Halloween is over, and now the ghosts and ghouls have gone away, you know what comes next… Christmas! The Christmas season is upon us, and it’s a time of merriment, joy and fun for everyone, including our pets. However, the festive season can be dangerous for our four-legged friends too as a lot of our favourite products, which are only seen around Christmas can be poisonous to our pets. This means that you should be especially aware of the different poisonous items your dog or cat may ingest over winter, to make sure you don’t have any unwanted visits to the vet this Christmas.
What are Poisons?
Before discussing poisons found around Christmas, we’ll first explain a little about what poisons are and how they work. Poisons are any chemical substance that causes harm when ingested – they differ from venoms, which cause harm when they are injected through the skin, usually by teeth, such as snakes. An old saying to remember the difference is, “if you bite it and get sick, it’s a poison; if it bites you and you get sick, it’s a venom”.
A “toxin” is a catch-all term for any substance made by a plant or animal that causes harm, including some poisons and venoms. Therefore, many of the following poisons are also toxins.
How do they cause harm?
Now that the terminology is cleared up, how does a poison actually cause harm? Well there are actually many different ways poisons do this, so we will talk more about specific ones later on. But in general, poisons can damage cells, shut down organs, stop breathing or other functions, and even cause death. However, their effect varies depending on the amount ingested, the species that ingested it, their age, health, their metabolism, and many other factors.
As poisons are ingested to cause harm, they often start damaging the body when they are absorbed by the stomach. Some poisons, however, are not harmful until they have been broken down by the body, meaning they can only start to cause harm after processing by the liver. The liver has an ability to breakdown some level of poison but can be overwhelmed with a huge dose all at once, or many small doses overtime (think of alcohol, a mild poison – a little causes only drunkenness, but a lot can cause liver damage). These differences can lead to acute poisoning, where the damage is done within a day or so of ingestion, or chronic poisoning, where the animal is damaged over a long time. With pets, generally acute poisonings are the most common around Christmas.
Tasty Christmas Poisons:
We can all agree that the food is one of the best parts of Christmas, and your pets probably agree if they get cheeky pieces of turkey under the table! However, many of our beloved Christmas treats are quite harmful to dogs and cats.
Chocolate is the most well-known to dog owners, as it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and seizures – the darker the chocolate, the worse the effects, so be careful where you leave those expensive Christmas chocs.
Also poisonous to dogs are grapes, raisins, sultanas and similar. These little fruits cause kidney damage so should be kept well away from your pet dogs.
Onion, chives, garlic and leeks are dangerous to dogs and cats, as they damage red blood cells, leading to anaemia.
Alcohol, as we should all know, is a poison to every creature (just look at a relative after too many Christmas sherries!), pets included – just like in people, too much alcohol causes liver damage. However, because they are much smaller than us, smaller amounts can cause harm, so be wary.
It might be easy to avoid giving your pet a piece of onion or chocolate, but a hidden danger comes from food that contains these ingredients. Mince pies are perhaps the worst offender, containing a lot of raisins, and sometimes alcohol as well; a single mince pie can be quite harmful to a dog or cat. The same goes for food like stuffing or gravy, which can contain onion and garlic. Chocolate, of course, is found in many products as well. As a rule, be careful what you give your pets this Christmas, and try and prevent them scavenging any leftovers.
Poisonous Christmas Plants:
Any other time of year, you’d be quite concerned if a tree suddenly appeared in your living room, but it’s normal at Christmas! There are a lot of festive plants associated with the season, did you know that quite a few are also poisonous to pets?
If you’re hoping for a kiss under the mistletoe, make sure it’s up high where your dogs and cats can’t reach it, as this plant is actually poisonous, causing seizures. Holly leaves and berries are also poisonous, and can lead to serious vomiting and diarrhoea if ingested.
Finally, although Christmas tree needles are not technically poisonous to pets, their sharp points can cause internal damage if swallowed, so we will include them here as something to watch out for!
You might be brought a bouquet of flowers this Christmas, but be wary, as flowers like lilies and rhododendrons are poisonous to cats and dogs – the water they sit in often gets contaminated by the poisonous pollen too, so be careful they don’t drink from it.
Last of all, we will mention the other pet poisons that don’t really fit a category.
The downside of Christmas is that there is a lot of cleaning up afterwards! If you’re tidying up on Boxing Day, be wary that most household cleaning products are quite poisonous to pets – try and use them while your pets are in a different room, and wait for the product to dry before letting them back in. Always check the labels to see what is safe around your pets.
As it gets colder, you may also have to use antifreeze in your car’s engine – however, antifreeze is renowned for being quite tasty but poisonous to cats, even in small doses, causing severe kidney damage. Make sure the lid is on tight and all spills are cleared up quickly!
Finally, be on the lookout for any random pills or medicines left around by your elderly relatives! Many human medicines are quite harmful to pets, and should never be consumed. Keep them out of harm’s way to prevent accidental poisoning from seemingly harmless tablets.
What to do if Your Pet is Poisoned:
The above list is not exhaustive, but features some of the most common pet poisons found around Christmas. Hopefully now you will have a better idea of how to prevent any accidental poisonings.
However, should the worst happen and your dog or cat does eat something you suspect to be poisonous, here is what you should do:
- First of all, immediately call the vets and tell them what was eaten, when and how much.
- You will most likely be asked to bring your pet into see us – the sooner they can be treated (usually by causing vomiting), the better.
- If your pet is showing any symptoms, you should describe them and they will be able to offer you advice on what to do.
Although poisonings are a serious problem, early intervention often results in a good outcome. Still, it is better to be careful and prevent poisonings from taking place at all. Take note of the list above, be careful with your Christmas foods and items, so you can make sure you and your pet have a wonderful Christmas season.