Christmas survival guide

Pets are part of the family and we love to involve them in our Christmas celebrations but how can we do it in a way that keeps them happy and safe?

Toxic plants, indulgent treats and bustling houses – there are some parts of a traditional Christmas that don’t mix well with pets. Luckily, our vets are on hand with this ‘Christmas Survival Guide’ to help you make this Christmas safe and fun for your four-legged family.


Festive Hazards

The festive season can be a dangerous time for curious paws and adds some extra hazards to our homes. Here are some things to watch out for:

Toxic plants

We bring the outside in at Christmas and decorate with a whole host of plants. Unfortunately, some can be deadly for our pets. Try to avoid decorating with:

  • Poinsettia. This plant’s bright red leaves look really festive but are poisonous for many pets and can cause a serious upset stomach.
  • Mistletoe. You won’t want to kiss your pet if they chew on a sprig of mistletoe – it can cause drooling, retching and vomiting.
  • Holly and ivy. These plants are such a big part of Christmas that we sing carols about them. Unfortunately, they can cause serious problems for cats and dogs and can be fatal for rabbits.

Don’t forget to read our full article on poisonous plants to find out which other hazards to watch out for.

Not-so-festive foods

Let’s be honest, eating and drinking is a big part of Christmas! It can be really tempting to share these treats with our much-loved pets but so much of the food we enjoy at this time of year is toxic for them:

  • Mince pies, Christmas cake, Panettone. All of these contains raisins, sultanas and dates which are highly toxic to pets. They can even be fatal. If you leave a mince pie out for Father Christmas, make sure it’s out of reach of any pets to avoid any accidents.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate is really poisonous to dogs. It causes sickness, fits and can be deadly. Keep advent calendars out of reach and if you hang chocolate decorations on your tree make sure they’re only on the highest branches. Don’t leave chocolate gifts wrapped under the tree – pets, especially dogs, will quickly sniff them out!
  • Stuffing and gravy. These usually contain onions and garlic, which can be deadly to cats and dogs.
  • Alcohol. Lots of people enjoy a tipple at Christmas but be careful where you leave your glass. Alcohol can cause serious problems for pets. Also avoid giving them any foods that might contain alcohol.
  • Leftover bones. Throw leftover bones away instead of leaving them out for your cat or dog. Cooked bones can easily splinter when they’re chewed on and the splinters can damage your pet’s throat or stomach. Smaller bones can cause blockages if they’re swallowed whole.

If you can’t resist giving your four-legged friend a small food treat over Christmas, take a look at our guide on safe Christmas foods.

Decorative dangers

Dangling baubles, tantalising tinsel and flashing fairy lights can all be very tempting for cats and dogs to play with. Dogs also explore things with their mouths so it’s easy for them to accidentally swallow smaller decorations if they pick them up.

All of these items can cause serious blockages in your pet’s stomach or gut which could mean they need an emergency operation, while chewing plugged in fairy lights could lead to a nasty shock. It’s best to keep your pets out of harm’s way while you decorate and to make sure decorations are well out of their reach. Try not to leave them unattended around the tree or in any decorated rooms.

Presents and gift wrap

In all the excitement of Christmas morning, it’s easy to forget that there are lots of hazards hidden in our new gifts.

  • Pets can swallow batteries which cause serious internal burns.
  • Wrapping paper and ribbons can also be a choking hazard for cats and dogs, especially as they’re very tempting to play with.
  • Children’s toys aren’t designed for pets and can cause injuries if pets chew on them.

It’s best to keep presents out of the reach and clear up any wrapping paper before any curious paws can get hold of it.



Overeating is a bit of a problems for everyone at Christmas but can cause really serious health issues for pets. Feeding human food is a major cause of pets being overweight and some foods are highly toxic (take a look at our list above). Some pets can also have very sensitive stomachs, so the rich food can lead to sickness, diarrhoea or even pancreatitis. Try to stick to healthy treats and keep up the exercise to stop your pets piling on the pounds over Christmas.

Gastric torsion

It’s tempting to give your dog an extra helping of dinner on Christmas day but it’s best avoided. Gulping down big meals and exercising after a big meal are through to contribute to a condition called ‘gastric torsion’ or ‘GDV’ - a build-up of air in the stomach which makes it twist on itself. It can happen to any dog but big, deep-chested breeds like Great Danes, Boxers or Setters are most at risk. Sadly, it can be fatal and always requires immediate, emergency treatment.

Signs your dog could be suffering from gastric torsion are:

  • trying to be sick but not bring anything up
  • dribbling
  • a swollen stomach that feels hard
  • difficulty breathing
  • collapse.

For more information on GDV, visit our Hub.

If you want to treat your pet this Christmas, a new toy or a long walk with all the family will be much more enjoyable for them than a helping of Christmas dinner.


A full house: preventing stress in pets

Christmas is often a busy time, with friends and relatives popping in and out of your house. Some pets will love the extra attention but others will find the noise and disruption stressful. Even pets who enjoy the bustle might need a bit of time out to relax every now and then.

To put a stop to stress, give your pet somewhere safe and quiet to escape to:

  • Doggy dens. Dogs will love to hide in a cosy den. You can build one in a quiet room of the house and encourage them to spend time there by putting in a few tasty, pet-friendly treats.
  • Climbing cats. Cats feel safest when they’re high up and out of the way of any dangers. Give them a cosy place to curl up on top of a secure shelf or cupboard.
  • Stressed-out small pets. If your small pets – e.g. mice, gerbils or hamsters - are feeling stressed this Christmas, move their enclosure into a quiet room, well away from loud visitors and TVs or music systems.

Read our full advice on keeping pets happy and stress-free over busy holidays.


Festive fireworks

Fireworks are often let off to help us see in the New Year. Lots of pets suffer from a fear of fireworks but, luckily, you can help them stay calm and relaxed by preparing in advance. Read our fireworks page for hints and tips on how to help.