It’s that time of year, where people stock the freezer full of tasty food, adorn the home in pretty decorations and enjoy big family parties. Christmas is a magical time of year, to so many but sadly it does pose some dangers to our dogs. Therefore, this blog is going to consider the potential risks and how you can keep your dog's safe over the holidays.
Chocolate is a very integral part of Christmas, with gift wrapped chocolate boxes and advent calendars in nearly every home. Sadly, chocolate is very toxic to dogs because it contains the chemical theobromine, which can cause overstimulation of the dogs muscles, such as their heart. Dark chocolate and more expensive brands of chocolate actually contain higher levels of theobromine, therefore this type of chocolate is more toxic and can be fatal if enough is ingested.
Even sugar free chocolate can be toxic, as many of these contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, also known as Birch Sugar, which is also poisonous to dogs. Since chocolate not only tastes sweet but smells sweet too, dogs are often known to sniff out chocolate even in wrapped gifts. In fact, during the Christmas holidays, dogs are 4 times more likely to be admitted to the vets for chocolate poisoning, than any other time of year. So, avoid putting chocolates under your Christmas tree (even if it's gift wrapped) or hanging chocolate coins on your tree and keep advent calendars and any other chocolates out of reach.
One of the many draws of Christmas is the magical decorations, however, these too can pose a risk to dogs. Swallowing of baubles or tinsel can cause choking or bowel obstructions. If you have lights trailing around your house, the wires can cause electric shock or burns to the mouth when chewed, especially if you have a puppy or a dog that is destructive. Some Xmas lights are also battery powered, which could also pose a risk if ingested. Therefore, it is wise to have at least one room that is a decoration free zone, so you have a safe space to leave your dog when you are unable to supervise them. It is also beneficial to use safety gates or pens around your Christmas tree, especially if you have a curious puppy, and keep lights and wires out of your dog's reach and switched off when you are not home.
Remember too, that some dogs are fine to be dressed up, but some are not keen at all.
The dogs above are waiting for their treat.
The dog above isn't happy at all.
One of the downsides of winter, is de-icing the car, and many use antifreeze to do this. Antifreeze contains the chemical ethylene glycol, which is fatal to both dogs and cats, even when small amounts are ingested. Unbeknown to many, snow globes often contain antifreeze, thus snow globes and antifreeze canisters should be stored out of reach and behind a locked cupboard if possible, and any potential spills must be cleaned up immediately. If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze, don't hesitate to take them to the vets, as the time window to reverse the effects is incredibly small.
There are still many that prefer decorating their house with real plants rather than the artificial ones. While these look pretty, some can be toxic or potentially harmful. Holly bushes do contain a toxic chemical and while dogs don't usually ingest a large amount due to the unsavoury taste, this plant can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and irritation to the mouth.
Although mistletoe doesn't pose a significant threat to dogs, ingestion can cause tummy upset, vomiting and even tremors and fits in rare cases. Likewise, the needles of Christmas trees can produce oils that also cause tummy upset, excessive slobbering and vomiting. So although ingesting these plants is not necessarily life threatening, they can cause symptoms that may require a vet visit.
Chocolate is not the only toxic food to dogs at Christmas. So many foods contain raisins, currants and sultanas, such as mince pies, fruit cake and Christmas pudding. These are all made from dried grapes, which are toxic to dogs. Other foods such as onions, sage & onion stuffing, nuts and some cheeses can also pose a health risk. So make sure you don't leave any food unattended especially if your dog is a counter surfer. We are all for your dog having his own roast dinner, but just double check it doesn't contain any food that could be toxic to your dog. Remember also that a huge fatty meal when your dog is not used to that way of eating can cause pancreatitis issues. So even if you indulge, be careful what your dog has.
Finally, we have to consider the emotional welfare of our dogs during this time of year. While most dogs love having guests, some can find it overwhelming, especially if it's not part of their usual routine. Parties can be noisy and dogs can struggle with sensory overload. If you invite people into your home that have never been before, your dog may feel nervous and/or cautious. Therefore, it's important that guests don't force themselves on the dog or bribe them to come close with a treat, in order for the dog to feel safe and respected.
If your dog is not accustomed to children, they may find both the sound and approach of children threatening, especially if the children are unsupervised and permitted to harass the dog. In order to ensure your dog can enjoy the holidays, make sure they have the choice to leave the room and give them access to somewhere away from the children. Make sure children are supervised and interacting with the dog appropriately. This may include establishing rules to not approach the dog if he goes to his bed or when he's eating. You can have the friendliest dog in the world, but they can still feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable with children, regardless of their experience with them. So if you are not able to supervise, it's best to separate the dog from the children with a pen or gate. Your dog will likely be grateful for the rest.
So there are lots of potential risks to our dogs during the holiday season. This article is not to scare you, but to simply raise awareness, so you can put measures in place to keep your dog safe and happy over the holidays. After all, no one wants to take emergency trip to the vets on Christmas day!
Holly Leake is a tutor, dog writer and canine behaviourist who also runs her own business in Staffordshire UK. If you would like to learn more about your dog with Holly, take a look at our Advanced Canine Body Language Course.