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  • Sue

‘Tis the season

Updated: Jan 29, 2022

With Christmas fast approaching, it’s worth being aware of the possible dangers to our dogs during the festive season. It’s especially pertinent when you have a puppy, the ‘hoover’ model of labrador or a spaniel that has to carry something around at all times. Here’s a list of possible dangers to be aware of.


Chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine, a bit like caffeine, that’s poisonous to dogs. Dogs can’t metabolise theobromine and therefore it can affect their heart, central nervous system and kidneys. Although a dog’s sensitivity to chocolate varies from one individual to another, even a few grams of cocoa powder (which contains theobromine) can result in seizures. If you know your dog has consumed chocolate, call your vet straight away. They will want to know roughly how much was eaten and what your dog’s body weight is.

Take care to keep chocolate out of reach and don’t forget about advent calendars, tree decorations and any presents under the tree.

Christmas pudding and mince pies

All grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas, as well as foods that contain them, are toxic to dogs. They can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea and potentially to kidney failure. If you suspect your dog has consumed any of these items, do not wait to see if any symptoms develop, call your vet straight away so they can be treated before toxins are absorbed from the stomach.

Macadamia nuts

These can cause weakness, tremors, vomiting and hyperthermia within 12 hours of ingestion. Keep them locked away in a cupboard.


Onions, garlic, chives and other alliums can cause stomach irritation and lead to red blood cell damage and anaemia. All forms of onion can be a problem, even if an ingredient in stuffing or gravy or in the form of dehydrated onion powder. Make sure all leftovers are properly disposed of so there is no danger of accidentally feeding your dog something potentially harmful.

Blue cheese

Who knew? Although some dogs happily eat cheese without any issue, blue cheeses are a danger. Dogs are very sensitive to the substance roquefortine C, which causes gastrointestinal upsets and seizures when eaten in large quantities.

Artificial sweeteners

One sweetener in particular, xylitol, is found in many foods and chewing gum. Ingestion can lead to potentially fatal hypoglycaemia, acute liver disease and blood clotting. Even tiny quantities can be extremely dangerous and symptoms such as vomiting, loss of coordination and seizures can develop quickly. If you suspect your dog has consumed xylitol, contact your vet immediately.


Alcohol is significantly more toxic to dogs than to humans and may cause vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, tremors, coma and even death. Clean up spillages as they happen and never leave leftover drinks lying around.

Cooked bones

Once cooked, all bones become brittle and splinter easily which can pierce your dog’s digestive tract or cause an obstruction. Take care to dispose of leftover carcasses in an outside bin.

Christmas plants

Poinsettia, mistletoe, holly and ivy – all are mildly toxic and can cause vomiting, drooling and diarrhoea.

Lilies - can cause convulsions and are potentially fatal when eaten in large quantities.

Christmas trees - pine needles can cause a mild stomach upset, cuts to the mouth and can become embedded in paws so check feet regularly. If you have a real tree, vacuum daily and keep trees watered.


Tinsel can cause blockages if consumed or, even worse, work its way through the gut and into the intestine, which can be extremely serious. Similarly, small tree decorations can cause blockages or perforations. Watch out for symptoms such as vomiting, lack of appetite, reduced toileting and obvious signs of pain.

In summary, to avoid an emergency trip to the vet at Christmas, keep all human food and treats out of the way of your dog. Be aware of any plants or decorations in the house and where they are placed. Ensure any guests are also aware of what foods can be dangerous. And finally, if you suspect your dog has consumed something it shouldn’t have, take swift action and contact your vet straight away.

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