Vet advice on how to keep your pets happy and safe this Christmas

We all love spending Christmas with our loved ones, and our pets are a big part of that. But, have you ever thought about the potential pet hazards that might be hiding in our homes?
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Fear not because Gemma Logan, Christmas party expert at Fizzbox, sat down with three experts - two top vets and a veterinary nurse - who shared their knowledge on how to ensure your furry friends have a safe and happy festive season.

Which Christmas Foods Should Pets Avoid?

Victoria Roberts BSc BVetmed MRCVS, GP small animal veterinarian at Hawthorn Vets talks us through food for pets to stay clear of this Christmas:

Keeping your pets safe at ChristmasKeeping your pets safe at Christmas
Keeping your pets safe at Christmas
  • Chocolate - Contains theobromine which can cause vomiting/diarrhoea at mild levels and seizures and heart arrhythmias at higher levels. Dark chocolate and cooking chocolate are the most toxic. Even if it is wrapped and under a tree, dogs can sniff them out!

  • Raisins, sultanas and grapes - Found in mince pies, christmas cake and many other products. Can be deadly by causing acute kidney failure. The actual toxic dose varies between pets (one grape could cause problems in some dogs and another dog might eat 20 and be fine).

  • Nuts - Not all are toxic (macadamia nuts can cause vomiting and diarrhoea) but can be a choking hazard

  • High fat foods - Such as pigs in blankets, fat rind from joints and lots of gravies have a high fat content that can cause digestive issues including pancreatitis, which can be serious, painful and often requires hospitalisation.

  • Bones - Cooked bones are brittle and can splinter when chewed so should always be avoided. Large uncooked bones can cause obstruction if swallowed in large chunks and can fracture teeth in some cases so should also be avoided. Too much bone in dogs that are not used to it can cause constipation. Pets will also raid bins to get to them as they smell nice so be careful.

  • Sweeteners - Increasingly used in low calorie, sugar free and vegan products. Xylitol is life threatening if eaten as it causes overproduction of insulin and drops the blood sugar levels dangerously low which is bad enough but this can also lead to liver failure.

  • Onion - Also products like gravy that contain onion powder can cause stomach upsets and lead to red blood cell damage and anaemia if fed in high quantities or for prolonged periods. Garlic, leeks and spring onions can have similar effects

  • Rawhide treats - Often available as coloured treats as pet "stocking filler". Soften when chewed, and dogs love to do this, but they are very difficult to digest and can cause obstruction or choking as they are actually not meant to be swallowed.

  • Alcohol - Affects pets in a similar way to humans, causing drowsiness and lack of coordination. Can also dramatically lower their body temperature and blood sugar levels, leading to seizures and coma.

Other Christmas Hazards

Lizzie Kwint BVetMed MBA (Open) MRCVS, partner and veterinary surgeon at Medivet, said: “The Kennel Club found in 2021 that dogs are 75% more likely to be treated by a vet for eating something toxic at Christmas than any other time of year. Here are other Christmas hazards she says to avoid:

  • Poinsettia and Holly Berries – If eaten or chewed, these can cause your dog or cat to drool or have an upset tummy as the sap inside can irritate their mouth or gut. The signs are normally mild but it’s best to keep these plants well away from pets.

  • Ivy and Mistletoe – These plants are often found in our Christmas wreaths. These can cause some drooling as well as nasty upset tummies if eaten. And in some cases, mistletoe has been known to cause wobbliness, fits and death. Keep those wreaths up high and well out of the way this Christmas.

  • Christmas Trees – Most types of Christmas trees are unlikely to cause any issues with your pet, but the needles and branches can cause problems if chewed on. These contain oils that can irritate the mouth and tummy leading to upset tummies and drooling. Keep your pet safe with a Christmas tree guard.

  • Plants - If you have pets who may be likely to chew plants, it may be best to avoid having these plants in the house this year or, if you love them, a fake plant can look very pretty and keep your pet nice and safe.

  • If you are worried that your pet has eaten something toxic, please contact your vet asap as the quicker you seek advice, the more likely any toxin ingested can be managed.

  • The animal poison line is also available 24/7/365 on 01202 509000. This is run by the veterinary poisons information service, and can advise you if you need to seek veterinary treatment.

How Can You Help Pets During New Year’s Eve Fireworks?

Victoria Roberts BSc BVetmed MRCVS:

  • Noise phobia is a big issue in pets, particularly dogs, and can be frustrating to deal with. More than 20% of the dog population is thought to be affected to some degree.

  • It's important to try to help as early as possible when noise aversion is noticed as affected animals often become hyper-sensitive and generalise their fear towards lesser sounds if left untreated. They can eventually become reactive to even minor bangs such as a door or window being closed.

  • The best treatment is by desensitising using noise therapy cd/audio clips which are widely available. Seek advice from your vet or dog behaviourist

  • Give the animal a safe place to go and hide if they wish. Warm, dark and covered is ideal with familiar smelling beds and toys/treats etc. If they choose to go there, then leave them be but do not force them there if they don't want to go. It shouldn't be a punishment

  • Avoid sympathy. It is easy to unwittingly fuel nervous behaviour by trying to comfort and reassure but animals are more likely to misinterpret this reassurance as approval of the nervous behaviour and thus it can actually make them worse.

  • Pheromone diffusers/collars can help to reduce stress caused by noise phobia. Other herbal remedies are also widely available. It is best to start using this 7-10 days before the stressful event for maximum effect.

  • Body anxiety wraps can be bought or homemade out of material/scarves and are designed to apply pressure to key acupressure points on the dog’s body. These work well in some dogs to help calm them when stressed.

  • If your pet suffers from severe anxiety/phobia then contact your vet and they may be able to provide stronger medication based on the animal and particular situation. Advice from a certified pet behaviourist can also be highly beneficial in understanding your pet and how best to provide support and training to reduce the issue long term.

What About Exotic Pets This Winter?

Kirsty Mott RVN BSc Hons (An Sci), registered veterinary nurse at Medivet gave the following advice:

Rabbits and Guinea Pigs

Keeping rabbits and guinea pigs warm during the winter months is important to keep them healthy and is especially important if they live outdoors and can't be brought inside. Hutches should be positioned facing away from wind and rain where possible. Raising the hutch off the ground helps to reduce the risk of it becoming damp and rotting in the rain and snow. A cover can help keep out the bad weather. A thick blanket or tarpaulin is suitable if a fitted commercial cover isn't available. This also reduces external sights and sounds which could scare them, like fireworks and predators.

Extra bedding will help them to keep themselves warm in their hutch, just remember that extra bedding means more cleaning to prevent them becoming damp and dirty. They could also benefit from a little extra food, they will be using energy and calories to keep warm, so a good quality diet helps. Check water bottles and bowls don't freeze in the bad weather, special covers are available for bottles, but regular checks are still important to make sure the spout doesn't freeze.

Try to keep to your animal's normal routine, even when the weather is bad. If you are keeping their feeding times the same and interacting with them as normal, they will be less likely to get stressed and become ill. It also means you can detect any signs they might be unwell quickly. If you bring your rabbits or guinea pigs inside for the festive period, remember to keep decorations and lights up away from them where they can't be chewed. They don't know the difference between safe and not safe things and can't get ill, injured, or worse investigating their environment.

Birds

Birds are more sensitive to drafts than we are, so be sure they are kept away from windows or doors. Covering the cage will help to protect them from potential temperature drops and can also reduce stress by reducing exposure to unfamiliar sights and sounds. This can also help reduce the stress of transport, if you need to move your bird to a quieter room during the festive period.

Your heating can reduce humidity in the room. Birds have sensitive airways and may require misting to help reduce the risk of becoming unwell. You could also use a humidifier to reduce the dryness of the environment.

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