Christmas is just around the corner, and while for us that mean holidays, good times, and festive treats, it’s not without its fair share of risks to our pets’ safety. Not only does Christmas have 12 days, but it also has (at least), 12 hazards:


  1. Christmas fare

Many of the treats we love and take for granted at Christmas, should never be given to our pets. Animals should never be allowed to eat chocolate, which can cause seizures and death in both dogs and cats. Darker chocolate contains more cocoa and is therefore more toxic than milk or white chocolate, but they should not be allowed any chocolate regardless of its type.


Something that often accompanies chocolate is coffee and tea, and both should be avoided by pets. The same applies to other caffeinated drinks such as cola.


Cooked meats in small quantities are mostly fine to feed to dogs and cats, but don’t give them cooked bones which can splinter and cause throat and intestinal injuries. Also, be careful to avoid giving them meat or anything covered in sauce, gravy or marinade, particularly if you’re not sure of what they contain. Their digestive systems are different to ours and limits what they can safely consume, and anything spicy and hot is off the list.


Christmas always creates an abundance of sweets, and whether they’re sugar-free or not, they can contain a highly toxic substance for pets, Xylitol, and therefore should be avoided. Other foods on the no-no list include Christmas cakes and puddings, anything that contains raisins, grapes, unbaked dough, garlic and onions, macadamia nuts, avocado, salty foods, and foods with a high fat content.  Also, some Christmas plants and flowers such as poinsettias, mistletoe and holly are poisonous to pets.


More tips for making sure that Christmas cheer doesn’t lead to waiting room fear.


  1. Obesity

Even though we might overeat at Christmas we generally do so knowing the risks. Giving pets more than they should eat however, should be avoided and they really should stick to their standard diet over Christmas. If you’re planning to give them different things, it’s important to understand what they can and can’t have.


  1. Christmas decorations

Not only food can be a hazard to pets at Christmas; decorations can also be a problem, and sparkling and interesting shaped decorations can be a temptation to your pet who might want to paw or chew them. They can be sharp and have rough edges and some will break easily if pressure is applied. Keep an eye out for your pet heading towards decorations, especially flashing and flickering lights, sparkling ribbon, tinsel and anything that could cause a choking or suffocation risk such as plastic wrapping paper and round baubles.

If you have a cat be careful of tinsel and string, which if swallowed can obstruct their intestines.  Decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhoea could be signs that they have an obstruction.

  1. Heat stroke

Christmas time means long hot days, and they can be hazardous for our pets. Hot footpaths, roads, paved surfaces, sand, and metal, can sometimes be too hot for animals to walk on and as a general rule, something that’s too hot for us will also be too hot for our pets.

What is underfoot in summer can cause considerable discomfort and potential injury to our pets. The best way to assess what is too hot for your dog or cat, is to test the heat of surfaces yourself by pressing your bare hand or foot against the ground for approximately 10 seconds (or the back of your hand for five seconds).

On hot days wait until it gets cooler, such as in the late evening, to walk your dog, or alternatively go early in the morning. A grassy area will be cooler underfoot than a paved one, and stop every few minutes for a rest.

Don’t EVER leave animals in cars.  The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to dangerous levels quickly. Vehicles in the sun get hot at any time of the year, and a shaded position can still be hot, especially if the sun moves and the shade is lost. The only safe approach is to NEVER leave an animal in a vehicle, not even for a short period, or with the windows cracked open.

For more information about heat stroke and hyperthermia, read our full article.

  1. Dehydration

Water is an important part of your pet’s daily dietary requirements and overall nutrition, and a particular balance is required in order to keep your pet healthy. Water is the primary component of the body’s healthy living cells and without it, neither we nor ours pets, would be able to function properly. 


Without adequate water your pet can become dehydrated and ill. As a rule of thumb, dogs should consume 60 ml of water for every kilo of their bodyweight, therefore a 10kg dog needs to drink 600 ml of water a day. Cats should drink 60ml of water per kilogram of weight. In other words, a 4kg cat should consume approximately 240ml a day It’s important to remember that this is only a guideline, and physical activity will lead to water loss meaning intake may need to be higher.


Read about the signs of dehydration and what to do if your pet becomes dehydrated.


  1. BBQ Hazards

Christmas is a time when barbecues are being fired up and our pets, who are inquisitive by nature, generally can’t resist the lure of tasty smelling food. Hot barbecues are a serious safety hazard, primarily because of the heat from the fire and the risk of getting burned. It doesn’t matter whether it’s charcoal, gas, electric, or wood burning, all barbecues pose a risk. Even when they’re extinguished, the grills and heating media - such as coals and rocks - retain heat and can cause nasty burns.


Make sure that your barbecue is never left unattended and that you can see your pet at all times while the barbecue is hot. The barbecue should always be placed on level, stable ground, and be careful with pit barbecues to make sure that they’re inaccessible. Try to avoid leaving utensils on the barbecue and be careful with overhanging handles.  Once you’re finished cooking, cool the coals and embers as soon as possible.


Learn about barbecue safety and what to do if your pet sustains a burn.


  1. Fireworks

What follows Christmas? New Year… and New Year’s Eve fireworks can be terrifying for animals; They’re loud, they come without warning, and animals don’t understand what causes them. Similarly, thunderstorms can also cause extreme fear and panic and can lead to animals running away from their homes or demonstrating destructive behaviours. A panicked response to the noise also creates a risk of injury.


Ideally your pets should stay at home with you if possible during fireworks, as they are generally more relaxed when with their owners. The best thing you can do is provide your pet with a safe and comfortable environment, and do nothing that might add to its anxiety. Having you around will help provide your pet with comfort and support.


 If you cannot not be at home, the next best option is to leave them inside the house if it’s safe to do so. Whether staying indoors or outside, be careful that there is nothing they could injure themselves on if they become panicked.


Providing them an area where they can safely hide might help your pet feel more at ease, for example under a bed or inside a wardrobe. Allow it to go where it wants to feel safe, provided of course that it is safe.  If you have left your pets at home by themselves, return to them as quickly as possible.


With some vigilance and planning, you and your pets can have a much more relaxed New Year’s Eve while the fireworks explode and the champagne corks pop. To learn more about helping your pet through this potentially stressful event read our full guide to fireworks safety.


8. Separation anxiety

Going away for Christmas, but without your pet? Animals can suffer separation anxiety and it can manifest in numerous ways, including animals becoming anxious when it becomes apparent that their owner is preparing to leave, or trying to prevent them from leaving. In some cases, the animal may exhibit signs of anxiety or depression before the owner has left.


It’s a serious condition that requires patience, and reducing your pet’s anxiety and fear can be achieved with conditioning. Avoiding emotional departures and avoiding getting them overexcited when you return can help. If they’re staying with someone they don’t already know, allow them to meet and spend some time together numerous times before you go away, in order for them to develop some familiarity with the carers, and learn to trust them. Dogs with severe separation anxiety may require more complex treatment and assistance from a qualified animal behaviourist.


Learn more about separation anxiety and ways to address it.


 9. Lost animals

Sadly, Christmas is a period when many animals become lost and separated from their owners, and tragically some are dumped. If you find a lost animal, start by checking for identification. If the animal has a collar, the owner’s phone number may be on it. If there’s no phone number but a name, search the lost animal registers online such as RSPCA, Lost Dogs of Adelaide and Lost Pets of South Australia. Even if you don’t know the animal’s name, a description and/or photo may be posted online.


If this proves unsuccessful, an animal shelter can check whether the animal has a microchip and scan it to obtain the chip’s details, which can be searched against a database to identify the animal and owner. Contact your local council to find your nearest shelter and to obtain advice on what to do. RSPCA and AWL may be able to assist, but it’s best to check with them first for advice.


Taking animals to a vet for identification should be a last resort. The influx of lost animals into vets over Christmas / New Year, brought by well-meaning members of the community, creates pressure on vet hospital resources. Learn more about who to contact and what to do if you find a lost animal.


  1.  Travelling with pets

Christmas holidays are around the corner, and that’s when many Australians hit the road! If you’re travelling with your dog, ensure he or she is not able to move freely about the car. Ideally, they should be placed in a roomy carrier that provides enough space for them to stand and turn around.


If they are too big for a carrier, use a harness that attaches to a seatbelt to secure the dog in case of heaving braking or other sudden movements.


Another important point is that no part of the dog should be out of the vehicle including their head. While dogs might like the sensation of the wind in their faces, high-speed wind is dangerous for their delicate ears and there’s the chance that they could also get dirt and dust in their eyes. Among other reasons, including exposure to weather, this is why dogs should also not travel in the back of open vehicles such as utes.


Travelling with cats and other animals can be more challenging and stressful for the animals. If you must travel with your cat, they should be secured in an appropriate carrier.


More information on travelling with pets can be found by following this link.


11. Swimming safety

Christmas time means fun at the beach, and it’s great to be able to take your pooch with you. Before you decide to take your dog with you however, there are some things to consider, and contrary to common belief, dogs aren’t necessarily natural-born swimmers. When you introduce your dog to water for the first time it’s important to carefully monitor how they cope and react. Choose a shallow spot, don’t force them in, and if you’re swimming at the beach, watch for rips and strong currents which are dangerous for both of you, no matter how strong a swimmer you are.


After swimming rinse your dog thoroughly regardless of the type of water they’ve been in. Salt, minerals, algae, and pollution can be irritants, and can damage fur and skin. It’s also important to dry inside their ears completely to reduce the risk of infection.


Don’t forget lots of fresh clean drinking water, and sunscreen (for both of you), and only choose beaches where dogs are allowed. Details of swimming safety, and some pet-friendly beaches in the Adelaide area can be found here.


12. Natural disasters

As we head into summer we need to be prepared for heat waves, blackouts, bushfires, storms and floods. They don’t discriminate, and while Christmas is usually freer from them than later in the season, they are still a risk.


Understanding the risks and being prepared are important steps in helping your pets to survive and cope in emergencies. As they can come with little or no warning, the best time to start getting ready is now, and thinking ahead about what you’ll need in various scenarios will help your preparedness when facing them.


Having a checklist and keeping it up to date will help you to save time in an emergency. For details of how to prepare for emergencies, read our full article.


Common sense and vigilance go a long way when it comes to keeping our pets safe at Christmas. Many of the things we enjoy, such lively gatherings of friends, and a break from our normal routines, can be confronting for our pets. They rely on us to ensure their safety, and that they’re protected from the act-now-think-later traps that they often find themselves in. Keep a close eye on them this Christmas, and remember that saying “no” is sometimes kinder than relaxing the rules.


As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health and care, we’re here to help. Best wishes for a safe and very happy Christmas.