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St Anne's Veterinary Group Blog
Every year I feel like I’m the Grinch that stole Christmas as I tell you about the number of items that is a threat for your pets. Veterinary practices in the UK usually see a 40% increase in toxic cases over the festive period and this year we have seen more puppies than ever before, so it could be even worse! My only aim is to try and prevent your pets from getting poorly and to save you pennies too.
It is important to remember that pets don’t really know what Christmas is, many will actually find it stressful, cats and dogs aren’t usually a huge fan of the furniture being moved around to make way for a Christmas tree. Also having lots of noisy people around, cracker bangs and change in routine can all introduce stress into your pet’s life. Try to keep their routine as normal as possible and give them somewhere to escape to away from guests. Make sure your guests know that if your pet is in said location, they aren’t to be disturbed and to only engage with them if your pet chooses to approach them.
Let’s start with chocolate, I’ve seen pretty much every myth and wrong advice given out on social media when it comes to this yummy treat. Let’s get is straight, can chocolate kill your pet? Yes! Thankfully it rarely happens though because either the dog hasn’t consumed enough, or people get them straight to us to induce vomiting. What is it in chocolate that makes it toxic? Theobromine, this is found in the cocoa. Therefore, the higher the cocoa content, the more toxic it is – plain chocolate is the most dangerous. White chocolate only contains trace amounts of cocoa and is more about the cocoa butter, which means it isn’t toxic BUT with the high fat content comes the big risk for pancreatitis (a horrible and painful condition that needs veterinary treatment). Please don’t wrap up chocolates as presents and put them under the tree or hang tree chocolates on if you have a dog, trust me, I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. If your dog has eaten the kid’s advent calendars (or of course any other type of chocolate), please always always call us. Make sure you know what type of chocolate it is (including %cocoa), how much they’ve eaten and then we can work out if they have had the toxic dose or not. More often than not it is fine, and we just recommend a bland diet for a couple of days. What happens if they eat the toxic dose and they’re not treated? It has a similar affect to coffee and attacks the central nervous system, causing heart issues, tremors, increased heart rate and therefore high blood pressure.
The grape family (raisins, sultanas etc) make a big appearance at Christmas featuring in Christmas cakes, mince pies, stollen and more. This isn’t your typical toxicity; some dogs can eat bunches of grapes and be fine and others can have one grape and end up with kidney failure. Therefore, we just treat all dogs the same, if they have eaten anything with the grape family in, they come straight down for induction of vomiting. Depending on when they ate it and how quickly we were able to act, we often have to have them hospitalised for 48 hours for IV fluids and repeat kidney bloods. Trust me again, they’re not worth the risk to your pet, this is the same for cats and dogs.
Onions and garlic are usually to be found in gravy, stuffing and sides at Christmas and I’ve heard soooo many myths about this family of foods – lets just put this on record, garlic doesn’t kill fleas! What this group of foods (including leeks, chives etc) does, is it attacks the red blood cells and a few days later they could really be struggling. Their bodies then become anaemic, you may notice they have pale gums and are panting more in order to try and oxygenate the blood cells that are left. Avoid giving your pet anything with these items in, they’re also hard to quantify because onions and garlic vary in strength from plant to plant.
Not many people know that macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs, causing high temperature, lethargy, tremors and lameness. Nuts in general can cause a blockage in the intestines depending on their size (eg. walnuts) – which then usually need to be surgically removed.
Lilies – I can’t see these flowers without a sudden feeling of dread, they’re the reason I became so interested in poisons and trying to educate owners in order to prevent bad things happening. Lilies are completely toxic to cats, don’t listen to those that might tell you that it’s only the pollen and by cutting the stamen out it becomes safe. They’re wrong. The entire plant, including the water they’re sitting in is deadly. The tiniest ingestion without prompt treatment will cause crystals to form in the urine and they damage the kidneys so much it causes acute kidney failure. I have cuddled cats in my arms as they passed away when they were brought in too late. It’s so distressing and I don’t want to see it every again. Please tell everyone you know! Also, don’t assume because your cat never gets on to the table or wherever they have been put, that it’s safe. I have known someone put them on top of the wardrobe, out the way, but if we know anything about cats, it’s that they’re curious. The cat spots something new and must get up there to investigate and thankfully that cat was fine after treatment, but it could have ended very differently.
I’ve had many people worried that poinsettias are extremely toxic, but they just cause a mild irritation to the mouth if eaten and then gastric symptoms later, so don’t panic! Alcoholic drinks are things also likely to be left unattended and can be dangerous causing central nervous system depression. Each year the Veterinary Poisons Information Service is consulted about cases where the ethanol quantity is so great that the animals cannot sadly be saved.
Decorations will usually be very interesting to pets; I’ve never had glass baubles because I know how frequently my cats will jump up and get them down. None of these things are usually not considered toxic but can cause a physical obstruction.
I know this blog is a long one and if you’re still with me, then thank you for sticking with it, I hope I haven’t killed the Christmas vibe. At the end of the day my job is to protect animals and to try and prevent your pets from getting sick.
What can I give my pet as a treat? Lean meat like turkey is fine (no cooked bones though), without gravy or stuffing, pet treats are fine and vegetables too. Such as carrots, peas and green beans.
Thank you so much and please remember to call if your pet has consumed any of these things, we’re here to help. Please have a very Merry and safe Christmas!
Author: Menna Field RVN MBVNABlog topics