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BVA issues warning as chocolate tops vets’ naughty list of top pet Christmas hazards

British Veterinary Association

4 min read Partner content

Vets are advising pet owners to be extra careful in keeping chocolate, mince pies, puddings and festive decorations well out of reach of their pets to avoid an unnecessary emergency trip to the vets over Christmas.

The advice comes as the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey findings show that eight in ten companion animal vets (82%) across the UK saw at least one case of toxic ingestion over the Christmas break last year. 

Chocolate, raisins and other dried fruit, xylitol (found in sugar-free products), onion, garlic and seasonal decorations like mistletoe and holly can be dangerous to dogs and cats if eaten.

Most vets (81%) surveyed reported seeing cases involving dogs who had eaten something they shouldn’t have, followed by cases involving cats (30%) and rabbits (2%). Chocolate was the top edible hazard for dogs, with 94% of vets reporting seeing at least one case of this type of poisoning over the last festive period. This was followed by cases involving raisins or sultanas and xylitol (reported by 84% and 29% of vets, respectively).

Cats were most likely to need veterinary treatment for eating non-edible items. Seasonal plants like lilies, mistletoe, poinsettias and holly were the top culprits, reported by over half (52%) of vets who saw cases of toxic ingestion in cats this time last year. A similar proportion of vets (51%) also treated cats for antifreeze poisoning.

BVA Senior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“Christmas is a time of fun and festivities, but the presents, treats and decorations can often prove dangerous for our pets if we are not careful. Festive foods like chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts or artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, and decorations such as mistletoe and holly, can be toxic if eaten by dogs and cats, while Christmas tree baubles or tinsel can require surgery to remove.

“I once had to give emergency care to a Labrador that had eaten two kilos of chocolate left out under a tree! I’ve also seen dogs that have had to spend the entire festive period in hospital being treated for pancreatitis, after their owners had indulged them with one too many human food morsels at the Christmas dinner table.

“My advice to owners is to keep all edible goodies safely out of reach of inquisitive noses and to keep pets to their normal diets, avoiding feeding them any human food treats. If you are concerned that they have eaten something they shouldn’t, consult your vet straight away.

”With Covid restrictions in place this year, many pet owners may be travelling away from home to spend Christmas with family and friends in their ‘bubbles’. So it is important to plan ahead for accessing emergency care if needed with practices who aren’t your local vets.”

BVA is offering these top tips for keeping Christmas hazard-free for pets:

  1. Protect your pet from poisons: A range of festive treats and traditions, such as chocolate in advent calendars and sweets, raisins, xylitol (found in sugar-free treats), nuts, grapes, liquorice, poinsettia, holly and mistletoe are toxic to cats and dogs. 
  2. Keep decorations out of reach: Ribbons, wrapping paper, baubles, tinsel and tree lights can seem like appealing playthings to cats and dogs but can be very dangerous if broken, chewed or swallowed. Batteries for Christmas gifts also need to be kept safe as, if ingested, they may cause severe chemical burns to the mouth, throat and stomach.
  3. Forget festive food for pets: We all enjoy a richer diet over Christmas, but fatty foods and Christmas dinners shouldn’t be shared with the animals of the household. They can trigger sickness and diarrhoea or other conditions from gastroenteritis to pancreatitis, so try to stick to your pet’s regular diet and routine. Too many treats can also lead to pet obesity.
  4. Keep away the bones: Cooked bones, including turkey bones, should not be given to pets as they can splinter and puncture the digestive tract.
  5. Know where to go: Even with all the care in the world, animal accidents and emergencies can still happen. Make sure you’re prepared by checking your vet’s emergency cover provision and holiday opening hours or, if you are away from home, use the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Find a Vet facility.

For more information on pets and poisons, download the free Animal Welfare Foundation ‘Pets and Poisons’ leaflet here.

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