Festive Hazards

christmas dog and cat

Now we are on the countdown to Christmas, many of us will be putting up the tree and decorations over the coming weeks. Your pets may also find this time of year very exciting and even come up with some novel games like “Climb the weird indoor sparkly tree”, “eat the Christmas decorations as fast as you can” and “eat the lovely goodies that our humans thoughtfully left out for us“.

Veterinary practices usually see an increase of poorly pets over the Christmas holidays, with illnesses ranging from stress and tummy upsets to more serious problems such as intestinal blockages and accidental toxin ingestion/poisonings.

I’m sure you will agree that you would much prefer to spend the holiday season celebrating with your family, rather than visiting the veterinary practice; so here are my tips for having pet safe celebrations.

Dangerous Foods

Be very careful what you feed your pets because many of our favoured festive treats can be very harmful to our pets.  It may be tempting to give your pet lots of treats over the holiday period, but any sudden change of diet may lead to digestive upsets and very poorly pets. Be on the lookout for well-meaning visitors (the elderly Aunty in my family)  giving extra tit-bits to your pets and remember that over indulgence can lead to an unhealthy weight gain. Make sure any festive treats and snacks for the family are kept well out of your pet’s reach.

Toxic or harmful festive foods include 

  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Sweets – especially those containing Xylitol (a sweetener)
  • Raisins, grapes and dates
  • Fruit cakes, mince pies, Christmas pudding
  • Onions, garlic, chives
  • Alcohol
  • Meat Bones

Some Christmas foods and drinks are highly toxic to pets


Shiny ornaments and decorations can be very attractive to curious pets who could suffer serious injuries from chewing and ingesting them. Not to mention the mess it causes when they manage to pull down a Christmas Tree or decide to open any gifts that may be under there!  Some festive plants and berries can also be highly toxic to our pets too.

Any decorations should be kept out of reach of curious pets when possible.

Christmas Tree Ensure that the base of your Christmas tree is as sturdy as possible and discourage your pets from climbing it. Tree needles can be toxic and cause mouth and stomach irritation, even needles and the wire of artificial trees could pose a problem.

If you have a real tree make sure your pet cannot drink the water in the bucket/stand. Christmas Tree Preservatives that are used in the water or on the tree itself can also be highly toxic.

Tinsel – This can be very attractive to cats and dogs but if it is eaten, it can cause blockages which often require surgery to remove.

Lights – Chewing on electrical cords of lights can cause problems ranging from burned mouths, to electrical shock and death. Never leave lighted candles unattended or within reach of your pet. If knocked over they can cause burns or lead to a fire.

Ribbons and string – These can cause intestinal obstructions if swallowed and are a choking hazard to pets if they get caught around the neck.

Pot-pourri – This contains oils that can be highly toxic to pets if eaten.

Christmas plants – Many popular festive plants are toxic to pets including Mistletoe, Holly, lily and Poinsettia, which can all can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Ivy leaves and berries are also particularly hazardous to rabbits.

Always supervise pets around Christmas decorations

We recommend that pets are never left unsupervised with the Christmas Tree or decorations 

Gifts Under The Tree

Gifts under a tree can prove very attractive to pets (especially dogs) for chewing or playing with so make sure that your pet is supervised at all times

  • It may be best to avoid putting any food gifts out until right before your family will be opening them, as these will be very appealing.
  • Perfumes and aftershaves usually contain ethanol and essential oils which can be very toxic.
  • Batteries for toys or other gifts can be toxic and cause intestinal obstruction, so keep them in a safe place until they are needed.
  • Rawhide or other edible items for pets left under the tree can be very tempting.
  • Companies often package rawhide and other pet gifts wrapped in ribbon, so make sure to remove this packaging before you present gifts to your pets.



Our pets are creatures of habit so try to keep your pets routine the same as normal if possible. With lots of excitement and visitors it is often easy to forget to walk the dog or let the cat outside.

Remember that a dog who is tired after a good run will be far happier to sit or lie quietly and get into less trouble than a bored, over excited or frustrated dog.

Try to keep your pets feeding times the same and don’t be tempted to add too many rich festive extras to the bowl, as this may cause a tummy upset and could result in a trip to the vet.

Don’t forget about your small furries! They will still need their daily exercise and to have their hutches/cages cleaned properly.

walkies copy

Fancy Dress

Christmas jumpers and Santa hats are popular with many of us at this time of year and because we consider our pets to be important members of the family, this trend is sometimes extended to them as well. With plenty of cute festive outfits being widely available from pet stores it can be fun to dress up your pet if he or she will tolerate it, but please remember that when wearing a pet coat, jumper or festive outfit that your pet could easily overheat in the extra layers; these extra items should be removed after a few minutes, especially if you are indoors.

  • Any dress up outfits should still allow your pet to move around freely and be able to eat, drink and go to the toilet.
  • Ensure your pet is not uncomfortable whilst being dressed up; if he or she just sits in one place and refuses to move, walks around hunched up or is pawing at the offending article, please remove it.
  • Watch for signs of overheating
  • Ensure your pet’s outfit doesn’t get tangled or caught on anything

Christmas fancy dress cat


Sometimes lots of visiting people can be very stressful for our pets.

  • Make sure your pet has somewhere to retreat to if it all gets a bit too much.  Provide a quiet room away from the commotion with water and food available.
  • Provide your cat with a litter tray if he or she is nervous of visitors, so that he or she does not have to worry about asking to be let out.
  • Don’t force your pets to be sociable and petted by visitors if they seem uncomfortable.
  • Brushing up on obedience training before the holidays may help a dog who has become a little rusty.
  • Be sure to inform your visitors of any household ‘rules’ or problem behaviours concerning your pets, for example, jumping up on the sofa, sneaking out the door or stealing food from the table.
  • If your pet gets distressed when you have visitors you can use Feliway (for cats) or Adaptil (for dogs), these give off pheromones which help calm cats and dogs during stressful periods. Speak with your veterinary nurse for more information.
  • For dogs who may not behave or could be aggressive, placing them in a separate room, using pet gates, or sending them to stay at a friend’s house during a party, may be necessary and sometimes, boarding a dog in a kennel may be the safest alternative.



If you are travelling around to visit relatives and friends, make sure that suitable provisions have been made for your pets.

  • A bed or a travel crate is a good idea so that your pet has their own area to rest in.
  • Remember to take your pet’s food and bowls.
  • Find the number of a vet local to the place you are visiting and take a copy of your pet insurance policy, in case of illness or accidents.
  • Make sure your pet is micro-chipped (ensure the details are up to date) and is wearing a collar with a suitable id tag, just in case he or she runs off.
  • If your pet gets distressed about travelling and visiting strange places you can use Feliway (for cats) or Adaptil (for dogs), these give off pheromones which help calm cats and dogs during stressful periods.
  • Remember to allow your pet time alone and a place to retreat to. This is especially important with dogs if there is another dog in the house that you are visiting (or if other dogs are visiting you).

Further Information 

If you would like any advice or information please contact Castle Vets and we will be happy to help.

Vets Now will be on duty at Castle Vets on the 25th and 26th December and the 1st January so if you are concerned about your pet on these days, you can contact them directly by phoning 0118 959 4007 .

Castle Vets Reading 0118 9574488


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