Protect your pets from holiday hazards this Christmas, warn BVA vets

16 December 2013

Vets are urging pet owners to watch out for potential hazards around their home to avoid an emergency visit to the surgery this Christmas. Traditional treats, such as chocolate and tinsel, are very festive but vets on call over Christmas dread seeing the damage they can cause.

Vet Robin Hargreaves, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said:
“Christmas is an exciting but frantic time for most of us. Our homes may be packed with new and tempting things, which are hard for curious pets to resist.

“As a vet we see the hazards posed by seemingly harmless holiday treats. Last year my practice treated three dogs with chocolate poisoning in just 12 hours in the week before Christmas. Luckily, they all responded to treatment but they were fortunate their owners sought help early. Cocoa is very toxic to dogs so darker, luxury brands can be even more dangerous than milk chocolate treats.

“There’s also a temptation to indulge you pet with richer food than usual but this isn’t good for their stomach or their waistline. Consider getting them a new toy or taking them for a long walk after dinner instead. These are healthy gifts they’ll really enjoy.

“I’d encourage anyone who owns cats and dogs to take these tips to heart and avoid adding an emergency visit to the vet to your to do list this Christmas.”

In order to keep the Christmas season merry for the whole household the BVA is urging animal-lovers to ensure their home is safe for four-legged friends by following these seven simple tips.

1. Protect your pet from poisons – A number of festive treats, such as chocolate, grapes, sweets and liquorice, are toxic to cats and dogs. A traditional Christmas meal may contain turkey bones, onions and garlic in gravy or stuffing and raisins in Christmas pudding, all of which can be fatal if eaten by your pet.

2. Keep decorations out of reach – Ribbons, wrapping paper, baubles, tinsel and tree lights can all prove irresistible to cats and dogs but can be very dangerous if broken, chewed or swallowed. Try to keep decorations and blu-tack out of reach of curious pets. Batteries for Christmas gifts also need to be kept away from pets. If ingested they may cause severe chemical burns to the mouth, throat and stomach.

3. Forget festive food for pets – we all enjoy a richer diet over Christmas but fatty foods and Christmas dinners shouldn’t be shared with our beloved pets. They can trigger indigestion, sickness and diarrhoea – and, at worst, conditions from gastroenteritis to pancreatitis. So try to stick to your pet’s regular diet and routine.

4. Give toys not treats – We all want our pets to share the fun and many of us include a gift for our pet on the shopping list. But too many treats can lead to fat, unhappy animals so consider opting for a new toy, extra cuddles or a long walk if you want to indulge your pet this Christmas.

5. Know where to go – Even with all the care in the world, animal accidents and emergencies can still happen. Make sure you’re prepared by checking your vet’s emergency cover provision and holiday opening hours – or, if you are away from home, use the RCVS’s Find a Vet facility at to find a veterinary practice in an emergency.

For more information on pets and poisons download the AWF leaflet. For information about caring for animals in cold weather visit the BVA website

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. Download the AWF Pets and Poisons leaflet

BVA Media Office