Christmas is an exciting time of year with parties, presents, plenty of food and festive frolics. It can appear to be even more exciting if you have a dog, with thoughts of long walks, a content canine dozing by the re and, of course, a Christmas present from Santa Paws.
However, the reality can be somewhat different, with poorly pets and emergency vet visits. Beneath the tree and around the house there are some things that we take for granted and which, unfortunately, are dangerous to our dogs.
Here, Forever Hounds Trust’s Susan McKeon shares with us her Christmas Survival Guide, which is packed full of advice to help keep humans happy and canines content over the festive period. With a little planning, you can ensure that you and your dog enjoy the festivities together.
Christmas tree and decorations
Twinkling lights, tinsel and baubles adorn many Christmas trees and can prove irresistible to playful pooches. With all those temptations it is a good idea to make sure that baubles, tinsel and any edible decorations (such as chocolate) are out of reach and that the tree can’t be pulled over!
If you have a real tree, which stands in water, don’t let your dog drink from the water reserve. The water can quickly become stagnant and harbour bacteria which could make your dog quite poorly.
Many traditional Christmas plants and foliage are poisonous for our pets and should be kept well out of the reach of curious canines. Plants to keep well out of the way include:
If ingested, many of these plants can cause serious stomach upsets and a visit to the vets. Mistletoe berries can be particularly dangerous – a few can be fatal for puppies.
There’s nothing quite like it! The glorious smells of Christmas food may prove to be a temptation for our canine companions.
At Christmas we tend to stock up on all sorts of culinary delights from Christmas cake, crisps and chocolate to candy. The temptation to nibble is everywhere, not only for us but for our dogs too.
Although we all like to treat our pets to some special food treats, many of the delicious Christmas foods and treats can cause upset stomachs in our dogs or in some cases poison them. Don’t be tempted to give your dog lots of rich food, the left-overs from the Christmas dinner or any of the foods below.
Dogs are far more sensitive to alcohol than we are. Even consuming a small amount can cause significant intoxication and at Christmas time, drinks like eggnog, or milk based drinks such as a White Russian can be particularly appealing. So, make sure any alcoholic drinks are out of reach.
We may enjoy avocado and seafood as a starter but for dogs, avocados are an Avoca-DON’T! They contain a substance called persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs.
Lurking in all those lovely boxes of Christmas chocolates is a substance called theobromine, which can be lethal to dogs. The darker the chocolate, the higher the levels of deadly theobromine. As little as 50g of plain chocolate can be fatal in small dogs.
Christmas Cake, Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding
These fruit-laden goodies are a definite No-No for our dogs, due to the amount of raisins they contain (see grapes and raisins).
Never give your dog any of the bones left from cooked turkey, goose, duck or chicken. These bones are very brittle and could splinter and lodge in your dog’s throat or cause an obstruction in the gut. Gravy can be quite high in salt and isn’t necessarily very good for our dogs either, so please don’t be tempted to give your dog a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings!
Grapes and Raisins
Should be kept away from dogs; studies have shown that eating them can cause kidney damage. So that means keeping the fruit bowl out of reach and making sure that your dog can’t help themselves to any mince pies, slices of Christmas cake or Christmas pudding.
Onions, Chives and Garlic
These vegetables and herbs can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage. However, an occasional low dose of garlic, such as that which may be found in pet foods or treats, will not cause a problem.
This rather exotic sounding foodstuff is an articial sweetener that’s found in lots of sweets and sugary snacks. Unfortunately, if eaten by our dogs it can cause insulin release, which in turn can lead to liver failure – so please don’t leave your dog unattended in a room where sweets and candy are within easy reach.
Christmas can often mean a houseful of friends, family and guests, not to mention impromptu parties, which can sometimes be overwhelming for humans, let alone our dogs!
Do make sure that your dog has a quiet place that they can escape to away from the hubbub. Dogs can get overwhelmed, overexcited and overtired – just like us – and sometimes need a quiet place to escape to where they can have forty winks. A room with some soft bedding, a few toys, supply of fresh water and treats is ideal.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks
For many dogs rework celebrations are a frightening and stressful event that they can’t escape from. However, there are several things you can do to help your dog and lessen the stress that reworks can cause.
If you know that your dog is sensitive to noise and is afraid of reworks, do speak to your vet about treatments that can help. If your vet prescribes a medication, it is often useful to have a ‘practice run,’ before New Year’s Eve, to see how your dog responds. It is also worth considering that some medications only deal with the symptoms of anxiety, and although your dog may appear outwardly calm the fear itself has not gone away. Don’t be afraid to discuss the medication with your vet.
Create a safe-haven
It’s a great idea to create a safe-haven/den before any rework celebrations and allow your dog to get used to settling in their den in the run up to New Year’s Eve. The den should be in an area where your dog feels happy and most comfortable, such as by the side of your bed, in their crate, under a table, under the stairs, or wherever your dog feels safe. It should not be located by a window or an outside wall, as any sounds and vibrations are likely to be heard and felt more.
To create the safe-haven, drape some blankets over the area, provide soft bedding and a range of chews and stuffed chew toys, and encourage your dog to relax in their den.
The use of ADAPTIL – a synthetic version of the dog appeasing pheromone – has proven to be benecial in lessening anxiety for some dogs. It is available as a collar, plug in diffuser and spray, and ideally should be used in the weeks running up to any rework celebrations, as well as the night itself.
A tight fitting, calming coat may help too and, again, should be gradually introduced to the dog in the weeks before any reworks – this helps to ensure that the dog does not just associate its use with the sudden appearance of reworks.
Avoid night time frights
If you can, walk your dog before it becomes dark (particularly on New Year’s Eve); a long lunchtime walk will provide them with some good mental and physical stimulation and may help them relax a little more.
If you can’t take them for a walk in the daytime, consider employing a dog walker during the rework season.
To avoid night time toilet breaks, you can always feed your dog earlier in the day and ensure that they toilet before dusk. If, however, your dog does need to toilet after dark, do accompany them into the garden, particularly if reworks are likely to go off. It only takes one frightening experience, such as a loud bang from a rework, when your dog is outside alone, to make them not want to go out in the dark.
Tips for New Year’s Eve itself
On the night itself, make sure that all doors, windows and curtains are shut, and that your dog is safely within the house. Turn the TV or radio up, and provide your dog with a stuffed chew toy in their den before the reworks start.
Make sure that your dog cannot accidentally escape – cat flaps and dog aps should be closed and locked too. It’s important to make sure that your dog is wearing a suitable identification tag, in case they escape during the reworks. If your dog does escape, they are more likely to be identified if they are wearing a collar and identity tag and are microchipped.
Prevention is better than cure
As with most things in life – prevention is better than cure. To help your dog cope with distressing events like New Year’s Eve reworks, you can help habituate them to loud unusual noises and other situations before fear and other phobias set in.
By following a planned desensitisation programme – which safely and gradually exposes your dog to different experiences, including loud noises – you can help your dog to cope more effectively with novel, frightening sounds like reworks and avoid the distress that reworks can cause.