chocolates (including those wrapped up as presents) are kept well out of your pet’s reach and avoid chocolate tree decorations, which may be just too tempting for your dog’s sensitive nose to ignore.
  • Alcohol: Booze can have a similar effect in dogs as it does in their owners, causing canines to become droopy and drowsy. In severe cases, there is 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.

Find out more about the dangerous foods you should keep away from your pets at Christmas >>

Christmassy foods for your pets to enjoy:



Festive floral favourites such as holly, mistletoe, poinsettia, amaryllis and lilies may look pretty, but they are extremely poisonous to pets, so make sure they are positioned away from inquisitive paws and noses.

Rehoming charity 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.”

If you have a real Christmas tree, regularly vacuum up the pine needles as these can puncture your pet's intestines if ingested – and 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.

What’s on TV this Christmas? As you snuggle up on the sofa with your pets for some fun festive viewing, have you ever wondered if they’re watching too? >>

If you have a cat who likes to climb, make sure they’re never left unsupervised in the room containing the festive tree. 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.”



Puppies and kittens are likely to make a beeline for anything that sparkles, dangles or flashes, so proceed with caution when decorating your home.

  • Tinsel: Ingesting it can potentially block intestines, requiring surgery.
  • Blu Tack: Adhesives used to put up decorations and cards may cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten by your dog.
  • Ornaments: These represent a choking hazard and glass baubles are best avoided altogether as shards from broken ones may injure paws, mouths, or other parts of your pet’s body.
  • Fairy lights: Place these well out of reach. Not only could your pet get tangled up in them, but they could get an electric shock by biting through the wire. This is particularly important if you have house rabbits. 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.
  • Spray snow: While this looks decorative inside windows, make sure your dog or cat isn’t interested in licking or scratching it off and ingesting harmful chemicals.
  • 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. 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.”



Many pets are intrigued by the sudden appearance of mysterious wrapped boxes, so, if you don’t want yours unwrapped by Santa’s little helper, keep them hidden.

Wrappings and bows can be dangerous if chewed or swallowed, so once the present-opening frenzy is over, bin everything swiftly.

This also goes for stray packets of silica gel, often found in the packaging of new shoes, handbags or electrical equipment. And don’t leave children’s toys lying around as small parts can be swallowed.



A cheery, noisy gathering may unsettle your pets, so make sure they have access to a quiet room or familiar space, where they can escape from the over-the-top petting and treat giving from tipsy relatives or overexcited children.

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.”

How well will your dog cope with Christmas? >>

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.

With all the comings and goings, keep a close eye to ensure that doors are not left open, enabling pets to slip out unnoticed.

In addition, while humans may enjoy getting togged up in matching onesies on Christmas morning, our pets generally prefer to stay out of any dressing up fun. While your dog might not mind sporting a jaunty festive cravat, 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 – 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.”



RSPCA has these great tips for helping your pets to enjoy a healthy, happy Christmas:

  • 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!


Is your dog a Burgess dog? Your cat a Burgess cat? Your small pets Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

Using the expertise and experience built over the centuries, Yorkshire-based family company Burgess Pet Care produces high-quality, award-winning pet foods – such as food for dogs with sensitivitiesfood specially created to support neutered cats – and has launched many innovations. These include the world’s first food specifically formulated for indoor rabbits and the world’s first indoor guinea pig nuggets which are made with a calm formula.

CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for all your pets from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It's all here >>

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