Give your pet a happy Christmas

Melanie Whitehouse / 01 December 2015

Christmas can be a stressful time for pets, and a whole host of decorations and food can cause unexpected problems. Read our guide to giving your pet a happy Christmas.



Christmas can be a strange time for pets. Loud noises from crackers and champagne corks, unfamiliar visitors, an unusual routine and a home crammed with trees, flowers and baubles can unsettle dogs and cats. Follow our top tips and you can all have a great time - but if you’re worried your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t, contact your vet immediately.

Watch the foliage

Most Christmas tree are low in toxicity but may cause mild vomiting and/or diarrhoea if chewed.

Pine needles can get stuck in paws and cause irritation and can even perforate the intestines if eaten. Vacuum daily and keep plenty of water in the bucket to help reduce the number of fallen needles.

Certain lilies are hugely toxic to cats and can be fatal. Pollen brushes onto their coats as they pass, which they ingest when grooming, causing kidney failure. If you own a cat, do not have lilies in the house or garden - and if you think your cat has eaten some, get them to the vet immediately, as they will need emergency treatment.

Holly, mistletoe and poinsettia are all mildly toxic to pets if ingested and can cause vomiting, drooling and diarrhoea, so should be avoided or kept well out of reach.

Read our ten tips for a healthy, happy dog.

Foods to avoid

RSPCA research in 2013 showed that almost a quarter (24%) of pet owners intended to dish up a plate of Christmas dinner for their pet. However, many traditional Christmas trimmings are toxic for dogs and cats. Instead, take your dog for a lovely walk or buy them a treat designed specifically for them.

Festive foods which can be dangerous to pets include:

  • Splinters of turkey bone, which can stick in pets’ throats or even pierce their intestinal tract.
  • Grapes, raisins and sultanas, which contain a toxin that can cause kidney failure.
  • Chocolate - the darker it is, the more theobromine it contains which can cause seizures, coma and heart failure - so don’t leave chocolates under the tree or chocolate baubles on the tree within reach of dogs.
  • Stuffing contains onions and garlic, which can destroy red blood cells causing life-threatening anaemia.
  • High levels of nutmeg (think Christmas cake and pudding) can result in seizures, tremors, central nervous system problems and even death.
  • Gravy containing high levels of salt can, in excess, cause kidney problems.
  • Alcohol can be deadly as it damages the liver. Cats can be particularly attracted to cocktails containing cream, like White Russians and eggnog.
  • Macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, increased body temperature, tremor, lameness and stiffness in dogs.
  • Mouldy leftovers, including yoghurt, bread and also blue cheese, can contain toxins that cause rapid onset convulsions in dogs.
  • High fat, festive foods can cause diarrhoea or vomiting by irritating the lining of your pets’ stomach and intestines.

Presents and parties

Batteries – common with children’s toys - are potentially toxic. If a battery is chewed and pierced it can cause chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning. If you suspect your dog has chewed or swallowed a battery, ring the vet.

Care must be taken with the small parts from children’s toys as they can be swallowed.

Bangs from crackers or champagne corks or a noisy party may scare pets, so put your pet in another room where they can have some peace and quiet.

Take care with decorations

Baubles may splinter or smash into shards which can cause irritation, perforation or blockage, so sweep up any broken baubles as soon as you spot them and keep the door to the room with the Christmas tree in shut when you are not around, particularly if they are prone to chewing.

Cats love to play with string, and tinsel is even more attractive as it sparkles, and dogs eat tinsel like spaghetti, which can cause blockages - so don’t leave them unattended with the Christmas tree decorations.

Be wary of playful pets chewing through fairylights - they could get electrocuted.

Read our guide to dog-proofing your home and garden.

If it’s cold

Ethylene glycol, better known as anti-freeze, tastes sweet and palatable but ingesting even a small quantity can cause serious kidney damage or be fatal. If you believe your pet has come into contact with anti-freeze then get your pet to a vet immediately - the shorter the delay, the better the chance of survival.

Check around your car for cats before driving away. Cats will sometimes crawl underneath cars or on top of car wheels to shelter from the elements or seek warmth from the engine.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.