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Dangers of Christmas for your Pets

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Ham and Fatty Meats


Ham on a table

It may seem strange that dogs (who many believe to be carnivores) can have a bad reaction to eating meat, but the culprit here is an overdose of fat, which can cause pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is one of the most common illnesses that vet clinics are inundated with at Christmas time. Leftover ham, sausages, or the fatty offcuts from a Christmas turkey contain a lot more fat than a dog's body is used to ingesting in one go. 

In an effort to digest all this fat, the pancreas can quickly go into overdrive and become painful, inflammed, and swollen causing pancreatitis.  Signs of pancreatitis in dogs can include vomiting, nausea, dehydration, abdominal pain and inappetance. In many cases treatment includes hospitalisation.

Pancreatitis can leave some dogs with a lifelong sensitivity to fat, requiring a special therapeutic diet for the rest of their lives. 

It is best to resist the urge to 'treat' your dog and save the meat for your own leftover lunch on Boxing Day!

Opt for a pet safe treat which is just as yummy such as the natural dried jerky.


Onions and Garlic


Onion and garlic

If you are having a BBQ this Christmas, it is best to keep any leftover onions or garlic away from your pet. 

Onions and garlic contain a toxin, N-propyl disulfide, which can damage red blood cells. If enough cells are affected than this can cause anaemia, with the affected pet showing signs of weakness, lethargy or pale gums. 

The fact that garlic is toxic to pets, can be confusing as it is a common ingredient in pet diets, treats or supplements. Garlic is known for natural medicinal properties such as anti-bacterial and digestive support. While a large volume of garlic can be toxic to pets, a small dose, such as those present in some commercially prepared products, is unlikely to cause an issue.


Gravy


Gravy on a saucer

Gravy can be dangerous for dogs due to its high fat content, which may lead to pancreatitis. Additionally, certain ingredients like onions or garlic commonly found in gravies can be toxic to dogs, causing various health issues. It's best to avoid feeding dogs food with rich sauces or gravies.Gravy containing xylitol poses a significant danger to dogs. Xylitol, a sugar substitute, can cause a rapid release of insulin, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, and liver failure in dogs. Always check ingredients and avoid feeding any gravy or food containing xylitol to your pets.


Grapes, Sultanas and Raisins


Grapes in a bowl

Often found on Christmas day within a fruit cake, fruit platter, or inside a fruit mince pie, grapes and their dehydrated versions can cause kidney failure in cats and dogs. The exact mechanism of poisoning is still not well understood so it is impossible to know what is considered a toxic dose.

 

Signs of Grape/Sultana Toxicity

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal Pain

  • Excess Thirst

  • Decreased Appetite


If your pet does accidentally ingest any grapes, sultanas or raisins, then an immediate visit to a veterinarian can decrease the chance of long term health issues.


Chocolate


Shredded chocolates

With many chocolate treats around at Christmas time, it is important to ensure that pets are not allowed access as many dogs and cats enjoy the taste of chocolate and will readily eat it given the chance.

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats because it contains the chemicals methylxanthines, in particular, theobromine and caffeine. Unlike humans, cats and dogs are unable to metabolise these compounds and therefore become sensitive to the effects. 

Signs of chocolate toxicity in pets include vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, seizures, heart arrhythmias and even death in some cases. The risk of chocolate toxicity directly depends on the weight of the pet, how much they ate, and how dark the chocolate is. 

If your pet does accidentally consume any chocolate it is important to take them to the veterinarian immediately so that the vet can induce vomiting and avoid any nasty long term issues. 

For a dog friendly alternative, try carob-based treats.


Christmas Trees and Decorations and Lights


Lighting decorations

The presence of a Christmas tree and decorations in the house is an exciting time for both owners and pets alike. Cats especially see Christmas trees as a fun thing to climb so it is important to ensure that the tree is safe and secure to prevent toppling. For puppies, a playpen or barrier placed around the Christmas tree, can help keep decorations and presents safe.

Decorations such as tinsel, beads, string and ribbon may draw a dog or cats’ attention. If ingested these objects can get stuck in a pet’s digestive tract and require lifesaving surgery. It is best to keep these objects away from pets and not encourage playing with these objects. 

When decorating the tree and home, consider objects which pets may find appealing and place these up out of their reach, and avoid edible decorations such as candy canes and chocolates. If you are counting down to Christmas using an advent calendar full of chocolate or lollies, ensure this is kept out of your pet's reach.

Christmas lights, whether hanging on the tree or decorating the house can be enticing playthings for cats and dogs. 

Electric lights, if chewed, can cause electrocution of a pet or may become a fire hazard in your home. If a pet ingests any part of the lights, then this can become a choking hazard or if swallowed these objects can get stuck in a pet's digestive tract, requiring lifesaving surgery. 

When decorating with Christmas lights, it is best to keep these cables away from curious pets. Consider protecting cables by using cable covers or wraps or using solar lights where possible due to a decreased risk of electrocution.


Macadamia Nuts


Macadamia nuts

Whether they're part of a fruit cake, within a delicious slab of boutique chocolate, or just as a tasty treat on their own, macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. While the exact cause of poisoning is not well understood, clinical signs generally develop within 12 hours of ingestion. 


Signs of Macadamia Toxicity

  • Weakness in the backlegs

  • Vomiting

  • Wobbly Gait

  • Tremors

  • Collapse

  • Hyperthermia


If encased in their shell, ,macadamia nuts can pose a risk as a gastrointestinal foreign body. Be sure to keep these out of reach of your dog and see your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may have eaten macadamia nuts.


Batteries


Batteries

Christmas day for most families involves a lot of present giving, with many gifts from toys to mobile phones containing batteries.

Many batteries are small and can easily be picked up by curious pets. Batteries if ingested or chewed can cause life threatening injuries including deep ulcers in the mouth and oesophagus and can lead to abdominal pain, gastric ulceration and vomiting.

Batteries and any objects that contain them, should be kept out of reach of all pets. If your pet does accidentally ingest a battery, then this should be treated as a medical emergency and they should see a veterinarian immediately.


Bones


Dog with a bone beside it

While bones can be beneficial for your pet's dental health, feeding them is not without risk and can be associated with issues such as bacterial contamination, fractured teeth, intestinal blockage and pancreatitis. This is the reason why most veterinarians warn against feeding bones. 

Cooked bones should never be fed to your pet as they are much more brittle than fresh bones, and prone to snapping or splintering. This can injure your pet's mouth or cause life-threatening intestinal blockage or puncture if swallowed. 

This Christmas, don't be tempted to give your dog the ham bone, opt for a safer option such as Chew Toys.


Alcohol


Alcohol poured into a wine glass

Just like small children, cats and dogs are much more sensitive to alcohol than adult humans and can become poisoned very quickly. 

Alcohol is absorbed rapidly by the canine and feline body, and symptoms may include ataxia (walking wobbly), vomiting, decreased body temperature, loss of consciousness, or difficulty breathing.


Xylitol (Artificial sweetener)


Sweeteners

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in sugar free lollies, chewing gum, and may be found in some Christmas treats. Although safe for humans, xylitol can cause problems for your pet's pancreas and liver. The pancreas is responsible for creating insulin, which triggers sugar from the blood to be stored in the body's cells. 


When a pet consumes xylitol, the artificial sweetener tricks the pancreas into releasing lots of insulin that is not actually needed, resulting in their blood sugar dropping to dangerously low levels. This can cause seizures, coma and even death. In addition to causing problems with the pancreas, xylitol also causes liver damage and potentially even liver failure. The toxic dose of xylitol is very small, even a stick of chewing gum can be enough to make your dog or cat very unwell.


 Lilies and House Plants


Yellow plant

Many people give and receive flowers and plants as gifts during the holidays. Lilies are common in flower arrangements, gardens and indoor plants, with those of the Daylily (Hermerocallis) or True Lily (Lilium) families the most dangerous as they are toxic to pets. 


Although toxic to both dogs and cats, cats seem particularly sensitive to the effects of lilies, The consumption of any part of the plant, including the leaves, stem, flower, pollen or even the water from a vase can result in fatal kidney failure in cats. 


If you have a cat at home it is best to avoid lilies completely! If you are giving a gift to a friend with cats, ensure it does not contain lily flowers!


 

Warning: If you believe your pet has consumed or has been in contact with a dangerous or toxic substance please immediately contact your local vet, 24hr vet emergency clinic or call the Australian Animal Poisons Helpline on 1300 TOX PET (1300 689 738). Delaying treatment may worsen the symptoms.



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