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21 Dec 2021

6 festive hazards pet owners need to be aware of

How to keep cats and dogs safe and happy this Christmas
A cat and dog sitting together at Christmas

Is your cat known for getting stuck in the Christmas tree every year? Does your dog always seem to find a way to reach leftover nibbles?

Some Christmas staples may seem harmless but can pose a danger to your pet.

We've teamed up with the Blue Cross and the Veterinary Poisons Information Service to run down what you need to know about keeping your furry friends safe and healthy during the festive season.


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1. Christmas trees and decorations

A dog helping its owner open Christmas presents

Real or fake, Christmas trees are a particular risk to inquisitive cats who can climb up the branches and get tangled in tinsel, damage ornaments, or knock the whole thing over.

More worryingly, your pet may try to chew through the electrical wires of fairy lights and seriously hurt themselves - or pose a fire risk.

If you've opted for a real tree this year, be wary of the pine needles. Although they are low-toxicity to pets, they can cause stomach upsets and be a sharp choking hazard.

To pet-proof your Christmas tree:

  • Ensure the base of your tree is anchored and secure
  • Don't use delicate or breakable ornaments, especially glass ones
  • Avoid using small ornaments or tinsel as these can be a choking hazard
  • Avoid hanging tempting things on the lower branches
  • Cats hate citrus smells, so place orange and lemon peels at the base of your tree to deter them
  • Wrap tin foil around the base of the tree - lots of pets hate the feeling of it on their paws and should steer clear

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2. Festive food and drink

If you're tempted to share some of your Christmas dinner with your pets, think twice. A lot of festive favourites are unsafe for your four-legged friends.

Often featured heavily in Christmas lunches are foods from the allium family - that's onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. These are toxic for cats and dogs as they can damage red blood cells and potentially cause anaemia.

Most festive desserts and snacks are also a no-go for pets. Foods containing dried vine fruits including currants, sultanas, and raisins can cause kidney damage or failure in cats and dogs, even in small quantities - so keep those Christmas puds, cakes and mince pies away from prying eyes.

Other dangerous sweet treats include:

  • Chocolate
  • Some varieties of nuts, including macadamia nuts
  • Foods containing artificial sweeteners, including xylitol

It's not just festive food to keep well out of reach. Alcohol can have a similar effect in pets as it does on humans, causing dizziness and drowsiness.

To keep your pet safe, ensure they're out of the kitchen while you're preparing food and make sure to clean up any scraps. Avoid feeding them off your plate and store leftovers safely out of reach.


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3. Dangerous festive plants

Although the risk of serious poisoning is low, holly, mistletoe berries, and ivy leaves which usually make up Christmas wreaths can cause stomach upset for your pet if ingested.

Luckily, the classic Christmas plant poinsettia - despite a bad reputation - is unlikely to cause them too much harm. It can cause mild gastrointestinal upset in pets, but no more than most other plants.

If you're a fan of lilies, be aware that the leaves and pollen can be extremely toxic to pets, with cats particularly at risk. Lilies from the family 'Lilium' may cause mild stomach upset in dogs but can cause kidney failure in cats.

Christmas wreath with holly, poinsettia and berrie

4. Antifreeze

Even a small amount of ingested antifreeze (ethylene glycol) can seriously damage your pet's kidneys.Some snow globes contain antifreeze, so take care to display them out of reach, and clear up carefully if one gets broken.

Symptoms may not appear for several days, and include lethargy, vomiting, seizures, and excessive drooling.


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5. Stress and anxiety

With potential new smells, people and noises, the festive season can be a stressful time for pets - particularly for cats and nervous dogs.

If you've got some friends or family round, consider designating a quiet, peaceful area in your house for your pet to stay with plenty of toys, treats, water, and comfort items.


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6. Winter weather conditions

The winter months can mean icier conditions and poorer visibility, so road and outdoor safety for your pet is very important.

Consider investing in a top-quality dog harness or reflective safety gear for your winter walks. And, if your cat likes to explore outside, make sure they come in at night.

Find out more in our guide to autumn hazards for pets.

What to do if your cat or dog becomes ill

The key to keeping pets safe over Christmas is prevention. But even after all precautions are put in place, pets still sometimes manage to become ill or get injured. It's essential to know what to do in more serious situations.

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) recommend the following:

  • If your pet is showing signs of poisoning, such as collapse, severe tremors or convulsions, take your pet to the vet immediately
    Do not try to make your pet vomit and never give them salt water (it can be lethal)
  • If you are unsure if a visit to your vet is necessary, call your vet or the Animal PoisonLine (01202 509 000, charges apply) for advice.

For more information on dangers for pets this season, see advice from the VPIS through its Winter Hazards leaflet or Christmas Hazards leaflet.


With thanks to the Blue Cross and the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) for providing expert insight for this article.