Christmas Hazards for Dogs and Cats

Christmas is a time of celebration and excess in many households. Owners often wish to share the experience with their pets and whilst this can be a wonderful and joyous experience, it can lead to unwelcome injuries and illnesses in some animals. Therefore owners need to be aware of some of the holiday hazards which may cause problems for their pets.

Giving Dog Treats and Cat Treats

The presents owners give to their pets can be a source of fun and amusement or a cause of illness and injury for the animal. Presents chosen for your pets should be appropriate to both the type of animal (cat vs dog) and to the animal's size. Dog toys are a great idea, though toys should be made specifically for animals and all packaging should be appropriately disposed of. Ingestion of dangerous or small toy parts can cause injury and intestinal obstruction in animals.

Any treats given to pets over the festive season need to be appropriate for animals. Chocolate can be toxic for dogs so must not be given. Similarly xylitol (an artificial sweetener) is also toxic to dogs. It is present in many sweets, gums and baked goods. Macadamia nuts also cause a toxicity of unknown origin in dogs. These things should be kept out of reach of your pets at all times.

Bones can cause gastrointestinal obstruction or perforation so would best be avoided. Providing appropriate dog treats for chewing would be a suitable substitute.

Similarly allowing dogs access to table scraps or garbage can result in severe illness. The ingestion of highly fatty meals and fat off cuts (such as ham fat and pork crackling) can lead to pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis causes severe abdominal pain and vomiting and the dog can often be seen standing with head and front end down and rump regions elevated to alleviate the discomfort. Pancreatitis requires urgent veterinary attention. Therefore dogs should not be allowed access to festive foods and all scraps and garbage should be properly disposed of and kept out of reach of all animals. Proper dog food is the best option for dogs.

Dangers in the Environment

The environment present in many households at Christmas can also be a source of danger for pets. Many problems occur due to the indiscriminate eating patterns of dogs and the playful nature of cats.

Christmas tree bristles can cause irritation to the eyes and oral cavity of cats and dogs. Ingestion of pine needles may also lead to gastrointestinal upset.

Dogs, especially teething puppies, will often ingest small toys or toy parts which can get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract. Gastrointestinal obstructions can cause severe and even life threatening illness in pets.

Playful kittens and cats will chase and play with ribbons, tinsel and string. Ingesting these products can cause linear foreign bodies which bunch up the intestines as the body tries to expel them. This is a life threatening condition.

Any ribbons, tinsel, Christmas lighting and the like which are suspended could cause your pet to become entangled or strangled. Electrical burns can occur when animals chew on Christmas lighting. Teething puppies and playful kittens may be most at risk.

Alkaline batteries are commonly placed under the Christmas tree to power a myriad of children's toys and household electrical items. Ingestion or chewing of batteries can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction and severe gastrointestinal burns. Immediate veterinary attention is required.

Playful kittens may attempt to climb a Christmas tree or pull decorations off to play with. It is vital to ensure that the tree is secure and cannot fall and injure your pet or other family members.

Another festive season hazard often overlooked is the need for secure housing for your pet. Often with numerous visitors coming and going doors may not be secured and animals may escape. This can result in injuries if the animal is hit by a car. Similarly in areas where fireworks displays are held some dogs will escape during the festivities due to the noise. All animals should be microchipped for identification purposes and wear an identification tag on an appropriate pet collar to allow for rapid return in the case of escape.

Hot Weather Hazards

In Australia the festive season is celebrated during Summer when high temperatures are experienced. Animals can rapidly suffer from heat stress which can be life-threatening. This is commonly seen in animals transported in cars. No animal should be left in a car in extreme temperatures as the temperature inside the car can quickly rise beyond safe levels. Whenever travelling with an animal in a car ensure adequate water stops are made and that the animal is removed from the car on a leash or in a pet carrier whenever the occupants stop.

It's not all doom and gloom! Christmas and the festive season can be shared safely with your pets if a few common hazards are identified and avoided. Taking care to limit a pet's access to potential dangers will help ensure a fun filled festive season for the entire family.