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Dogs at Christmas: how to make sure your dog stays happy and safe

December 8, 2019

Christmas can be a busy, chaotic and exciting time of the year for everyone. But take your eye off the ‘bauble’ and it can present many dangers to dogs. Animal Nurse Assistant, Dawn Prime shares her top tips for making sure your dog stays happy and healthy this Christmas. 

New research reveals that one of the most popular ways for owners to treat their pets at Christmas is with food from their own Christmas menu. However, there are several food items humans enjoy, which are poisonous to dogs

Things dogs should not eat or drink

Here’s a list of food that you should keep out of your dog’s way during the festive season:

Chocolate

A chemical called Theobromine, which is a bit like caffeine, is found in chocolate and is toxic to dogs. Even a small amount of this chemical can cause agitation, hyper-excitability, tremors, convulsions and problems with the heart. The darker the chocolate, the more potent Theobromine becomes. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service recommends that  veterinary treatment should be sought for any dog ingesting more than 20 mg/kg of Theobromine. That’s equivalent to 3.5 grams – or one square – of plain or dark chocolate and 14 grams – roughly five squares – of  milk chocolate. White chocolate does not contain enough Theobromine to cause toxicity, but it can be fatty and pose a potential risk of pancreatitis.

Christmas pudding and mince pies which contain grapes, currants, sultanas and raisins

Grapes and food which contains currants, sultanas or raisins are toxic to dogs. Even a small amount can cause kidney failure. Food that contain these ingredients – such as Christmas pudding or mince pies – can be extremely toxic. 

Onions (and garlic, leeks, shallots and chives)

Onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives all belong to the Allium species of plants and are toxic to dogs. Uncooked or cooked, these types of food can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. But the main effect is red blood cell damage, which can cause anaemia.

Alcohol

Alcohol can have the same effect on dogs as their owners! They can become wobbly and sleepy, but in the most severe cases there’s risk of them developing low blood sugar and slipping into a coma. Dogs may be tempted to help themselves to alcohol left lying around over Christmas, so always make sure it’s kept out of their reach.

Turkey or chicken bones

Don’t be tempted to treat your dog to a turkey or chicken bone.  This can result in choking and cause severe internal damage to the stomach and intestines. Dispose of bones safely before you sit down to your Christmas dinner.  

What can dogs eat for Christmas dinner?

If you would like your dog to be able to enjoy a festive feast, there’s plenty of things can eat, as long as they don’t have any allergies. Food you can give your dog at Christmas include:

  •  Scrambled egg
  •  Turkey or chicken meat (no skin or bones)
  •  Green beans
  •  Brussels sprouts
  •  Carrots
  •  Peas
  •  Swede

It’s best to avoid food that is high in calories. This includes cheese sauces, bacon, potatoes and desserts. And don’t overdo it with giving your dog lots of new and different food. This can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, which is the last thing you need on Christmas Day. 

Dogs, Christmas trees and poinsettia plants

Decorative Christmas plants such as poinsettia, holly berries and mistletoe add to the festive feeling but they can be toxic if eaten by dogs. They can cause irritation to their mouths and stomach upsets. The pines from a Christmas tree can also be toxic – with the sharp tips causing internal damage. Pine needles can cause an injury to the pad on a dog’s foot.

Always supervise your dog if you have a Christmas tree in the house. Curious hounds may try to investigate and eat gifts – including the non-edible ones that have been left under the Christmas tree. They may even be tempted to gnaw on the branches, play with the glass baubles or chew on the electric lights. 

Top tips to keep your dog stress free at Christmas

We all know Christmas can be stressful, but did you know that it can also be stressful for our dogs? A change in routine, visitors, loud music and even decorations can leave dogs feeling anxious. This may be particularly the case if it’s your puppy’s first Christmas. Here’s what you can do to make sure they have a happy time: 

  • Dogs can become overwhelmed by Christmas so make sure they have a quiet space to escape to if they want to take a break from the festivities. If you use a crate for your puppy or dog, cover with a blanket and give them something to play with, such as a Kong or favourite toy. 
  • Try to keep food, exercise and toilet training routines the same. Consistency can help your dog feel more secure. 
  • If you have guests coming over, let your dog meet people at their own pace. Excitable children in particular can be overwhelming for dogs. 
  • Don’t forget that dogs can get anxious if left alone, so if you’re planning to visit lots of people, take your dog with your or keep the amount of time they are left alone to a minimum. 
  • If you’re spending Christmas day with friends or family and your dog is coming with you, take along something which smells familiar, like their bed, to help them feel secure. Add to that some of their favourite toys and chews to keep them entertained.

If you think your dog will get stressed, you can use a product called Adaptil*, which contains natural pheromones – a stress-reducing hormone. This comes in many forms – including spray, plug-in diffusers and even collars. Adaptil has been shown to be very beneficial in helping dogs to feel happy, safe and secure in different environments. Dog food, which contains ingredients that have been found to have a calming effect, is also available to buy. 

Advice for a safe Christmas

  • Know what to do in an emergency if your dog choked on a bone, ate or drank something poisonous. 
  • Keep the phone number for your veterinary surgeon or an emergency vet to hand. Always contact your vet if you have any concerns about your dog.
  • If your dog is on medication, stock up before the festive period so you don’t go short.
  • Heading away over Christmas? Make sure you have planned for your puppy or dog. If you’re going to by travelling by car with a dog, plan toilet breaks and exercise stops. If you need need help with caring for your dog over the festive season, make sure you book early. 

Dawn Prime is an R-SQP and Animal Nurse Assistant in a companion animal veterinary practice on the Norfolk /Suffolk border. She has a great passion for animal health and welfare and she won Veterinary practice SQP of the year at this year’s awards and was named Overall SQP of the year 2019. You can follow Dawn on Twitter and Instagram