A guide to caring for and giving pets at Christmas

There's absolutely no doubt that us Brits adore our pets, and it's no more evident than at Christmas time, when in 2015 we were projected to spend a whopping £4.6bn on our furry friends.

Whether it's stockings full of kitty treats, four-legged Christmas jumpers for doggies, or a new play ball for the new year for the hamster, pet owners spend between £30 and £50 on each of their animals during the festive season.

But while we rally around, buying gifts and over-spending on fancy food, dogs and cats prefer the usual calm and routine. So, with that in mind, just how do we make sure our canine companions and kitty cousins get as much fun out of Christmas as we do?

Keeping your pets safe in the festive season

While all the noise and new visitors are off-putting, Christmas can be absolute heaven for cats and dogs – think of all that wrapping paper to revel in, and the multitude of small boxes to sniff and inhabit! However, there are also some dangers for pet owners to be aware of.

Festive food that is bad for human waistlines can be positively fatal for your pets. Dried fruits, mince pies, alcohol-filled cakes, chocolates and turkey bones all mean danger for mutts. For more advice on what not to feed your dog, check out our guide to good pet diets.

Though you might want to spoil our loyal companions by dropping treats from the table, don't. Aside from encouraging bad behaviour for the rest of the year, your pet will put on weight and, worse still, they’ll end up at the vet. If you want to treat your dog, give it a bag of canine treats, which are available from most supermarkets and all pet shops.

Cats aren’t quite as bad at scavenging at Christmas. However introducing them to eating off your plate still sets up bad habits, and key roast dinner ingredients like butter and garlic are very bad for them. Like a dog, buy special cat-friendly treats from the supermarket or pet shop. Both you and your kitty will be thankful.

Driving home for Christmas

There is inevitably lots of toing and froing at Christmas time, what with friends visiting and trips to see family being made.

If your pet is sociable then this shouldn’t be a problem, but if they're slightly selective about who they make friends with or nervous around strangers, it’s a good idea to give them a safe place to skulk off to. Putting their bed somewhere calm and quiet, like a spare room or study, gives them a safe haven.

Nobody should be offended if you nicely ask them to behave a certain way around your animal. If you don’t want them to get into rough play with your pet, make it clear that they shouldn’t touch or fuss over your pet.

When you travel with your pet during the festive season, the usual holiday advice applies. Take items they are familiar with (their own blanket and basket, a favourite toy) and food they are used to.

Make time for walks on long journeys and use a travel cage or harness to keep them safe. Allow them to have a bowl or water bottle but do not give them snacks while driving, just in case they choke. 

When you arrive at friends' and family members' houses, try to find a space that your pet will be comfortable in and aren’t likely to be disturbed by loud music, noisy toys and shouting children.

Somewhere that’s secure and that they can’t run off from, but also not filled with your host’s most precious things. A nervous animal can scratch, chew or urinate on things and you’ll make yourself a lot less welcome (even if it is Christmas) if your dog or cat destroys a family heirloom.

Any decorated trees need to make sure they don’t have tempting decorations at muzzle height (even if the decorations aren’t actually edible, no-one told your dog that). Also, the holly and the ivy may be traditional, but ivy is very poisonous to cats.

While you don’t want to impose, make sure your hosts are aware of all of your pet's need, like a bathroom walk early in the morning for example.

Equally, if you’re bringing the cat, whether it’s an outdoor or indoor kitty, you’ll want to keep them indoors for the duration of the visit so they don’t try and navigate back home. Room therefore needs to be made for a litter tray. Making sure everyone remembers to close the right doors (like the back door or the baby's bedroom, especially if you have big dogs) is also going to be important.

It's not often that we have to worry about extreme temperatures in Britain but if we are lucky enough to get snow, or you’re going somewhere more Lapland-like for the holiday, buying a thick and woolly Christmas jumper for your pet isn't as silly as it sounds. Do beware of making your animals wear funny festive kit in stuffy sitting rooms though – don't let them overheat.

Lastly, Christmas presents for pet pooches are all good fun. A new ball, a squeaky toy – they’ll love you for it. A dog as a Christmas present however is a whole different ball game. Even if the pestering from the kids is relentless, giving pets as Christmas presents is just not a good idea. Remember the phrase: A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

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