SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Keeping pets safe at Christmas

Please be extra vigilant about what your pets eat over the Festive season. Don’t share human food with your pets, and think twice about leaving food in places that might be easily accessible to pets.

Many common treats and snacks we humans enjoy as part of our holiday celebration – including avocado, macadamia nuts, ham, grapes and raisins – can cause internal damage and, in serious cases, lead to death.

It’s important to know that ignoring your pets’ pleading faces and smooches is actually in their best interest. Dogs and cats digest and metabolise food differently to humans, so what might be perfectly fine for us can be poisonous to them.

Even pet owners who are careful about what they feed their pet need to be aware about the places their pet might find a feast. Handbags, gifts under the tree, food left on tables and in rubbish bags are common places where pets will often steal foods that can make them sick.

Most people know that chocolate is dangerous for dogs, but there is actually an array of popular festive ingredients that your pets’ bodies are simply not designed to eat. Pets can get into food they’re not supposed to eat very quickly, so we have to be extra vigilant at this time of year.

Although Christmas is the season of giving, there are plenty of other ways to spoil your pets. You can freeze pet food or put it into toys so your pets can gradually extract the food. A walk or games in the garden after a big meal is also a great way to make sure your pet gets the attention they need and to fight your own after-meal lethargy.

Please remember: if you think your pet has eaten something dangerous, you should call your local vet clinic immediately.

Ten common foods that are not safe for pet

1. Fruit cake or Christmas pudding as the raisins (and grapes) are deadly to cats and dogs. They are toxic to their kidneys and can cause lethargy, excessive thirst, vomiting and in serious cases can be fatal.

2. Alcohol and caffeine are both toxic for pets.

3. Avocados contain persin which causes symptoms ranging from vomiting and diarrhoea to cardiac arrest and death. Birds are particularly sensitive to persin but avocado should not be fed to any pets.

4. For cats and dogs, chocolate can cause elevated heart rate, seizures, vomiting and diarrhoea.

5. Macadamia nuts can cause vomiting, weakness and tremors if eaten by dogs.

6. Onions and chives contain disulphides and sulfoxides, which can damage red blood cells and cause anaemia.

7. The pits and seeds of peaches, plums, persimmons, and apples contain a substance that degrades to cyanide, which is toxic. The pits of peaches are also choking hazards that can cause blockages and damage to the intestine.

8. Xylitol – a common ingredient in sugarless treats and sugarless gum - is extremely dangerous, causing hypoglycaemia in dogs, which can lead to seizures and liver failure in severe cases.

9. Sweet-corn cobs can cause blockages in the small intestine that may need to be removed surgically. Don’t let your dog chew on the cob.

10. Turkey skin, pork crackling, sausages and fatty meats not only add extra calories but can lead to intense pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea due to pancreatitis.

Choose your decorations wisely

The foods listed above are not the only thing your pets might try to eat this Christmas. When decorating your home for the festivities, ensure your decorations are not a hazard for your companion animal.

Make sure your tree is safe, avoid toxic plants, keep your animals from chewing on power cords or lights, be careful of sharp and delicate ornaments, monitor lit candles, and, if you own cats, skip the tinsel to avoid accidental ingestion and costly surgery!

Try these companion animal friendly decorating tips instead:

  • Make sure your Christmas tree is safely secured to the floor, wall or ceiling and cannot easily topple over.
  • Switch to battery or solar operated candles.
  • Decorate with shatterproof ornaments such as those made from plastic, wood or paper.
  • Keep lights and small decorations out of reach of animals.
  • Use plastic LED lights, they are cool to the touch, durable, and energy efficient.
  • Cover and contain cords with plastic casing or tape them down.
  • Unplug lights and other electronic decorations when you’re not home.
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