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Christmas is a wonderful time of year; full of decorations, Christmas lights and good food.  This time of year can also be a hazardous time for our canine companions. Cases of poisoning and foreign bodies always increase over the festive period. Often cases of poisoning are down to a lack of knowledge on the owner’s behalf. So here are a few guidelines for keeping our beloved pets safe this Christmas and away from the vets!

Onions/ garlic/ shallots/ leeks: 

  • Cause vomiting and diarrhoea initially, leads to damage to red blood cells and anaemia several days after ingestion.
  • Often fed to dogs without the owners realising they are toxic.


  • Contains Theobromine. Dogs metabolize Theobromine much slower than humans; hence toxicity to dogs.
  • At lower levels causes agitation and gastrointestinal irritation. At higher levels can cause tremors, convulsions and cardiac problems.
  • The darker the chocolate the greater the volume of Theobromine. Cooking/ baking chocolate containing the greatest quantities.

 Raisins/ sultanas/ currents / grapes:

  • Found in mince pies, Christmas puddings etc.
  • Even small amounts can cause severe kidney failure.


  • Walnuts can cause seizures.
  • Macadamia nuts contain very high fat levels and can cause gastrointestinal irritation and even pancreatitis.
  • They can also cause tremors, pyrexia, stiffness and lameness.


  • Artificial sweetener.
  • Found in chewing gum, some sweets, toothpaste, mouthwash etc.
  • Causes massive insulin release which leads to hypoglycaemia, seizures, hepatic necrosis and death.
  • Very little needs to be ingested to cause problems.
  • IMMEDIATE emergency care is required.

High-fat food:

  • Can cause pancreatitis.


  • Bones can cause oesophageal tears, perforating foreign bodies and impactions.
  • Cooked bones are more likely to splinter and fracture and so pose a greater risk.


  • Poinsettia, ivy, holly and mistletoe can all cause gastrointestinal irritation and may cause local irritation. Mistletoe berries can cause more serious problems if eaten in larger volumes, but dogs will rarely eat enough to cause anything more than GI upset.
  • Pine needles from Christmas trees can cause gastrointestinal irritation and can penetrate soft tissue.
  • Where possible keep plants/ plant decorations out of the reach of dogs.


  • Causes lack of coordination and drowsiness if consumed.
  • Avoid leaving drinks within reach of dogs.

Non- edible Christmas objects can also cause problems if ingested. Baubles can look like balls to dogs and if swallowed can become foreign bodies, if chewed they can cause damage to the tissue of the mouth and throat. Candles can smell attractive to dogs and can also become foreign bodies if ingested. Lights can attract attention and if chewed can lead to electric shocks. Tinsel if ingested can become linear foreign bodies. Other less common hazards are snow globes- which can contain ethylene glycol. And liquid potpourri which can cause chemical burns- both should be located out of reach of pets.

It is obviously impossible to prevent access to everything mentioned, but simple measures and a little forethought could prevent the worst happening. Don’t leave presents containing chocolate under the Christmas tree, avoid leaving alcoholic drinks on the floor, don’t feed leftovers to the dog and, if you do, consider what food is present in the leftovers. Keep aforementioned plants out of reach and make sure Christmas decorations, like baubles, are securely placed on the tree and at an elevated position etc.

If ingestion of any of the above is suspected, it is always wise to seek immediate attention. The veterinary poisons information services are at hand to provide emergency advice and information, to vets, around the clock.

I hope this information may help to reduce the number of animals requiring veterinary attention over the festive period and that everyone reading this has an enjoyable and uneventful Christmas and New Year.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!