Stories from the surgery: keeping your pets safe from Christmas hazards

Each month Petplan vet Brian Faulkner looks at some of the issues he comes across in his day-to-day life as a practising vet.

On the lead up to Christmas, Brian shares insights from his surgery, plus helpful tips to keep the winter months’ fun and safe for pets and their owners…

Every year around December we always see a few pets at the surgery with avoidable issues related to the Christmas festivities.

Some of the most common visits are from owners whose pets have been injured by decorations or have been fed something unsuitable as a treat.

We all want to involve our pets in our celebrations but there are precautions you should be taking before getting carried away with the Christmas excitement and I’m often asked how to strike a balance between a fun and safe Christmas for your pets.

Here are some of my top tips to care for your companions over the winter months…

Keep your decorations out of reach from your pets

Keeping decorations out of the reach of your pet is a fundamental step to keeping your four-legged friends safe this winter – cats and dogs tend to become especially curious around bright lights and baubles, so ensure these are out of reach to avoid any accidents.

Fairy lights also cause lots of issues around this time of year – avoid allowing your pet near them to dodge any incidents such as electrocution or your tree being pulled over.

Leaving presents under the tree, readily available to be unwrapped early by your pets, isn’t just an inconvenience but is also a big hazard for your furry companion.

In the past, I have seen cats and dogs in the surgery who have swallowed tinsel which often can’t pass through the intestine – this can lead to severe discomfort and sickness.

To help avoid any issues, there are several things you can try:

This way, you can still treat them around Christmas but they’ll be less likely to hurt themselves.

Be cautious of what your pet is eating at Christmas

I regularly hear of pet owners feeding their pets ‘human’ treats and even entire Christmas dinners around Christmas to try and involve them in the celebrations, but this is a very common cause of illness in cats and dogs around this time of year.

It’s important not to put edible gifts, especially chocolates, on or around your tree – even when they are wrapped up they can still be sniffed out and eaten!

The reason chocolate is toxic to cats and dogs, is because it contains a substance called theobromine which is poisonous to them. The substance can’t be broken down easily which leads to stomach problems and can be serious depending on how much your pet consumes.

Feeding your pets turkey and meat bones left over from your Christmas dinners is likely to be harmful. Cooked bones especially can splinter and result in a perforated digestive tract. I also wouldn’t advise feeding smaller bones as they can become lodged in the throat with risk of choking.

Buying treats made specifically for pets means you can still give your pet a treat this winter, while eliminating the risk of causing stomach problems. You’ll also be less likely to give them treats that the rest of the family consume around this time.

Plants and greenery should be carefully selected

While wreaths and greenery make for beautiful traditional Christmas decor, if you have pets, you should question where, and if, you place them around your home.

Holly berries and mistletoe are poisonous to pets because of a high toxicity level and can cause severe gastrointestinal problems if digested by cats or dogs. Placing these plants well away and out of reach of your pets can ensure you avoid any surprise trips to the vet this Christmas.

Better still, avoid having these plants in the house altogether.

Try to maintain a regular routine throughout winter

We all love to relax a little more around Christmas, especially when it’s cold outside, and it can be easy to slip out of the routines you have with your pets and stay in front of the warm fire.

Overfeeding your pets is most likely to happen when the weather is cold, as you may be going on shorter walks and less frequently.

Sticking to your pet’s exercise routine can help avoid unhealthy weight gain and calm your pet, which may lead to less disruptions when back at home amongst all the excitement!

Try to keep hustle and bustle to a minimum

Christmas tends to mean more visitors in the home, which isn’t part of your pet’s regular routine. It can lead to uncharacteristic behaviour, for example dogs barking more than usual and cats trying to hide, not wanting to be cuddled or held.

Pets can become restless around lots of people and people they aren’t used to. We should understand this may be unsettling for them.

Creating a space in the home for your pet can be a great way to keep them calm and comfortable while the house is busier than usual.

Here are some tips for making a pet friendly space:

This space can also help to ensure they won’t be around the decorations and inedible goods that we spoke about earlier too.

These are my recommended precautions to take over the Christmas period to make the season as stress-free and safe for your pets as possible – without stopping the fun!