10 Christmas toxins to keep away from dogs this festive season

Christmas is such a beautiful time of year, best shared with our loved ones – four-legged and furry family members included.

Halls have been decked, trimmings prepped, and gifts wrapped, and all that’s left to do is have fun, while making sure your dog doesn’t get into something they shouldn’t.

With excess chocolate and other yuletide treats in the home throughout December, the festive season presents a world of hidden dangers to our four-legged friends, including some that could be fatal, from toxic foods to batteries.

Cheshire veterinary nurse Becky Williams – who owns Frank’s brother, Archer – has revealed some of the winter toxins to be aware of, to avoid a trip to the vets, or your dog suffering any devastating symptoms during the Christmas period.

She said: “If you are concerned that your pet has ingested anything harmful, then it’s best to call the vet ASAP to be checked over and begin treatment if necessary.”

Here are ten common toxins to keep away from your dog this Christmas:

Chocolate

Whether you’re a Roses, Quality Street or Heroes kind of family, there’s usually a lot more chocolate in the house throughout December – but as we all know, chocolate can be very dangerous to our pets.

Becky said: “Chocolate contains chemicals called theobromine and caffeine which stimulate the central nervous system. Dogs are unable to metabolise theobromine in the same way that humans can, making it potentially very dangerous for our dogs! Dark chocolate contains more than milk or white, but you should call your vet if you suspect your dog has ingested any chocolate.”

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity can develop between four and 24 hours after ingestion. Chocolate toxicity can result in vomiting, shaking, hyperactivity, pacing, increased heart and respiratory rate, unconsciousness, seizures and death.

Different types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine, so the severity of the situation will depend on the type of chocolate, the amount eaten and the size of your dog. But Becky suggests that if you are worried that your dog has eaten chocolate or any chocolate containing product, call your vet immediately and they will advise the best course of action.

Also be aware that chocolate tends to come wrapped in foil, which can cause blockages if ingested.

Keep an eye on little ones ‘sharing’ advent calendars – and make sure to get your dog their own pet friendly advent calendar so they can be involved in all the fun.

Top tip! Becky said: “Be sure to ask anyone offering gifts, whether they contain chocolate and are safe to go underneath the tree or if they need to be kept out of reach until the big day.

!It is a good idea to have a rough idea of what your dog weighs – this can make it much easier for your veterinary professional to determine the best course of action before you even get to the clinic.!

Mince pies and Christmas puddings

It can be tempting to share titbits of festive treats with our dogs under the table, but there are some that shouldn’t be given to our dogs, like mince pies and Christmas pudding, because of some of their ingredients.

“Raisins, grapes, and sultanas are found in many festive human delights, but can be extremely toxic to dogs,” said Becky.

“Often found at Christmas time in mince pies and Christmas cake or pudding, it can be fairly easy for our canine companions to get hold of these!”

Symptoms of raisin, grape or sultana ingestion include vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, abdominal pain, weakness, excessive drinking and temors.

Ingestion of these can cause kidney failure in dogs which can develop within 24-48 hours of ingestion. Unfortunately, there is no known ‘safe’ dose so be sure to seek veterinary advice immediately.

Alcohol

Who doesn’t love a cheeky Bellini on Christmas morning, or a glass of prosecco with lunch, followed by a gin and tonic for the Queen’s speech and an Irish cream before bed? Well, our dogs, actually. It goes without saying we should never give our dogs alcohol, but with the busy nature of Christmas, it can be so easy to pop a glass down within reach and find a curious pup has found their way into it.

Becky said: “Alcohol most commonly contains a chemical called ethanol, which can also be found in hand sanitisers, commonly found around the house given the current circumstances! Once ingested, alcohol is rapidly absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. Complications of alcohol toxicity can lead to seizures, coma and even be fatal.”

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, hypersalivation, wobbly on their feet, disorientation, slowed heart and respiratory rate.

Onions, garlic and leeks

In the interest of safety from burns, trips and toxic ingredients, it’s probably best to keep pets out of the kitchen when prepping and cooking Christmas dinner this year.

Christmas is never quite complete without a kitchen disaster – but don’t let this year’s be your dog scoffing the sage and onion stuffing.

Becky added: “Onions, leeks and garlic are all members of the Allium family. These are all toxic to dogs and can lead to severe gastrointestinal upset, respiratory issues, damage to your dog’s red blood cells and can even be fatal. Even a small amount of these can cause serious problems for your dog so if you think your pet has ingested any, get in contact with your vet immediately.”

Symptoms include vomiting/nausea, diarrhoea weakness, lethargy, tiredness, tremors, loss of appetite, hypersalivation, dehydration and rapid heart and respiratory rate.

Christmas dinner leftovers

“Once Christmas dinner is over and the leftovers have been thrown away, be aware – your dog may make a beeline for the bin!” said Becky.

“As previously discussed, there may be some items that are toxic for your dog in the bin. However, there may be other dangers lurking, too.

“Turkey bones can lead to a gastrointestinal obstruction if eaten which could potentially mean surgery to remove it. Cooked bones may also splinter when bitten/chewed on which can cause damage to your dog’s mouth, stomach and GI tract.”

Not only that, but food can quickly go mouldy which can be a serious problem for dogs. Becky added: “Be aware of food thrown out and compost bins as moulds produce mycotoxins and when ingested these can cause seizures which can be pretty serious.”

Read more: Frank had a seizure – what happened?

Batteries

Fairy lights, children’s toys and even some festive decorations contain batteries, and inquisitive pups risk picking them up and swallowing them.

Becky explained how these could lead to devastating effects for pet owners this season. She said: “The two most common batteries found in houses are alkaline dry cell batteries and lithium batteries.

Alkaline dry cell batteries contain corrosive material. When bitten, this material leaks out and can cause damage and tissue death to the mouth, gums and tongue and digestive system if swallowed. They can also become lodged and cause a gastrointestinal obstruction as well as causing electrochemical burns.

“Lithium batteries are much more dangerous if they become lodged – even if they are not leaking. The electrochemical effect of these batteries can cause tissue death and perforate the oesophagus very quickly. If you think your pet has ingested a battery, get in contact with your vet immediately.”

Xylitol

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener, often found in sugar free products and chewing gum – and many pet owners will also know it’s found in a lot of peanut butters too, so if you’re getting the delicious treat for your pet, make sure its safe for them, like Fluff and Crumble’s.

Becky said xylitol is toxic to dogs because it ‘triggers insulin release’ and can rapidly cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure and in some cases, even death.

She added: “There is no ‘safe dose’ of xylitol, so if there is any chance your dog could have ingested some, ring your vet immediately.”

Symptoms include: vomiting, weakness, lethargy, lack of coordination, tremors and seizures.

Be sure to check any ingredients lists for this artificial sweetener before feeding items to your pet, and keep handbags that could have gum or sugar free products inside, out of the way.

Antifreeze

You’ll often hear stories of cats being poisoned by antifreeze, and it’s a risk for dogs too. With the dip in temperature, many people will be using de-icing products on their cars. As the ice melts from your car, the antifreeze will mix with the water, which can be harmful if your dog likes to drink from puddles.

Becky warned: “It tastes sweet, and that’s why they like it. But antifreeze contains a chemical called ethylene glycol which can cause kidney damage and even death.

“More commonly seen in cats, it still poses a huge risk to dogs too. Symptoms include wobbly on their feet, hypersalivation, vomiting and seizures.”

It’s important that if you see any liquids leaking from your car, keep your dog away and clean them up straight away.

Cheese boards

I love nothing more than a festive cheese board, but there are some vital components that can pose a risk to pets. Firstly, there’s the grapes, which – as Becky mentioned earlier – are toxic too dogs with ‘no safe dose’, so even eating just one grape could be dangerous. And, like mould, blue cheeses like stilton and Roquefort should be avoided due to a fungus called Roquefortine C.

Ingesting this fungus can cause high temperature, vomiting, diarrhoea and convulsions – so, if you’ve got a four-legged cheese fiend, be sure to slice them up a little bit of cheddar to be on the safe side.

Some people also like to add nuts to their charcuterie boards, and although not all nuts are toxic to dogs, they have a high-fat content and can be a choking hazard. Macadamia nuts and black walnuts are both toxic to dogs, so one to stray away from, as they can result in a lethargic reaction, such as wobbly legs and stiffness, vomiting and seizures if consumed.

Festive plants

There are some winter plants that can cause tummy upset for our pets. Poinsettia, mistletoe and holly are all low toxicity risk and may cause vomiting/diarrhoea – however eating holly might also cause some mouth irritation and GI upset due to the spiky leaves. The toxicity of poinsettia has often been exaggerated, however, it can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach with overproduction of saliva and sometimes vomiting.

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