Christmas time should be for the whole family. Although not human, pets are a valued part of the family. Changes in routines and people can unnerve our pets, but with a little extra thought, there is no reason they should not be able to join in the fun!
Often we are restricted to walking dogs before/after work. This is less fun in the winter. High-viz jackets for both owner and dog are recommended when walking in the dark as well as an identification collar and a microchip (see below) should they get lost.
Most of us have time off over Christmas. While it’s nice to have cozy indoor time, why not get outdoors in the daylight? Whether it is cold, rainy or snowy, your dog will love the chance to run around and play, and it’s mentally and physically good for the whole family too. Research has shown that spending just 2 hours a week in green spaces, such as parks, woodlands and fields, has been linked with people feeling healthier and happier.
Many dogs love attention from visitors over the season but some precautions are needed.
Make sure visitors know not to feed the pet unless they check first. Small child guests (and adults!) feeding mince pies or chocolate to dogs are responsible for a lot of vet visits over Christmas. Perhaps just keep any risky foods/items out of reach of children and pets to remove temptation, and watch for unintended toxic presents (like chocolate/christmas cake) coming into the house.
While pets may love visitors, some may be more nervous. Make sure pets have a den or safe space to retreat to, with a food and water supply, where visitors cannot go. A den might be a crate, or a cosy space that’s calm and comforting to them. It’s best if this area is used for some weeks leading up to Christmas, so your pet is accustomed to it. Even seemingly sociable pets may want a break every now and again. Pheromone (air-borne hormone) diffusers send out comforting signals which may help reduce stress of increased visitors when used early enough. Speak to your vet for more information.
Keep indoor cats and dogs secure when visitors come and go as it’s easy for them to slip out. Make sure they have identification collars on should the worst happen and they escape. Pets can lose collars, so a microchip is a good permanent identification measure that is a legal requirement in all dogs, and recommended in all cats (including indoor cats). Microchips are scanned for by dog wardens, vets, or the police when a stray pet is found, meaning they can reunite you with your pet. What better Christmas present?
If you’re away this Christmas, or out of the house longer than usual, do make arrangements for your pets. Your pet will not understand it’s a special day. They deserve a nice day too and will still need the basics of companionship, food, warmth and exercise even on Christmas Day.
Staying safe around the house
Christmas plants look pretty, but poinsettias, mistletoe, holly, amaryllis, ferns and pine sap are poisonous (in varying degrees) to cats and dogs. If you must have festive plants, keep them out of reach of pets.
If you have a pine tree, then vacuum around it regularly to remove the risk of contact, ingestion, or inhalation of needles. Make sure decorations are out of reach, non-toxic and not edible. Dogs love to sniff out chocolate decorations and snaffle them. Tinsel and ribbons may cause blockages in cats and electrocution is possible if they chew on tree lights so when it’s lit up always be around.
Before putting presents under the tree, check with the giver that it’s not edible or toxic. If so, stow it somewhere visible to enjoy, but out of reach of pets.
Avoiding doggy diarrhoea
Perhaps consider buying them a nice new toy, collar or food bowl instead of treats this Christmas. If you must treat, then try low-fat treats, homemade treats or carrots. Feeding human food is a major cause of obesity. For example, 3 cubes of cheese for a dog is equivalent to two chocolate bars for us. In addition, sudden changes in diet can cause tummy upsets or serious conditions such as pancreatitis, which your pet will not thank you for.
Anything containing raisins/sultanas or dates is toxic (mince pies, Christmas pudding, panettone and Christmas cake). Remember to leave Santa’s mince pie where the dog can’t get it! Grapes, chocolate and anything containing onions or garlic (such as gravy) are also toxic. Bones (especially cooked) can cause tooth fractures, penetrate the gut, or get stuck. Pets can be clever, waiting for the right moment (perhaps during the queen’s speech) to raid the kitchen. Make sure all food and rubbish bins are out of reach when unattended.
Presents and toys
A new toy for Christmas, instead of extra food, is a great way to show affection and have fun. It’s important they are safe and non-toxic. If it is hard to tell – don’t buy it.
Make sure they are designed for the pet you are giving them to, as large breed dogs will need larger toys than small breed dogs. Toys they can carry without holding the whole thing in their mouths (thus risk swallowing) are best, and with no loose parts that could be swallowed. Brands like Kong are usually reliable, but only leave pets alone with tried and tested ‘indestructible toys’, not just labelled ‘indestructible’.
Pet outfits have become popular. Sighthounds, elderly and young dogs benefit from a layer of clothing during colder nights out, so why not jazz up their wardrobe with a Christmas ensemble? Remember, however, the feelings and welfare of your pet come first. If your pet is not used to clothing, this may be one change too many for them. Even if they are, make sure it doesn’t make them uncomfortable, restricted, hot or at risk.