Christmas is traditionally a time for family, friends and festive cheer – and by following a few simple guidelines you can avoid an emergency trip to the vets spoiling your celebrations.
Many apparently harmless foods and other household items can be a potential source of poisoning or illness in animals. Chocolate is top of the list of culprits in dogs, and it is also toxic to cats, rodents and rabbits. The severity of the poisoning depends on the type of chocolate and the amount ingested. The toxin in chocolate that causes the problems is a substance called Theobromine. Dark chocolate contains the most, and is the type of chocolate we worry about most when ingested by dogs. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, hyperactivity and rapid heart rate. In extreme cases convulsions (fits) can occur, and liver damage can occur in the longer term. The high levels of caffeine in coffee can also be toxic for dogs, so be sure to dispose of any coffee grounds carefully. The symptoms of coffee toxicity are similar to those of chocolate poisoning.
We wary of the mince pies and Christmas cake! Grape, raisins, currants and sultanas can cause kidney failure in dogs. The toxic levels are difficult to determine, in some dogs only a few grapes or a handful of raisins can cause illness, whereas other dogs seem to be more resistant to their toxic effects.
Mouldy foods such as certain cheeses and nuts can also poison dogs, so keep the cheeseboard out of harms way. Signs of ingestion include vomiting, agitation, walking drunk, twitching and convulsions. Signs may persist from hours to days, but typically resolve within 24-48 hours with aggressive veterinary treatment.
Onions and onion containing gravies, for example, can cause serious anaemia in cats and dogs by damaging the red blood cells in the circulation. Symptoms of this condition include breathlessness, lethargy, diarrhoea and vomiting. Your pet also could lose interest in food as a result of this type of poisoning. It may take up to two to four days after your pet eats the onion for symptoms to appear.
Artificial sweeteners such as Xylitol (found in sugar-free chewing gums, for example) can cause a dangerously low blood sugar level in dogs. Symptoms may include vomiting, an increased heart rate, wobbliness, convulsions or coma. Liver failure has also been associated with the ingestion of xylitol in dogs. The onset of signs is often less than an hour but can be delayed for 24-48 hours after ingestion.
And don’t forget about those decorations – Holly, mistletoe and poinsettia are all toxic to dogs and can cause an upset tummy, so keep them out of their reach. Inquisive dogs and cats chewing tinsel and other decorations can find themselves with obstructions of their gut, which sometimes have to be surgically removed.
Although not specific to Christmas, at this time of year we also see cases of antifreeze (ethylene glycol) toxicity. It is sweet tasting and very palatable, but very dangerous even in small quantities. Kidney failure and death can result, and sadly the prognosis is extremely poor the longer the delay between the animal consuming the antifreeze and initiation of treatment.
If you suspect your pet may have consumed something it shouldn’t have done, or is unwell or behaving strangely then contact us for advice straight away.
Wishing you all a merry and safe Christmas!