St Helens vets issues Christmas warning for dog owners

Ann-Marie Finch Spencer,
Ann-Marie Finch Spencer,

A local vet is warning dog owners to be vigilant during the Christmas season, as there are a number of festive faux-pas that could result in harmful situations for pet pooches.

Head veterinary nurse, Ann-Marie Finch Spencer, from White Cross Vets in St Helens, explained: “Christmas is a time to celebrate and enjoy a whole host of treats for humans and dogs alike – in fact most of the major supermarkets now all stock a huge range of pet-friendly Christmas treats and toys, with everything from mince pies for dogs through to a range of macarons for small breed dogs, filled with mutt-friendly yoghurt and even Pawsecco for cats!

“However, at Christmas time it’s likely that there will be more potentially dangerous foods around the house, like chocolate and Christmas cake, so it’s essential dog owners in particular make sure their pets can’t reach them.

“Every year we see a marked increase in emergency calls around Christmas time. Some are due to owners unwittingly feeding dogs harmful food, but the majority are because a dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have, with chocolate being the most common.

“Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but it depends on how much they have consumed and what type they have eaten – the darker the chocolate the more at risk the dog is due to the levels of theobromine. Any type of chocolate has the potential to be toxic, but dogs that eat large volumes and dark chocolate in particular will be seriously ill.

The age and general health of a dog will also affect how they deal with the toxicity of the chocolate, and the speed at which they are treated will also have an impact. If they are treated within half an hour to an hour, they will usually make a quick recovery, but owners should always seek professional help rather than trying to make their dog sick themselves, as this can be extremely dangerous.”

In addition to the perils of certain festive foods, dog owners also need to be wary when walking their dogs during winter. Ann-Marie added: “If there is grit on the pavements or roads it can be potentially toxic to dogs.

Pets who ingest grit can experience vomiting, lethargy, and in worst cases, kidney damage so it’s important to wash the dog’s paws with some warm water when coming back from a walk. Also if its snows, make sure that the dog’s fur around their paws is carefully trimmed to avoid any ice getting trapped and don’t let them eat too much snow as their body temperature could become dangerously low.”

Finally, White Cross Vets is warning dog owners to consider the impact the change in routine and extra visitors can have on a pet. Ann-Marie added: “Christmas can be a very exciting time for the whole family – including our pets – but it is important to be mindful that all the extra guests, treats and activity can worry some pets.

It’s advisable to give dogs a safe place to retreat to, away from all the chocolate advent calendars, chocolate baubles on trees and tempting foody gifts!”

White Cross Vets has compiled a list of the 10 most common hazards for pet owners to be aware of at Christmas. They are:

Bones – Once they’ve been cooked, bones become brittle and splinter easily, which can cause all types of problems to pets. Plus turkey bones are hollow so they splinter easily regardless of whether they are cooked or raw, and should never be given to pets.

Christmas Cake, Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies – As well as being full of fat, and possibly alcohol, these usually contain raisins and sultanas, which are similar to grapes and can make certain pets seriously ill.

Chocolate – This is particularly dangerous to pets because as well as upsetting the intestinal system, it can also affect the heart and neurological systems. Don’t forget about chocolate decorations on trees which lots of pets will soon sniff out.

Nuts – Although they become very common at this time of year, pets should avoid eating them. Almonds and pistachios can cause an upset stomach or a sever throat obstruction and some nuts, such as macadamias and certain walnuts can be toxic, causing seizures or neurological signs.

Christmas trees – Should stand in a sturdy base so it’s unlikely to fall over if it’s climbed by a cat or knocked by a dog, which could injure the pet as well as anyone else that’s close by.

Pine needles – Ideally should be cleaned up as soon as they drop because they can become embedded in paws.

Seasonal plants - Holly, mistletoe and poinsettias can all cause intestinal problems if they are eaten so keep them well away from pets.

Tinsel and ribbons – These are often attractive to pets, and particularly cats, but if they are swallowed they will block the intestines and surgery could be required to remove them.

Alcohol – Should never be given to pets and it’s also important to think about whether it’s been used in a recipe, before feeding a pet titbits.

Guests – Finally, don’t be afraid to ask guests not to feed your pets, especially because many non-pet owners might not understand the risks associated with certain food types.

Ann-Marie added: “If we can get just one message across it would be to try and be as vigilant as possible at this time of year and if you suspect your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t have, don’t delay – call a vet right away.”

For further information visit or call White Cross Vets in St Helens on 01744 410 777.