Keeping Your Dog Safe at Christmas

by Irene Hislop

11 December 2017



Christmas is when we humans love to indulge ourselves with treats. We feast on things special to the season, gingerbread, mince pies, Christmas puddings and cakes and loads of chocolate.  We roast turkey and ham, and wash it down with perhaps a bit more alcohol than we normally would.

And because we love to share the good times with our beloved pets, we can be tempted to indulge them too.  Or we can easily become distracted with all the cooking and decorating and guests, and our dogs can seize the opportunity to help themselves.

Our pets have no idea what is and isn’t healthy for them.  They are wise in many ways and often great judges of character. But when it comes to food, they have less judgement than the average human toddler.  Some of our favourite treats pose a serious danger to our pets, and it is our job to keep them safe.  The first step is to know what your dog can and can’t safely enjoy, and the second is to ensure he doesn’t get the dangerous stuff.  That means ensuring he can’t help himself and educating well-meaning visitors (children and adults) who don’t realise the danger in sharing a sneaky treat with your dog.

5 Holiday Foods That Are Toxic for Dogs (and Cats)

  1. Most us know that chocolate can kill dogs. But dogs don’t know, and there’s always that one person who swears a little is fine.  It isn’t. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which affects the heart. Dogs can’t tolerate it, and while a small bit won’t usually kill a large dog, it does damage the heart and shorten the dog’s life. Dogs suffering chocolate poisoning might not seem ill because it is a stimulant.  They might be extra playful, and then have a heart attack. Dogs are at the greatest risk not because cats are immune to theobromine, but because dogs tend to be more drawn to chocolate.  Dogs will go for any chance to grab a bite of chocolate, while most cats will ignore it. But chocolate is lethal to both dogs and cats. All types are dangerous, including white chocolate, but dark chocolate is worst.
  2. Grapes aren’t a food that people think to offer dogs, which is good because they are toxic to our pets. But raisins are dried grapes, and they are in a lot of holiday foods such as Christmas pudding and cake.  Some people use them in the dressing for the turkey. Grapes and raisins cause kidney failure in dogs and cats. And cats are prone to urinary tract problems, so the last thing they need is something that adds to that.
  3. In an effort to avoid sugar, some are using a sweetener called xylitol.  It can be found in store-bought sweets, baked goods and peanut butter.  Peanut butter is actually safe for dogs in small amounts, but be careful to avoid the brands with xylitol. Go for one that is pure peanuts. And keep your pets away from other nuts, especially macadamia nuts, which are very toxic to them.
  4. Turkey dressing, aka stuffing, is an essential part of the Christmas dinner for many of us, and onions are a key ingredient. A little taste of cooked turkey – without bones! – is fine for your dog, but make sure he doesn’t get any of the dressing.  Onions damage our pet’s red blood cells and lead to anaemia. Cats are even more vulnerable to this than dogs.
  5. This surprises most people, but bones are dangerous for pets.  Poultry bones are the worst because they easily break and splinter, lodging sharp shards into a pet’s intestines. So do not throw your dog a bone, especially not a turkey or chicken bone.  You can safely satisfy their drive to chew with suitable dog treats and toys.  Yes, their ancestors ate raw meat and chewed the bones… but today’s dogs have evolved away from that for hundreds of years. And cooked bones are more dangerous than raw ones.

Baking is big part of the holiday season for many of us, but it can pose a hazard for pets. Bread soda, baking powder and nutmeg are all toxic to animals. Raw yeast dough is dangerous too. It rises when warm, and if pets eat it, it can rise inside their stomachs.  This causes extreme pain, and it can also lead to a deadly condition called bloat or gastric torsion.  And it isn’t only food that is risky. Never allow anyone to give a sip of coffee, tea or alcohol to your dog. Never mind the old wives’ ales about beer. Alcohol is dangerous to pets. Consider how small they are; it doesn’t take much alcohol to overwhelm their systems.

Feeding your dog a quality, nutritious food such as Connolly RED MILLS’s Leader or Engage is vital for their well-being, but it won’t stop them wanting your food. After all, eating a healthy diet doesn’t cause people to reject chocolate and other treats!

Simple, Seasonal Safety for Pets

All of this can be a worry, but it need not put a damper on your Christmas celebrations. Protecting our pets at Christmas is simple. The first step is to make sure that they are not at risk of visitors who don’t know or won’t follow your rules about not allowing the pets to have unsafe human food.  If you have a spare room in the house where you can confine pets while visitors are over, that is ideal. Dogs are social creatures, but they can get overwhelmed if to many people are coming and going. Allow them to greet the guests when they arrive, and then bring the dog to the utility room, bedroom or whatever space you’ve set aside.  No one can feed the dog, and no one can be upset about the dog. The alternative is to inform each guest that they are not to feed the dog anything except dog treats.

Of course, dogs love and deserve some treats. It’s important to find the right treats. While treats shouldn’t make up a big part of your dog’s diet, why not make it healthy treats? Connolly’s RED MILLS has just introduced a new line of natural dog treats, and there is something for everyone. Dog treats can be a great way to boost specific nutrients to help your dog.  Connolly’s RED MILLS Nutri Vigor Skin & Coat treats are rich in omega 3 and 6 for healthy skin and a glossy coat. Nutri Vigor Hip & Joint Care are an ideal way to help protect a mature dog’s joints. We know a lot more about canine dental care now than we did a generation ago, and Leader Oral Pro dog treats help keep your dog’s teeth healthy while also freshening his breath. Leader Train Me treats have only six calories each, so you don’t have to worry about your pet overdoing it this holiday season!

Second of all, you need to take care to make sure the dog can’t snatch any food. If he’s confined while guests are over, that is sorted.  But if you are doing a lot of cooking and baking, you may need to take precautions to prevent any counter surfing. Tall dogs are excellent at a silently helping themselves, and many small dogs can jump higher than you think when tempted by food. It’s just a matter of being aware. Use the kitchen counter instead of the lower dining table to prepare food.  Keep chairs away from where food is being prepared to prevent dogs from climbing up.  Make sure that food is not at the edge of the counter. And of course, shutting the kitchen door is also very effective!

Irene Hislop

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