A broken glass Christmas tree bauble, a new Advent wreath, an over-turned Christmas tree and a hard-to-digest festive menu: this time of year presents many dangers, not only for us humans but particularly for our four-legged friends. Here we can show you where the risks lurk for your dogs, how to prevent them, and how to act quickly and appropriately in an emergency.
The house smells of pine needles and cinnamon, Christmas treats are baking in the oven, the windows are dressed with burning candles and the living room features a new brightly-decorated tree – Christmas is a very special time of the year! However, it can be full of hazards for our dogs. Everyone is racing hectically through the house, wrapping last-minute presents and preparing the roast dinner, with children happy about the latest gift or chocolate in their advent calendars and the dog being paid little attention! All of this disturbance to usual routine can prove stressful for your dog, with dangers scattered all around the home.
1. Burning candles
What would an Advent wreath be without real candles? With the days getting darker earlier on, candles are a great way to make the house cosy. Although most dogs sense that they should keep a safe distance from the flickering light of a candle, an open flame should never be placed within reach of your dog. There is always the risk that your dog could bump into it when playing, inadvertently wag its tail over the flame and possibly even set fire to curtains or other surroundings, and this danger is just too great to ignore.
There are many ways to reduce the risk posed by candles. If you do not want to give up real candles during the Christmas season, you should only place them where your dog does not regularly walk or turn. Candles on the coffee table, a low windowsill or on the lower branches of the tree are a big ‘no’, and candles should never be left burning if your dog is unattended in a room. To go an extra step, you could even replace the real candles with artificial LED lights, which can neither spill hot wax nor cause burns or fire to break out.
If something happens, you need to know what to do. If your dog ends up getting burnt despite all of your precautions, you should immediately cool the affected area with lukewarm water – do not use ice-cold water! Burn ointments or wound powders should also not be used on dogs. It is often the case that the extent of the burns does not become apparent until much later in dogs when, for example, a larger section of skin tissue dies from the burns. This is why you should always take your dog to the veterinarian after such an incident, even if the burns only appear to be small. Have the necessary contact details for both your regular vet and the local out-of-hours emergency vet ready before the holidays, to save a frantic scramble to find them if the necessity arrives – why not print them out and stick them to your fridge?
2. Christmas Tree
As beautiful as a colourful, brightly-decorated tree can look, for dogs it can pose some real dangers that you should not underestimate. Young, inquisitive dogs are particularly at risk, as they will want to explore this strange tree that has appeared in the familiar living room as quickly as possible, sniffing lights, glass baubles and tinsel with often painful results. There is a real danger of glass baubles falling from high up the tree and smashing on the ground if a wagging tail hits them as the tree is examined. Cuts on paws and in your dog’s mouth can be extremely painful and may even become inflamed.
Strings of fairy lights are also not entirely free from risk. If your dog gets bored or curious, it may try to chew the lights and could suffer from an electric shock, which can be life-threatening. You also need to be sure that the Christmas tree stand is firmly placed and has a sturdy footing, to ensure it does not fall over if your dog sniffs enthusiastically or hits it with its tail. If you have a real tree with water in the stand, this needs to be inaccessible to your dog, as there may be substances coming from the tree that could be harmful to your dog. You should also not underestimate the potential dangers of tinsel – if your dog swallows this fun festive delight, it could cause a dangerous intestinal obstruction.
Do I have to give up the Christmas tree entirely?
Of course being a dog owner does not mean giving up this festive joy! Providing you stick to the following safety tips, your dog and your tree should be able to thrive happily side-by-side:
- Move the tree to a safe place in your living room where the dog will not be constantly bumping into it as it simply walks around the house.
- Make sure the tree is stable and secure. The stand needs to be high-quality and should be equipped with a child safety device so that your dog cannot easily open the fastenings and cause the tree to fall. It can also be helpful to fasten the tree to the wall with string.
- Attach any candles, lights and decorations as close to the top of the tree as possible, where your dog cannot easily reach. Only harmless decorations made from paper, hard plastic or wood should be placed on the lower branches. Depending on the size of your living room and your chosen Christmas tree, it may be advisable to place it a little bit higher on a small table. However, be sure that this is entirely stable.
- Look out for “dog-friendly” Christmas tree decorations. Nowadays there are plenty of nice alternatives to fragile glass baubles and tinsel.
- Only light real candles when you are in the room and if you are sure your dog will listen to any orders to leave them alone. If you cannot be sure your dog will obey, be on the safe side and use only artificial LED lights. You can even buy varieties that flicker just like real candles! These should also be cordless, to help reduce the risk of your dog chewing a broken cable and getting an electric shock.
- If the water in the Christmas tree stand is easily accessible, cover it securely to stop your dog from drinking the water.
The clattering of a broken Christmas tree bauble or the falling of the tree can give us a real scare. Your first priority should be to keep calm and move your dog to a safe space before you deal with clearing up broken glass and righting the tree. If your dog has already been injured by a broken Christmas tree bauble, you should first calm your dog down, using a sling or tie on your dog if necessary, which can help to reduce any uncontrolled reactions and leave you free to deal with wound care. First stop the bleeding, using a pressure bandage if necessary, then clean the wound with clean, clear water. Cut back any fur if necessary and use disinfectant spray to cleanse the cut. If there are any shards in the paws, try to remove them carefully with tweezers.
Even with minor cuts, the risk of infection in your dog’s paws is extremely high, so put a paw bandage on your dog and go the vets as soon as possible to be examined and treated. Visiting the vets is essential if wounds are gaping or bleeding strongly, or if there are any foreign bodies remaining in the wound. Other festive accidents involving the Christmas tree, such as swallowing tinsel, getting electric shocks or drinking tree stand water should all be checked by the vet to be on the safe side. Many veterinary practices are closed over the Christmas season, so be sure to double check this beforehand and keep emergency vet contact details handy.
3. Paws off the chocolate!
Just like us humans, many dogs go weak at the sight of those colourful Christmas plate heaving with chocolate, sweet treats and nuts. But unlike us humans, who mainly only suffer from tooth decay, weight gain and indigestion after overindulging in these dishes, eating just a small amount of chocolate can be fatal for your dog. The theobromine found in milk and dark chocolate is poisonous to animals and can have devastating consequences on your dog’s body, leading to cramps, increased blood pressure and heart problems. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning range from diarrhoea and vomiting to painful cramping, tremors, loss of consciousness and even death, depending on the amount and cocoa content of the chocolate eaten.
To reduce the risk of poisoning, never leave chocolate open. Every chocolate Santa Claus, Yule log and mince pie should be stored in a well-sealed airtight box and you should refrain from leaving plates of sweets out on the dining table or coffee table. If you have guests or want to get comfortable with a plate full of chocolate and mince pies, make sure your dog does not get near any of them – even if there are puppy-dog eyes! Never leave your dog alone in a room with chocolate lying around and put the treats away as soon as you have finished with them. Chocolate Advent calendars should also be inaccessible to your dog – the skills of a hungry dog should never be underestimated! Incidentally, whilst white chocolate is not considered toxic to dogs due to the low levels of theobromine, the high fat and sugar contents can still lead to painful cramps so be just as careful with white chocolate treats.
If your dog has eaten chocolate, the danger levels will greatly depend on the amount of chocolate eaten and its cocoa content. The basic rules are that the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it will be to your pet, and the smaller your dog, the more dangerous the consequences can be. If you find that your dog has eaten a large amount of chocolate, you should take it to the vets immediately so that necessary measures can be taken to stop the poisoning, including vomiting, stomach pumping and the use of charcoal. Despite the stress of the situation, never panic and focus instead on keeping your dog calm. If you have a medium to large dog, a small piece of chocolate is unlikely to cause serious health issues, although it is still unhealthy and to be avoided. If a whole plate of treats or an entire box of chocolates is eaten, this is where the real trouble lies.
4. Toxic plants and dangerous scents
A poinsettia on the table, mistletoe over the door or a Christmas arrangement of roses are an accepted part of the festive season for many people, but dog owners should take extra care with these beautiful plants, as the majority are poisonous to your dog. If your dog accidentally swallows a fallen mistletoe branch or piece of a poinsettia, there is a risk of severe symptoms of poisoning such as diarrhoea or severe cramp. Even coming into contact with the leaves of the poinsettia, also known as the Christmas Star or Christmas Flower, can cause unpleasant skin irritation for your dog. Fragrance oils can cause painful gastrointestinal complaints, even though they bring delightful festive scents to the room for us humans! If a curious dog drinks these oils, it could not only cause diarrhoea and vomiting but also irritate the mucous membrane or cause poisoning.
If you want to keep up the Christmas traditions of poinsettia and mistletoe even with your dog in the house, make sure they are placed out of reach of any curious canines. The same rule applies to fragrance oils and other Christmas decorations. Artificial snow can lead to shortness of breath even in small quantities, so it may be an idea to opt instead for peel-off window stickers and artificial plants for your festive decorations this year.
If you notice that your dog has recently eaten a poisonous plant, you can give it charcoal tablets, which should be a staple component of every dog owner’s first aid kit. The sooner the activated charcoal comes into contact with the plant poison in your dog’s stomach, the more effectively it can fight it. If some time has passed since ingesting the poisonous plant and the first symptoms of poisoning are starting to appear, including convulsions, circulatory insufficiency or shortness of breath, you should take your dog immediately to the vets.
5. No Christmas dinner for the canines!
A delicious festive dinner is a key part of Christmas, just like the tree and beautifully wrapped presents. However, whilst we sit around the table and enjoy the many delicacies on offer, your dog must sit on the floor, wide-eyed and begging for scraps. At this time of year, with everyone in the festive spirit, it can be difficult to resist those puppy-dog eyes and avoid misguidedly dropping the odd piece of turkey or roast potato. However, you are not doing you or your dog any favours by doing this, as these “one-time exceptions” often end up with a trip to the vets. Most of our food – particularly the heart Christmas roast dinner – is too spicy, rich and greasy for dogs and can lead to serious gastrointestinal problems. Poultry bones from the goose or turkey should also be kept clear of your dog’s food bowl, as they can splinter easily (especially when cooked) and result in serious internal injuries to the mouth or oesophagus.
If you want to make your dog happy this festive season, choose a specially dog treat or dog bone that your canine can enjoy chewing whilst everyone else eats their Christmas dinner. This can ensure Christmas with a dog becomes a relaxed and peaceful time!
For dog owners, Christmas and the festive season can be a real challenge, especially if your dog is still young and curious, wanting to try all of these strange things that are coming into its home this time of year. But do not despair – if you follow the simple tips in this article, almost nothing can go wrong, leaving you and your dog to enjoy this special time to the fullest!