Yuletide pet hazards!

Most of us enjoy the festive period, but do take a few minutes to think about a few potential hazards around the home and how you can prevent illness, sickness or injury to your pets. At Charter Vets, our hospitals are manned 24/7 and can provide emergency advice and assistance to our clients should the need arise.

Christmas trees and decorations

Those adrenaline junkies amongst us will appreciate the draw of a life in the stunt industry. An excitable dog can cause the felling of the Christmas tree (usually when the house is full of guests) and can result in injury to all parties. Cats also love to scale the mountainous heights to reach the summit of the tree, but can hurt themselves as everything comes crashing down to earth. It may come as a shock that chewing on fairy lights can result in electrocution, cut mouths or ingestion of sharp material!

…we all know what puss is thinking…!


We are usually surrounded by our own bodyweight in chocolate over the Christmas period, so please ensure that it is out of your pet’s reach. We often see dogs that have managed to unwrap presents under the tree and gorge on the ‘Roses™’ you bought for Aunt Susan, complete with wrappers. They’ll often eat the chocolate decorations off the tree as a canapé too!

The theobromine that it contains can be toxic to pets. We know that plain chocolate contains much higher levels than milk or white chocolate. In addition, knowing your pet’s weight, we can often calculate whether or not they have ingested a toxic amount. It helps if you can tell us approximately what weight of chocolate they have ingested and whether it is plain, milk or chocolate with a filled centre! Signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors and increased heart rate. Severe cases can lead to seizures and can prove fatal. Cats are more sensitive to the effects of theobromine than dogs.

Raisins, Grapes, Sultanas and Currants (Vitis vinifera fruits)

Your tasty Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, fruit bowl or even chocolate covered raisins could prove fatal to your dog. We don’t know the toxic mechanism and there is no correlation between the quantity ingested and the severity of effects that are seen. Dried fruit is more likely to cause severe effects than grapes.

Ingestion can lead to acute kidney failure. If instigated early, treatment can be successful. Your dog may vomit or have diarrhoea and salivate excessively; you may see blood in their vomit or diarrhoea. As signs of kidney failure progress, they may stop eating, stop producing urine and may show signs of weakness or wobbliness.

Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol)

Car screen wash, brake fluid and coolants often contain this chemical, which is particularly attractive to pets as it is sweet tasting. Often in the UK, products containing this are dyed bright colours. After ingestion, signs include vomiting, weakness, seizures, rapid heartbeat and fluid on the lungs. Unless treated quickly and aggressively, ingestion will lead to kidney failure. We would recommend using ‘pet friendly’ chemicals in your vehicles and speak with your neighbours to encourage them to do the same.

Foreign Bodies

Tinsel, ribbon, string, gift-wrap and bows are all fantastic to play with; not forgetting bottle corks, socks, small toys and teddies! Tree decorations, lights, nuts and bones; the list of things that dogs and cats will swallow and ingest is endless and never ceases to amaze us, especially with so many temptations around the house at Christmas. Although at Charter Vets we are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all your pet emergencies, we would prefer a quieter Christmas where possible! Repeated vomiting, no appetite, signs of abdominal pain and general ill health can all be signs of a gastric blockage. Please seek veterinary help early should your pet show any signs, or if you are suspicious that they may have ingested some contraband!

“mmmm…..I wonder if I just…..

Christmas dinner, table scraps and bones

We do not recommend feeding bones to your pets, especially turkey and chicken bones. These bones will splinter when chewed, causing damage to the stomach and intestine. Any bone can also cause an intestinal blockage requiring surgical removal. The string from cooked meats that have basted in meaty flavour are tempting to both cats and dogs; often this results in exploratory surgery as it can cause bunching and blocking of the intestines.

Our pets are used to a more bland diet, so the indulgent offerings from a plate of food during the festive season can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. We see a huge volume of pets with gastrointestinal problems over the festive period; the more serious of these include the painful condition pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). This leads to leaking of digestive pancreatic enzymes and causes the pancreas to ‘self digest’, resulting in peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining). To be successful, pancreatitis requires aggressive veterinary treatment.

If your festive fare contains onions or leeks, or is laden with garlic, be aware that the Allium species to which they belong will cause tummy upsets if ingested. More importantly, they contain organosulphoxides, which can cause anaemia by destroying red blood cells.

Lilies, Poinsettia, Mistletoe and Holly

All parts of a lily are toxic to cats via an unknown kidney toxin, although ingestion is commonly via licking pollen from their fur after brushing past a lily flower. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, anorexia, depression, increased thirst and initially increased urination. Very rapid and aggressive treatment is needed to avoid fatal kidney failure. Cats can survive lily toxicity, but may be left with residual kidney problems and pancreatitis.

The ‘Christmas’ plants cause vomiting, diarrhoea and excess salivation if ingested, although this is not usually fatal. These plants tend to be more irritants than toxins.


Will have an effect in dogs similar to that in their owners, when consumed to excess. Your dog may be attracted to the sweet taste of unattended beverages left around. After initial excitation, they will become depressed, wobbly and drowsy (drunk) and may vomit or develop diarrhoea. They may vocalise (keep them away from your karaoke) or ultimately become comatose.

The best treatment for all cases of alcohol ingestion is to avoid initial exposure. As a public service to avoid consumption by your pet throughout the year, do feel free to deliver any excess unopened bottles of alcohol to your local favourite veterinary practice. Most members of staff will have received extensive training in correct and (in most cases) controlled disposal of the contents of these bottles. 😉