Forget festive food for four-legged friends

Cats head

Vets are urging pet owners to make sure their festive homes are safe for animals during the Christmas season by warning of a number of unknown hazards and poisons in and around the home.

Earlier this month the BVA joined a number of other charities in asking Morrisons to withdraw an advertisement which showed a small boy feeding Christmas pudding to a dog.  Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies - because they contain raisins or sultanas - are potentially harmful to pets and in some cases can lead to kidney failure.

There are several other substances toxic to pets which are found in the home during the Christmas period.  Chocolate is one of the most common causes of poisoning, especially in dogs, but it is also toxic to other species, for example cats, rodents and rabbits.

As well as raisins and sultanas, other hazardous items include grapes; sweets and liquorice which are often given as Christmas gifts; onions and garlic, so beware of onion gravy and sage and onion stuffing; unshelled nuts and turkey bones can become stuck in the digestive system; Blu-tack used to put up cards and decorations; and antifreeze, which is often used in the winter months, so remember to mop up any spillages.

Festive homes also contain additional hazards for pets such as electrical cables powering Christmas tree lights which could be very dangerous if chewed; small toys or wrapping and bows from presents; decorations such as tinsel which might be ingested or broken glass baubles which could cause injury.  Also take care not to leave batteries lying around:  if ingested they may cause severe chemical burns to the mouth, throat and stomach, resulting in severe impairment of both breathing and swallowing.

Vet Peter Jones, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: 

“Christmas is a time for families and we’re reminding pet owners it’s also time to remember the health and welfare of their animals too.

“Our message to pet owners is to forget festive food for four-legged friends and don’t ruin your Christmas through carelessness. The loss or illness of a family pet is devastating but poisoning in the home can be easily avoided.

“Some substances may make your animal drool or vomit so they should always have access to clean drinking water. If there is any doubt or concern owners should contact their vet for advice immediately.”

Mr Jones added:

“Owners should check with their veterinary surgeon about emergency cover provision and holiday opening hours – or, if you are away from home, use the RCVS’s Find a Vet facility at http://www.findavet.org.uk/ to find a veterinary practice in an emergency.”

The British Veterinary Association’s charity, the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), in conjunction with the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS), has produced a ‘Pets and Poisons’ leaflet which draws attention to common household and garden substances that may seem innocent but which can be very dangerous to pets.

Vet Tiffany Hemming, Chair of Trustees for the Animal Welfare Foundation, said:

“Pet owners should educate themselves about all the hazardous poisons in their homes and gardens and take simple steps to ensure they are kept out of reach of cats, dogs and other animals.

“The AWF guide to Pets and Poisons is clear and simple to use and could help reduce the dangers in the home not only at Christmas but all year round.”

Vets and members of the public can request hard copies of the leaflet by emailing bva-awf@bva.co.uk

The BVA also warns that while it’s tempting to give pets special food treats at Christmas, rich and fatty foods can trigger sickness and diarrhoea – and, at worst, conditions from gastroenteritis to pancreatitis.  So try to stick to your pet’s regular diet and routine.

Remember that noise and excitement at Christmas time can cause animals to get nervous and stressed so pets will need a safe haven where they can go for peace and quiet.   If you are travelling away from home do ensure your pet is microchipped and wearing a collar and identification tag so it can be easily reunited with you should it become lost. 

Further Information

1. Substances which can be poisonous to pets include:

  • Chocolate and liquorice (common Christmas gifts)
  • Raisins and sultanas (used in Christmas cake recipes)
  • Certain nuts (especially peanuts and Macadamia nuts)
  • Xylitol-sweetened foods
  • Sweets
  • Other foods such as onions, avocados and grapes
  • Alcohol
  • Plants including lilies (and daffodils)
  • Cleaning and DIY products eg white spirit and lubricating oils
  • Car anti-freeze
  • Human medicines 

2. Substances with low toxicity that could cause drooling, vomiting or diarrhoea include:

  • Blu-tack or other similar adhesives (used to put up decorations)
  • Charcoal and coal
  • Cut-flower and houseplant food
  • Expended polystyrene foam (used for large present packing)
  • Holly, mistletoe and poinsettia (common Christmas plants/decorations)
  • Matches
  • Wax candles and crayons
  • Silica gel (found in packaging)

3. The Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) is the BVA’s own animal welfare charity committed to improving the welfare of all animals through science, education and debate.

4. The Pets and Poisons leaflet can be downloaded at:  http://www.bva-awf.org.uk/pet-care-advice/pets-and-poisons

5. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) provides 24-hour advice for veterinary professionals on the diagnosis and management of poisoned animals. This service is available throughout the festive period.

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