Pet Insurance

How to keep your pet safe this Christmas - tips to avoid a trip to the vets

UK pet owners are being warned of Christmas risks to animals to avoid an expensive trip to the vets.

Christmas presents, food and even plants can have dangerous consequences when it comes to pets, with December always being the month where most trips to the vets are needed to treat poisonings, according to The Kennel Club. And this could leave owners footing an avoidable bill, or claiming on their pet insurance.

Four in five domestic pet vets saw a case of toxic ingestion over the 2021 Christmas period, according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

A Voice of Veterinary Profession report showed:

  • 76% of vets saw a case of chocolate poisoning in dogs.
  • 69% saw sick dogs who had eaten raisins or sultanas.
  • 27% saw cats after toxic ingestion.
  • 19% of vets saw dog cases caused by the artificial sweetener Xylitol.
  • 18% saw cats who had ingested toxic plants.
  • 14% of vets saw a dog and 13% saw a cat who had eaten gifts for humans.
  • 12% of dogs and 7% of cats ate Christmas decorations and their own gifts.
  • 7% of vets saw cats who ingested anti-freeze.
  • 5% of dogs and 3% of cats ate wrapping paper.

Not only is chocolate is toxic for dogs and cats, there are other dangerous foods including dried fruit, onion, garlic, grapes and nuts. There is even a risk with human food using the artificial flavouring xylitol which can cause seizures and liver failures. Blue cheese can upset a pet's stomach as the mold is not safe.

As well as putting hazards out of reach for pets, experts also advise people to avoid the temptation to feed animals titbits of high fat and salty food from the selection of Christmas goodies on offer. Keeping animals on their usual diets will prevent sickness and diarrhoea or worse digestive issues.

Meanwhile, mistletoe, holly, ivy and poinsettia are all dangerous plants for cats and dogs and should be kept out of their reach.

As well as food and plants being toxic to animals, many things around the house are a choking hazard.

Sparkly Christmas tree baubles or decorations might look like shiny new toys for cats and dogs but they could cause choking and could even puncture a pet's stomach if eaten. This is the same with toys placed under the tree, with their small parts able to cause a blockage in the gut if not removed. Don't forget the batteries in those toys, plus the risk of electrocution if your pet is inclined to play - or even climb - the tree.

Pet poisons and pitfalls include:

  • Chocolate
  • Raisins, sultanas and other dried fruit
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Xylitol (sugar-free sweetener)
  • Nuts
  • Blue cheese
  • Grapes
  • Liquorice
  • Bones
  • Fatty or salty human food
  • Alcohol
  • Mistletoe
  • Holly
  • Poinsettia
  • Ivy
  • Christmas decorations
  • Wrapping paper
  • Presents under the tree
  • Christmas lights
  • Electrical cables

Nick Sutton, health expert at The Kennel Club said: “While Christmas can be one of the most wonderful times of the year for humans, it is often a strange and confusing time for many dogs. Not only are there plenty of people to meet and greet, as well as unfamiliar sights and sounds, there are lots of tempting treats, which sadly can be very dangerous for our four-legged friends.”

Top tips to keep pets safe this Christmas:

Keep poisons and decorations out of reach: Chocolate, sweets, mince pies, fruit cakes, nuts, grapes, liquorice, poinsettia, holly, mistletoe and ivy should be kept out of reach. Don't hang Christmas baubles and lights on lower branches of Christmas trees, and hide presents with dangerous substances, including batteries. If your pet is particularly inquisitive, don't put any presents under the tree.

Watch out for bones: Cooked bones, including from turkey, can splinter and puncture a pet's digestive tract.

Try to keep your pet's usual routine: With unfamiliar people, noises, smells, and excited children, it can be a stressful time for some pets. Keeping their usual dinner time, going for their usual walks, and making sure they still have their usual spot in the house to rest will help them settle.

Don't be tempted with extra treats: Fatty foods and Christmas dinners could trigger sickness and diarrhoea or worse - gastroenteritis to pancreatitis. Sticking to your pet's normal diet will also help with routine.

Be prepared: Accidents do happen, so make sure you know your vet's emergency details and holiday opening hours. If you're away from home, you can use the 'Find a Vet' service on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website.

Malcolm Morley, president of the British Veterinary Association said: “Keep all edible items, decorations and anything else a pet may mistake for a tasty treat out of their reach to help prevent avoidable emergency visits to the vet. We also advise keeping pets to their normal diets and avoiding feeding them any human food. If you are concerned your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have, do contact your vet as soon as possible.”

Helen Barnett

Helen is a journalist, editor and copywriter with 15 years' experience writing across print and digital publications. She previously edited the Daily Express website and has won awards as a reporter. Read more here.