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Keeping your dog safe: Top dangers to be aware of this festive season

The winter season brings extra risks for dogs and other pets
The winter season brings extra risks for dogs and other pets

There a lot of things to think about at Christmastime, from gift buying to dinner preparations, but it is also important to keep your pets in mind.

The winter weather and festivities come with a lot of extra risks for dogs that you should be aware of if you want to avoid a trip to the vet on Christmas Day.

Catherine Phillips, from Kemnay, is an experienced dog first aid trainer who is launching her new business, Pet-ex Services, in May 2022.

She will be offering canine first aid and emergency response courses throughout Scotland.

“First aid is for the unexpected. We don’t plan accidents so it’s a really good thing to learn,” she said.

Catherine Phillips, of Pet-ex Services, with her dogs, Roxy and Riley

Catherine has shared some of the main things pet owners should look out for this Christmas.

“At this time of year, we’re all about celebrating and having a nice time, but we also need to be aware of things that can be dangerous to our dogs.”

Christmas decorations

Dogs can be drawn to festive decorations such as tinsel and flashing lights. Photo: Shutterstock.

Dogs of all ages, but especially puppies, can be drawn to Christmas decorations and lights that have been put on display in their home.

If a dog tries to eat a bauble off the tree or chew on eye-catching lights or tinsel, they could be seriously injured.

“Christmas lights can cause electrical burns which will have an entry and exit point, which is how they can be identified,” said Catherine.

“It’s always really important to isolate and turn off the electrical source before approaching your pet.”

If a dog or other pet suffers an electrical burn it should be treated with cold water and a vet should be consulted.

Many people will decorate their homes with berries, such as holly and mistletoe, but these are actually toxic to dogs.

If ingested, it could lead to severe vomiting, diarrhea, laboured breathing, shock and even death.

Another festive foliage to look out for is poinsettias which is often used in Christmas floral displays.

The white sap found in poinsettias contains chemicals which should not be ingested by dogs, but if they do, it will rarely need veterinary attention.

“They’d have to ingest quite a lot for it to be poisonous,” Catherine adds.

Holly is a popular Christmas decoration but the berries are toxic to dogs. Photo: Shutterstock.


If you are heading out for a winter walk with your dog they may naturally be drawn to playing with sticks.

However, they can be the cause of serious injuries if something goes wrong.

“Dogs love to play with sticks, but if it bounces the wrong way it can cause so many problems,” Catherine said.

“So many horrendous accidents can happen with dogs and sticks.”

Just last month, five-year-old cocker spaniel Brodie had to have emergency surgery after a stick became wedged in his oesophagus.

Brodie’s owners had to travel 110 miles from their home in Mallaig to the Vets Now emergency hospital in Glasgow.

Vets Now has also launched a Ditch the Stick campaign to alert UK dog owners to the various dangers sticks can cause.

Vets Now has launched a Ditch the Stick campaign to try and cut down on stick-related injuries among dogs. Photo: Shutterstock.

Festive food and drink

“Dogs are very good at hoovering up after people. If you put down your plate, that mince pie might disappear,” Catherine shares.

“Watch giving them lots of treats and tidbits because they’re not used to it. They will get an upset tummy if you start giving them new things. It’s best to stick to their normal routine and diet.

“Of course, at Christmas you might give them a couple of treats, but don’t go overboard. Don’t be tempted to chuck your leftovers in the dog’s bowl.”

Many foods that are custom at Christmas time are poisonous to our canine friends and if consumed may require a visit to the vet.

Chocolate contains theobromine which is highly poisonous to dogs and cats so it is best to keep selection boxes and other festive treats out of reach.

Grapes and raisins, found in mince pies and Christmas pudding, are also highly toxic to pets and can cause kidney failure.

Press and Journal reporter Lindsay Bruce has shared her experience of rushing seven-month-old Barley to the vet on Christmas Eve after he ate a mince pie.

Don’t be tempted to give your Christmas dinner leftovers to pets. Photo: Shutterstock/Alexander Raths.

“Something I tell everyone about on my course is the Animal Poison Line. It’s a triage service that’s open 24-hours, 365 days a year.

“It is chargeable but it’s a lot less than you’d pay for a vet call-out.

“Basically, you need to know how heavy your dog is, what they’ve eaten and how much. They can then do a calculation to tell you if you need an out of hours vet or not, and they can also tell you where the nearest vet is. It’s a really good service.”

Freezing conditions

“If weather gets bad, watch out for salt on your dogs feet as this can cause issues,” Catherine said.

“Also, if you spill some antifreeze , make sure you clean it up. It’s quite sweet and incredibly poisonous to cats and dogs. There are pet friendly options available now.”

The sweet taste of antifreeze makes it appealing to pets, but even ingesting a small amount can lead to kidney failure or even death.

Try to avoid spilt liquids outdoors and if you think your pet has licked anything you should contact a vet immediately.

Also, be aware of potential frostbite if spending to long outside in the freezing weather.

Grit used on pavements in icy weather can cause irritation to dog’s paws so make sure to wipe then down when you get home.

Five great walks in Inverness which are even betterin the snow.
The winter weather can bring more risks for dogs. Photo: Peter Jolly.

Christmas gifts for pets

There may be new toys waiting under trees for many dogs this Christmas, but be careful of any that could be a choking hazard.

Rawhide, for example, is not easily digested by dogs and if it gets lodged in their throat it can block their airways.

As the rawhide becomes slippery once a dog has started chewing, it will be very difficult to hold on to if your pet starts choking.

Even if the dog is able to swallow a segment, it may then cause a blockage in their intestine.

During the festive season, a lot of rawhide products being sold in shops have been artificially dyed green or red and glued into different shapes.

A toxic sodium sulphide and hydrogen peroxide are typically used to treat rawhide products for dogs before the end up in the stores.