Mince pies, mistletoe and festive foods you might not know are toxic for dogs

Your dog may be happy to woof down festive foods, but they could cause serious harm. We get expert advice on how to keep your four-legged friend safe and well 
Mince pies, mistletoe and festive foods you might not know are toxic for dogs

Picture: iStock 

From twinkling lights to Christmas food, experts say dogs and cats should be carefully monitored around your home at Christmas, especially around generous children and indulgent ‘grandpawents’.

Veterinary nurse at Gilabbey Veterinary Hospital, Bronwyn Jeffers, says it is important to inform all guests of potential toxins and hazards for your dog, and owners should monitor their dog when visiting a pet-free home.

“Communication is key,” Jeffers says.

“Be careful of selection boxes under the tree and snacks on coffee tables, especially when dogs are visiting pet-free homes and people who may not consider these things.”

She says owners should not leave pets unattended around decorations or snacks.

“Keep animals separate from festive hazards where possible. Don’t leave your labrador alone with the Christmas cake on the coffee table, keep decorations higher on the tree or in a room that the animals do not go into. If there is any suspicion take your pet to the vet for investigations.”

See your home from their paws

Nanci Creedon, a dog behaviour consultant, takes a hands-on approach.

“To outsmart the dog you must become the dog. It’s time to get down on all fours and see your home from their paws,” she says.

“Do you see exposed wires ripe for chewing? Or low coffee tables where mulled wine can be lapped up by a thirsty terrier?

Perhaps that selection box wrapped under the tree smells really good to Rover right now. Head to the front door and look up. Would a group of guests appear intimidating from your dog’s eyes? If so, then it’s time to puppy-proof.”

Christmas is a time of cheer, but not always for our four-legged friends, says Creedon.

“To some dogs, the constant hustle and bustle of visitors calling can be frightening and make them feel vulnerable in their own homes.

“When it comes to house guests, I always recommend letting your pooch rest somewhere calm and relaxing, such as a bedroom, when the guests arrive. Once things calm down, if your dog chooses to, they can come and join the gathering.

After two years of limited interactions, Creedon says it is wise to ease your dog into any social situations with family members they aren’t familiar with and to avoid introducing your dog to young children at this time.

“Avoid mixing your dog with young children during the Christmas period. Christmas is about families catching up, spending quality time together. Introducing your dog to young children should ideally always be done slowly, safely, and with all focus on the dog to ensure the interactions run smoothly.”

“If your dog must attend social gatherings then I advise that you avoid giving it any treats or toys that they might feel protective of. The last thing we want is Rover growling or snapping when Timmy tries to take his ball, so keep items that your dog values highly away when guests arrive.”

Puppy chow

Another area to be vigilant about is food, and Jeffers says it is crucial that owners, family and friends are aware of what foods are toxic to dogs to avoid a trip to the vet.

“Chocolate and grapes or raisins are toxic to dogs. These are both readily available at Christmas time. We often see dogs that have eaten Christmas cake or chocolates,” she says.

“Other things that are toxic to dogs include mince pies, macadamia nuts, onion, garlic, rich fatty foods (such as leftover meat scraps), and xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in some sugar-free foods. Holly, mistletoe and yew are also all toxic to dogs.”

If your dog has eaten something toxic, such as chocolate, bring them to a vet as soon as possible.

“Feeding them too many fatty treats can give our pets an upset stomach or pancreatitis that may need veterinary intervention,” Jeffers adds.

Dog and cat-friendly foods can be bought at your local pet store and Petmania has highlighted some festive foods for your four-legged friends, including Cupid & Comet Reindeer Christmas Cracker Treats (€5.99) for dogs that are made from 100% natural chicken breast and vegetables. And for cats eyeing up the bird on the table, they suggest the Whiskas Complete Adult Duck & Turkey (€8.49), a nutritionally complete and balanced meal for adult felines.

It’s not only their food intake you need to watch closely.

“At Christmas, there are lots of small bits from new toys that might be lying around the house that a dog could eat. These can become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract and may need to be removed surgically,” says Jeffers.

“Bones also pose a huge risk. Dogs should not be fed bones, especially not cooked bones as they are brittle and can splinter.

“Cats are also susceptible to foreign bodies, especially what we refer to as linear foreign bodies such as ribbons and tinsel that cats may be inclined to play with and could ingest. These may also have to be removed surgically.”

Another household hazard Creedon has encountered is Christmas lights.

“Often forgotten, chewing on Christmas lights can lead to electric shock in our pups,” she says.

Fireworks can cause stress

Animal charity Dogs Trust warns about fireworks as we approach New Year’s Eve. Dogs’ hearing is four times more sensitive than our own and fireworks can cause them great upset. Make sure you reassure and comfort your dog if they feel insecure.

Before any fireworks are likely to begin, ensure your home is secure: a scared dog could escape and become injured. Be careful when opening exterior doors too at this time.

“If possible, try to ensure there is another closed door between your dog and your front door and get in the habit of clipping on your dog’s lead before opening the front door, if going for a walk,” Dogs Trust suggests. “Make sure your dog’s microchip details are up to date too, just in case they do manage to get out.”

If you won’t be at home on New Year’s Eve, make sure your dog is not left alone in the house. Dogs Trust says “he may panic, and this could result in an injury”.

Healthy feast for your dog

“Every year I hear about dogs who were rushed to the vets due to consuming toxic Christmas foods such as chocolate, alcohol-laced foods, and cooked bones,” says Creedon.

“To spoil your dog this year let them join in on Christmas dinner, but avoid the dangers. A lovely plate of lean turkey, unsalted and unbuttered potatoes, some carrot and steamed greens will ensure that your pup has a Christmas to remember.”

Beyond Christmas Day, plain chicken “is always a safe bet,” says Jeffers. “Make sure there are no bones and it has not been seasoned with garlic, and so on.

“Raw carrots always go down well with my dogs. The carrots can also be frozen for a longer-lasting treat and this is also great for teething puppies.”

Foods to avoid feeding to your pet

  • Onions, garlic and chives cause gastroenteritis or inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can be lethal to dogs and cats.
  • Macadamia nuts are highly toxic to dogs and are known to cause tremors, diarrhoea vomiting, and weakness.
  • Do not give your pet fatty foods as it can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Pets cannot metabolise alcohol and it can make them extremely ill.
  • Cooked bones can cause serious internal damage and are a choking hazard.
  • Mince pies contain raisins, which are poisonous to dogs and can cause serious illness, diarrhoea, and kidney failure.
  • Avocado contains a toxin called persin which can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea.

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