For some of us Christmas is a time of great anticipation and excitement, something to be looked forward to as soon as the supermarkets have cleared up after Halloween! For others it can be a time of hard work, and of-course there are those who would rather avoid it all together. Our pets are much the same, at least in my household. I have a 13 year old dog who knows full well what Christmas is about and not only waits patiently to be presented with his own presents from under the tree, and also enjoys his share of Christmas dinner. My younger dog finds it all a bit overwhelming, she loves the idea but – much like some children – can get a little overwrought and out of control. Finally, there is the poor cat who tends to make herself scarce until it is all over!
It is hard to advise people on how to handle Christmas with their pets because everyone’s Christmas, and everyone’s pet, is different. If you have animals who like to be involved that’s a good start, but remember that they may get upset by the change in routine, scared by all the noise, hustle and bustle or tired by all the activity. It is always a good idea to have somewhere that any animal can go for some time out, as a ‘retreat’ if they need some peace and quiet or when you need them out of the way of a hot oven! Of-course Christmas is also a time when many of us have more visitors than normal, or are invited to travel, and not everyone we socialise with will be as happy with our pet’s company as we are, or indeed there may be other animals your own pet’s do not get on with. It may be that you need to have a separate area where your pets can settle away from unwelcome other animals or unfamiliar people, especially if these include children who may be scared of your pet, or may well be the cause of anxiety in reverse.
There are some specific worries associated with the festive season and the one that vets probably see most commonly involves overindulging! We all tend to eat more than we perhaps should over Christmas, and given the chance our pets will do the same! This can easily cause sickness or diarrhoea, especially if the food being offered is something your pet isn’t used too. Fatty food is the worst culprit, and a common cause of more serious conditions such as colitis or in the worst cases even pancreatitis – both of which can be exacerbated by excitement or stress. Try to stick to your pet’s normal diet as much as possible and be quite restrictive with any added extras. Some foods are a definite no-no. Most of us know not to let our pets get hold of any chocolate. In small doses this can cause gastroenteritis, but in large doses can be fatal. The higher the cocoa content of the chocolate, the worse the effect but it is safest not to offer it at all, nor to leave it where your dog can find it, as most dogs won’t resist temptation. Onion is another ingredient to be avoided, as are grapes and therefore dried fruit – which contains raisins – so don’t share your cheeseboard or your Christmas cake and mince pies with your dog!
Christmas decorations can be problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, no dog should destroy the Christmas wreaths as Holly and Ivy are both poisonous, as is mistletoe. The humble Christmas tree has hurt many a cat and dog through suffering the pain of getting a pine needle stuck in a foot pad. Tinsel, baubles and other small objects can prove a fun toy, especially for puppies and kittens. In dogs, this is most likely to cause a problem if your pet then decides to eat their new find and suffers an obstruction as a result. Cats are less likely to try eating the decorations, but more likely to want to climb the tree and injure themselves either through falling or pulling the tree over. All pets should be shielded from access to electric wiring, as this may prove fatal if they chew through the outer layer.
Many of us include our pets in our Christmas shopping and there is certainly plenty of choice available. When buying your pets any new toys, try to make sure that they are strong enough that they won’t be destroyed, and consumed. There is a risk of any small parts getting stuck inside your pet and them requiring surgery to remove them. When you give your pet just what they have been waiting for, ensure they have somewhere they can enjoy it without interruption. Even the most placid of pets may not want to share their brand new, most exciting and most favourite thing and it may be asking for trouble to put them in a position where they feel they have to keep it under close control.
Finally, Christmas is a time when a lot of us struggle to maintain routine. This can be very stressful for our pets. Try to minimise the effect for them by sticking to what they are used to as much as possible. For instance, for dogs who expect a daily walk try to make sure they do not miss out, and always try to stick to set mealtimes if this is what you do for the rest of the year. Changing routine is also a good reason why it can be a very bad idea to get a new pet over the festivities. Everything that is going on may prove overwhelming, and far better to wait until things settle down and you can quietly and calmly introduce a new family member when normality returns!
A very happy Christmas to you and all your loved ones,
From myself and my own four-legged family xx
Written by Miss Gemma Clark BVSc, PG(Dip), MRCVS.