Our Christmas decorations are up, our cupboards are full of festive treats, presents are being wrapped and stored or placed under the tree and we’re all getting ready to relax and overindulge at this wonderful time of year.
One of the biggest traditions at Christmas seems to be the welcoming of a new family member. Statistics from last Christmas showed that online searches of the phrase ‘buy a puppy’ increased by 44% the week before Christmas, compared to the previous year. The phrase ‘get a dog’ increased by 27% two weeks before Christmas, compared to the previous year and Pugs and French Bulldogs were among the most popular dogs that were searched for.
Unfortunately, just like every year there were also a record number of dogs being handed into rescue centres both before and after Christmas. Although I’m not rescue, I was personally asked if I could take on 32 dogs in January this year because they were bought for Christmas and people then didn’t want them, and all of those people claimed that they had asked rescue centres to take them but were told they were full.
But for those of us who believe that a dog is for life and treat them as part of the family from the moment we take them into our homes and our hearts, Christmas is as much about them as it is about everyone else. We buy them presents and involve them in our day, with some dogs getting their very own Christmas dinner. Recently I have even seen photo’s of friends and their dogs in matching Christmas jumpers!
However Christmas is actually one of the most dangerous times of year for our dogs, with Insurance claims for poisoned dogs spiking by as much as 85% in December 2019. So how do we keep our dogs safe during the festive period and what dangers do we need to look out for?
Households are full of chocolate over the Christmas period, we even hang it from our trees, but chocolate poisoning is actually the most common cause of poisoning for dogs this time of year with 68% of vets seeing at least one case. Chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine. Humans easily metabolise this but dogs process it a lot slower, allowing it to build up to toxic levels in their system. In most cases this will just cause sickness and diarrhoea but in severe cases it can cause muscle tremors, Seizures, an irregular heart rate, internal bleeding or a heart attack.
The effects of chocolate on your dog will depend on the size of dog you have and how much they have eaten, as well as what type of chocolate they have eaten. Obviously a large dog is likely to be able to consume more chocolate before suffering ill effects than a small dog can and different chocolate types have different theobromine levels. Cocoa, cooking chocolate and dark chocolate contain higher levels than milk and white chocolate, and the high level in the dark chocolate means that it only takes a small amount to poison a dog. Just 25g of dark chocolate may be enough to poison a 20kg dog.
CHRISTMAS PUDDING, CAKE AND MINCE PIES
Raisins, sultanas and grapes are key ingredients in our Christmas Puds, Christmas Cakes and Mince Pies, but these can also be deadly if ingested by our dogs. They can cause acute kidney injury and kidney failure. Raisin and Sultana poisoning has been on the increase over the past few years with 50% of vets reporting treating a case during last year’s festive season.
As a Child we pretty much only had nuts as a Christmas treat, I remember my Mum getting the nut bowl and nut crackers out and buying a variety of different nuts to last us over the festive period, but nuts also pose a risk to our beloved dogs. The nuts and shells can be a choking hazard and can also cause intestinal problems. Macadamia nuts pose an even bigger threat as ingestion has been associated with vomiting and weakness.
Cooked bones are a dangerous threat to dogs, they are brittle and can splinter when chewed which can cause the digestive tract to be pierced or obstructed. The higher amounts of meats that we cook and eat at Christmas mean that there is a higher chance of our dogs getting hold of the bones from off of the side or out of bin bags. Even if your dogs are raw fed and used to eating raw bones, please don’t be tempted to feed them the cooked ones over Christmas or think that this isn’t an issue if they accidentally get hold of them. My dogs are raw fed and are used to eating and digesting raw bones but one day one of my dogs became really ill, he was whimpering constantly and was really unsettled but every time he moved he would cry out loudly, and when he stood up and tried to walk it was as if he was curled over in pain. I rushed him into the vets and they x-ray’d his abdomen and found bones in there. I spent the whole day thinking that it was because I feed raw and that it was my fault, but when they opened him up they found cooked chicken bones. It turns out one of the neighbours had chucked a chicken carcass out for the foxes and he’d found it on one of his walks around the farm. It was definitely one of the worst experiences of my life and cost me a fortune in vets bills.
Onions and onion products such as gravy and stuffing, can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs and in severe cases can lead to red blood cell damage and anaemia. Leeks, garlic and spring onions can also have the same effect.
Sugar substitutes are used in various Christmas treats including cakes, biscuits and mints. Most aren’t toxic to dogs but a common one that is used is called xylitol and this can be life threatening to our furry family members. Affected dogs present with low blood sugar levels, which can cause loss of co-ordination, collapse and seizures in as little as 30 minutes of ingestion and eventually it can cause liver failure.
I remember reading a story last Christmas about a dog that had to undergo lifesaving surgery because he’d eaten over 30 Christmas decorations with the ribbons attached and they were causing a blockage in his intestines. The ribbons aren’t the only parts of the decorations that can cause a problem, dogs have been known to chew on baubles and other decorations which can cause lacerations and intestinal blockages. They can get caught up in tinsel and fairy lights which can cause them to panic and injure themselves, these are also dangerous if swallowed. Pine needles off of Christmas trees can get stuck in dog’s paws and if ingested can cause stomach upset and intestinal problems. Certain plants that we bring in to decorate the house with at Christmas can also be toxic to our dogs and need to be kept out of their reach, these include Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe.
TOYS AND BATTERIES
If your house is anything like ours was during my childhood Christmas’s, there will be discarded toys everywhere. Each time a child opens a present the toy has to be taken out and played with there and then, that is until the next present is passed to them and then they want to play with that one instead, and every toy seems to need batteries! It only takes a second for your dog to sneak off with a toy and chew it which could lead to lacerations and intestinal problems. If they get hold of the batteries these can again cause intestinal blockages as well as chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning. Even the small coin-shaped batteries can cause a dog damage.
ROCK SALT AND ANTIFREEZE
These are a winter long danger rather than just a Christmas one. Rock salt is the substance that is used to de-ice the roads and pavements and is commonly known as grit. If dogs get it on their fur or paws they’re likely to lick or chew it off which can cause a high blood sodium concentration and lead to vomiting, lethargy, convulsions and kidney damage. If you’ve been out walking in the winter it is always a good idea to wash off their feet, legs and stomach just in case and make sure that they don’t drink out of puddles anywhere near where the grit could have been spread.
Antifreeze is the liquid that is in the screenwash that you put in your car and is also normally added to the engines water tank to stop that from freezing. It is extremely toxic to dogs when ingested and only a small amount is needed to cause a serious problem. Just five tablespoons of antifreeze can cause kidney failure in a medium sized dog in a couple of days. If your car has a water leak or if you have spilt any antifreeze products then make sure you clean them up immediately, don’t let your dogs drink out of puddles where antifreeze could be present and if you think they may have walked through any then make sure you wash them off as soon as you get them home.
If you think your pet has ingested any of the things mentioned above, contact your local vet immediately, but remember that Christmas time is also the time of year that your vets may close for a few days so make sure that you know your vets opening times over the festive period. If they are closed then find out who the emergency vet is, where they are located and make sure that you have their contact details saved.
If your dog has a medical condition and is on long term medication then make sure you have enough to last you over the time that your vets are closed. If you need to order more to tide you over to the new year then try to give your vets as much notice as possible to order it in because even if they are open over the festive period, the companies that supply and deliver the drugs to the surgery may not be, so your vets may not be able to order it in for you if you leave it too late. This includes the suppliers of any products you may need to use to help your dogs with their firework fears so please make sure that you get them ordered.
I hope that nobody reading this will have to worry about any of the above issues over this festive period and that you all have an amazing Christmas and New Year!!