Our four-legged friends have no concept of Santa Claus or babies in mangers, but it’s only natural for us to want them to share in the fun at Christmas. After all, dogs aren’t particularly bothered about why they’re getting a new bed or toy, they’re just happy to have it and to be the subject of some attention.
Not to come over all humbuggy, but all that festive joy comes with added safety issues that are important to be aware of, especially when it comes to your dog and Christmas dinner. Dogs will happily lap up most things edible (and a lot of things that aren’t), but what is delicious to us can be harmful and even fatally toxic to them. Andrew Moore, our veterinary consultant, and his surgery team talk us through the things to steer clear of and some of their more unusual Christmas mishaps.
The centrepiece of any Christmas dinner is the roast meat, be that turkey and ham or old-school favourites such as duck or goose. But can dogs eat the meats on the menu?
While none of these meats are toxic to your pup, they are much richer than their usual food so should probably be avoided. But Andrew gave us some advice, just in case you’re thinking of giving your pet a little treat. “Small amounts of boneless and skinless lean meats like turkey can be added to your dog’s meals in moderation,” said Andrew, “to add a bit of variety to their Christmas bowl”. Just be careful not to include things like goose fat, gravy or stuffing. And remember to remove a little bit of their normal food to even things out!
Andrew pointed out that eating too much rich or fatty foods can cause gastrointestinal upset and even pancreatitis, so if you’re looking for something to do with the leftover Christmas dinner turkey, try making a turkey curry instead of scraping it into your dog’s bowl. The same goes for pigs in blankets: bacon and sausages are a delicious but highly fatty combination.
Another Christmas staple is stuffing, be that sausage meat stuffing or some combination of chestnut, sage, bacon, cranberries and other festive flavours. Whatever your family’s go-to stuffing is, there’s a good chance that it involves onions and possibly also garlic. Both onions and garlic should never be given to dogs, as they’re highly toxic, can cause anaemia and can even be fatal in some cases.
Chestnuts and bacon are high in fat, which makes them unsuitable for canine consumption. You might also be wondering if dogs can eat sprouts, spuds and other leftover sides. Sprouts and swede mash are fine in moderation, as long as they haven’t had butter (fatty and high in lactose) or seasoning added, and don’t include any onions or bacon. Potatoes should never be given to your dog raw, and mash or roast can be problematic due to lactose and fat content.
Cranberry sauce is high in sugar, which is also unsuitable for your dog.
Christmas desserts can be extremely hazardous for dogs for two reasons: dried fruit and nuts. Both feature heavily in Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies - and both can be highly toxic for dogs.
Vet Becky recalls a “not-so festive weekend” spent caring for an over-indulgent duo: “Two best friends – a Labrador and a sausage dog – had shared a giant fruit cake from a Christmas fayre,” Becky says. “Unfortunately, they both had to see the fruit cake again as we induced vomiting to prevent potential raisin/sultana/macadamia toxicity issues. They went on to share a very large bowl of activated charcoal to absorb any remaining toxins, and a kennel while they both received 48 hours of intravenous fluids. Thankfully neither suffered anything more than a little ‘festive belly’.”
Less dangerous but still worth avoiding are any dairy-based desserts (ice cream, custard etc) as the combination of fat and lactose is a bad one for dogs. However, low in lactose alternatives like yogurt and ricotta cheese could, in moderation, be part of your dog’s Christmas treat. Bear in mind that the lower the lactose content, the more likely your dog will tolerate consuming it without intestinal distress.
The table isn’t the only source of danger for dogs. Christmas trees and the presents left beneath them are rife with objects that could be toxic or could cause blockages. Tinsel, lights and decorations are all high on the “beware” list. Nurse Roz remembers having to extract a long piece of tinsel from her Labrador’s throat. “It seemed to go on forever,” she says. Her colleague Kirsty had to deal with a blind cocker spaniel who devoured two boxes of glass tree decorations. “Luckily, they were chewed up well,” she says, “so they didn’t cause any blockages.”
Another danger is the toxicity from edible gifts, especially any that contain nuts, dried fruit or xylitol, all of which can be highly poisonous, as well as the wrappers on sweets in large festive tins. Becky’s parents’ sausage dog had its own Christmas tradition: it ate an entire box of dark chocolate mints three years in a row!
Make sure you’re covered against Christmas calamities with dog insurance from MORE TH>N. Our customers also have access to our 24/7 Vetfone service. In the event of an issue with your dog anytime, day or night, Vetfone allows you to speak to a professional in order to get advice on the best care for your dog.
Read more tips in our guide to feeding pet dogs.