Christmas is a time of celebration, fun, indulgence, and family time. Our pets are part of the family and will be part of the action too, so let's help them avoid any hidden dangers, foods, plants, electrical hazards, and more.
Here are the top 10 things to watch out for during Christmas as a dog parent:
The toxicity level of chocolate and cocoa depends on how much is eaten, how much your dog weighs, and the type of chocolate involved. Theobromine, the toxic component in chocolate, is metabolized very slowly in dogs, and this allows toxic levels to accumulate in their system. Dark chocolate, cocoa, and bakery chocolate have lots of theobromine, while white chocolate and milk chocolate have lower levels.
Smaller amounts may result in moderate GI signs such as vomiting or diarrhea. Large amounts can produce hyperactivity, followed by tremors, arrhythmia, seizures, internal bleeding or even heart attack. Under 30 grams (1 oz) of dark chocolate is enough to poison a 20kg (44lb) dog.
If your dog has eaten chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately, and don't wait for the symptoms to appear.
2. Raisins and grapes
Many holiday dishes include raisins and grapes, which are toxic to dogs. Research still hasn't pinpointed the substance in the fruit that causes this severe reaction, so even peeled and seedless grapes should be avoided. Since there is no guidance as to what amount is safe, please avoid giving them any grapes at all.
When dogs ingest the fruit or raisin, the most severe effect can be sudden kidney failure. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, unusual weakness and stillness, vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, thirst, and dehydration.
If you think your dog has eaten raisins or grapes, treatment is crucial. Contact your veterinarian immediately.
3. Macadamia nuts
Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. All macadamia species accumulate cyanogenic glycoside (proteacin and durrin) in their seeds. Even small amounts can make a dog sick. Symptoms include weakness in the hind legs, vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe symptoms such as tremors or fever require immediate medical attention.
In addition, since macadamia nuts are a fatty snack, ingestion may result in pancreatitis, a painful inflammatory condition of the pancreas. If your dog throws up, lacks appetite, has stomach pain or has a reduced activity level after consuming macadamia nuts, call your veterinarian immediately for advice.
4. Onions and garlic
Onions and garlic, chives, and leeks have a substance that is toxic to dogs called n-propyl disulfide that can damage red blood cells. Unlike grapes mentioned above, where even a small amount can be toxic, when it comes to onions and garlic, the amount your dog has consumed matters. Normally if your dog eats a small amount, nothing will happen, but as with chocolate, it also depends on how big your dog is and as with chocolate, the toxin builds up in the system.
Ingestion can result in hemolytic anemia, which results in the destruction of the body's red blood cells. Symptoms include weakness, lethargy, lowered appetite, and pale-coloured gums. You may also see vomiting, panting, and a high heart rate. If you know your dog has ingested onion or garlic and any of these symptoms are present, call your veterinarian immediately.
Normally alcohol is not much of a problem as dogs tend not to find the taste agreeable. However, be vigilant with mixed drinks or alcohol-based foods as their flavour may be more appealing to your dog.
Alcohol intoxication in dogs varies depending on the concentration. Because dogs are smaller than us humans, the amount of alcohol (ethanol) they ingest can have a much stronger effect. Signs and symptoms of alcohol toxicity in dogs include depression and lethargy, disorientation, lack of coordination, vomiting and retching, increased thirst, drooling, weakness, collapse, slow breathing, low blood sugar, blood pressure, and temperature. If you think your pet has ingested a large amount of alcohol or is showing worrisome symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately.
6. Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
Some sugar-free products contain xylitol, a sweetener of the class known as sugar alcohol. You can find this artificial sweetener in a number of products, including breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, chewable vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste, dietary supplements, sugar-free desserts as well as sugar-free candies and chocolate bars (bad enough without xylitol!).
In dogs, xylitol produces a powerful release of insulin from the pancreas. This in turn produces a strong and fast drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), that can occur within 10 to 60 minutes after consuming xylitol. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting and symptoms associated with a sudden drop in blood sugar, such as decreased activity, weakness, staggering, lack of coordination, fainting, and seizures.
If you think your dog may have eaten a product containing xylitol, immediately call your veterinarian or your local animal hospital.
Bones that are heated and cooked lose their collagen and nutrients making them soft and brittle. When your dog chews on them, they can splinter and leave jagged pieces that, when swallowed, can result in serious issues such as internal bleeding and perforation of the GI tract. Uncooked bones are equally as hazardous, putting dogs at risk of broken teeth and mouth injuries, obstructions when swallowed, and constipation as they go through undigested.
If you think your dog has eaten bones, watch for these signs: gagging and coughing, vomiting, lethargy, problems pooping, excessive thirst, and restlessness. If these do not go away within a few hours, contact your veterinarian.
8. Christmas trees
Even though a Christmas tree is a source of joy and fond memories, it can still pose a threat to your dog. Pine needles are not digestible and can be mildly toxic depending on your dog's size and how many are ingested. Fir tree oil can also irritate your dog's stomach and mouth, while the needles can obstruct or puncture the digestive tract. To avoid these hazards, consider choosing a Christmas tree with low needle shedding such as the Nordmann Fir, or maybe even an artificial tree.
Be aware that some Christmas trees are treated with chemical preservatives to keep them fresh for a longer time. These chemicals leach into the water in the tree base, making the water poisonous. To prevent your pup from drinking the water, try adding a festive tree skirt, or cover with plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or a towel.
9. Christmas tree lights
Dogs may find the bright shiny lights irresistible, so don't string them to the bottom of your tree where your dog can get tangled in the wires. Most lights nowadays are LED and do not warm up a lot, but some old-fashioned ones do get very hot and could burn your dog.
Firmly tape cords to the wall or floor, especially those leading to and from the tree. Hide cords with the tree skirt or decorative package, or use adhesive-backed cord clips to keep them off the floor and out of reach.
Dogs who gnaw on electrical cords and lights can receive electric shocks and mouth burns. Chewing on wire also can cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) that can prove fatal. Routinely check the electric light cords for signs of chewing - remember it is also a fire hazard.
10. Glass baubles and ornaments
Christmas will also be a happy time for your dog, and tails will be wagging constantly with joy, so don't hang your most valued or most delicate ornaments in the lower branches. Remember to secure them tightly to the branches. Try choosing ornaments that are less likely to shatter. Keep the season merry by dog-proofing your tree.
It's best to avoid decorating your tree with edible and glass decorations. Your dog may knock the tree over just to get one of them or may injure themselves on a broken one. Ornaments can also be swallowed and cause gastrointestinal blockage; some may even be dangerous based on the materials and chemicals used in them.
Avoid anything edible, especially chocolate, glass, bells, metal hooks, strings of popcorn, salt dough ornaments, and tinsel.
Do your best to keep foods, decorations, alcohol, and holiday plants out of your dog's reach. We hope this blog post helps you have a safe, happy holiday with your lovely pet! Happy holidays!
This article provides a summary view of some aspects you need to know about pets and how to protect them during the holidays. We recommend you take the time to talk in detail with one of our licensed veterinarians. They will provide the best suggestions and strategies for your pet. For an appointment please contact us at (416) 966-1830.