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Christmas Toxicity

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Christmas is a fun festive time for the family, but it can certainly pose some health risks to our curious pets.

Read more below on common festive toxicities!

Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding


These two delightful treats contain raisins, and these are toxic. Unfortunately, we do not yet know exactly what causes this toxicity and the risk to dogs doesn’t depend on amount eaten or size of dog!


There has been some evidence that it might be to do with a substance called Tartaric acid, but the advice on what to do is still the same as we are still understanding about the possible link!


A group of veterinary surgeons from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and two hospitals described in a letter to the editor in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that tartaric acid may be the part of grapes that cause them to be toxic to pets.


This can explain why we don't always see a 'dose' dependent reaction. The amount of tartaric acid can vary in grapes by their type, how they were grown, and how ripe they are, which could explain why some pets get very sick while others seem unaffected after eating similar amounts of grapes or raisins.


If you dog has ingested anything with raisins in, you need to call your Veterinary practice straight away.


They may want to:

  • Offer to induce emesis (vomiting)

  • Test your dog's kidney parameters with a blood sample that may need repeating a number of times

  • Start them on intravenous fluid therapy

  • They may require hospitalisation for a number of days


Leftovers

It can be nice to feel like you're involving your pet in the festivities but around this time of year veterinary professionals certainly see an increase in gastrointestinal upset. There are a number of reasons leftovers can be a risk:

  • Too fatty can cause issues like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) which is often extremely painful and may require hospitalisation

  • If they raid the bin, they may find moldy foods, cooked bones from the Christmas dinner cannot be given to dogs to eat

  • Food that they aren't used to or in excessive quantities can cause gastrointestinal tract upsets

  • Some leftovers might be toxic like onions, chocolate, mince pies and Christmas pudding


Chocolate

We all love a chocolate snack at Christmas and many Christmas presents and gifts can contain chocolate too.


Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine which can cause some concerning signs in our dogs, if ingested in high concentration it can be very serious. The severity depends on type of chocolate and size of dog so it's always best to keep chocolate treats out of our dog's reach! This includes presents under the tree that your dog might fancy investigating.


Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity usually occurs 6–12 hours after ingestion, so we need prompt response after a patient has snaffled those snacks! Initial signs may include:

  • Polydipsia (drinking lots)

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Abdominal distention

  • Restlessness

Worryingly, if left too long signs may progress to more severe symptoms:

  • Hyperactivity

  • Polyuria (excessive urination)

  • Ataxia (wobbly)

  • Rigidity or tremors and seizures

Devastatingly in severe ingestion cases we can see:

  • Tachycardia/bradycardia (worryingly fast or slow heart rate)

  • Tachypneoa (fast breathing)

  • Cyanosis

  • Hypertension/hypotension (high or low blood pressure)

  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature)

  • Coma!

If your pet has managed to get hold of a chocolate treat, then call your veterinary practice immediately. If treatment is required, the quicker we can start it, the better. Treatment may include:

  • Inducing emesis (vomiting)

  • Activated charcoal

  • Supportive therapy for any clinical signs


Christmas Plants and Decorations


Some plants seen in the house at Christmas can all cause mild issues like tummy upsets or irritation in the mouth including:

  • Poinsettia

  • Holly

  • Mistletoe

  • Ivy

  • Christmas tree


These all need to be kept away from our inquisitive cats, dogs and even rabbits who might like to try a taste of the new house plant.


Christmas decorations can also prove too exciting for our dogs and cats who think they are fantastic new toys! Some like to have a chew on these new and exciting things in our house, and if swallowed can certainly cause issues! So, it's best to keep our baubles, tinsel, ornaments and other decorations up high and out of reach. We particularly see cats who like to eat long lengths of tinsel, but these can cause very serious issues within the gastrointestinal tract!

Macadamia Nuts

These little nuts are found in a number of products all year round but particularly in lovely fruit and nut hampers and certain biscuits! They are actually toxic to dogs so we want to avoid our dogs managing to get hold of any of these lovey human snacks.


  • Symptoms of toxicity include: Weakness Depression Vomiting Ataxia Tremors and/or hyperthermia

If your pet does snaffle a biscuit, or other nut containing product, be sure to check that macadamia nuts aren't in the ingredients.


Treatment includes (depending on time of ingestion):

  • Induce emesis (vomiting) Possibly activated charcoal Symptomatic treatment of clinical signs

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