The festive season is almost upon us and whilst we spread Christmas joy and season’s blessings to all and sundry we should spare a thought for our canine friends too.
This time of year can be exciting and fun, but as we all know it comes with it’s own stresses and our dog’s feel no differently to us about it.
We must take care to ensure the safety of all at this time of year, by heeding the advice that follows you can make sure that this Christmas will be one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
First of all lets deal with all those things that suddenly appear at this time of year that could cause harm to our pets.
Festive plants like Poinsettia, Lilies, Mistletoe and Holly are all poisonous to dogs, so if you do bring them into your home be sure they are placed where your dog can’t have a sneaky nibble.
If you have a real Christmas tree vacuum the needles up regularly to avoid them becoming embedded in paws (or human feet – it’s very painful!) or elsewhere. Needles can be a bit like grass seed in that they seem to get everywhere and work themselves into the body causing discomfort and sometimes infection. Some dogs may view your tree as a nice spot to pee (why else did the human bring a tree indoors if not to save going out in the cold?) so bear that in mind too!
Decorations have their own appeal. Electric tree lights with wires made for chewing, baubles that look just like balls, tinsel that resembles tug rope, those edible decorations made of chocolate or otherwise can all be irresistible to dogs. If your dog is likely to try playing with decorations either put them out of reach, or put safer decorations that are less delicate on the lower branches so if your dog does decide to retrieve a bauble or two they won’t break in his mouth. We avoid having tinsel on our tree, and all the lower baubles are plastic so that when my spaniels decide that the decorations should be rearranged it is somewhat safer! Wires for lights are placed well out of the way to discourage chewing (and means that my husband is the one who is nominated to crawl under the tree to put the lights on).
We often have much more rich food available at Christmas, much of which can cause digestive upset or worse with our dogs. Chocolate contains theobromine which is toxic to dogs. The darker the chocolate the higher percentage of theobromine. Toxic doses depend on the size of the dog and the cocoa solid content of the chocolate but if your dog has eaten chocolate do contact your vet, especially if the following symptoms are present: vomiting, excessive thirst, sore abdomen, drooling, lowered heart rate or convulsions.
Grapes and its derivatives (raisins, currants, sultanas etc) can also be toxic to dogs causing kidney failure. Even a small amount can cause kidney damage and these should certainly be avoided. Don’t forget that many traditional Christmas foods contain these dried fruits and so Christmas cakes and puddings and the like should all be kept well away from your dog.
Whilst giving some leftovers to your dog should be fine in moderation, please exercise caution and be sensible. Fatty and rich foods can cause upset and in large doses even cause pancreatitis.
Lily Chin has done a fabulous poster which is also available as a fridge magnet to highlight common foods that are dangerous for dogs.
During the Christmas period children get excited, we tend to have more visitors than usual, we may go out more than usual, we are certainly busier than usual getting everything organised!
Make sure that as much as possible you keep your dog to his usual routine. Try to feed and walk him at the normal times and make sure that you still spend time with him one on one for attention, training, play etc.
If your dog is wary around people and is normally concerned about visitors be sure that you have a safe space for him to disappear to when visitors come calling. Some dogs will become over excited or frightened when around unusual noises such as children toys, balloons popping, party bangers, flashing lights etc. and intoxicated visitors can also cause a dog to feel uneasy – being grabbed, cuddled and told you’re a good boy over and over by auntie who has hit the sherry early is not a dog’s idea of a fun day out, so plan in advance to help keep your best friend relaxed. If your dog is known not to cope well with these types of situations, or you haven’t owned your dog long enough to find out, don’t take chances, be ready with your dog’s ‘retreat area’.
Leave him in a quiet spot, with a special chew or treat like a stuffed kong so that he doesn’t have to interact with anyone that he doesn’t want to. Leave the radio/TV on to help block out some noise. Exercise him in advance to help him settle down whilst you get on with enjoying yourself!
If your dog is not just concerned but also actively barks, snaps or lunges at visitors, keep him entirely separate for the whole time you have guests. The Christmas period with all the comings and goings is not the time to try to address this behaviour. Make it a resolution to get some help once the festivities are over and you have more time though. Check out our behaviour services if this is the case.
Even if your dog is normally happy around strangers of all ages, the Christmas period can still be difficult to deal with for our canine pals. Make sure that all visitors (adults and children) respect your dog’s space. If your dog is turning or walking away or finding a quiet corner to lie in, make sure you honour his choice and keep everyone from pestering him. He is making a fabulous choice to take himself away when it all gets too much and we certainly don’t want him feeling he has to escalate things to get people to leave him alone.
It is always important to always supervise children and dogs, but especially at this time of year when the kids are off school, hyped on chocolate and sweets and charging about. Remember it is not enough to just be present, you need to watch your dog’s communication and how the children are interacting with him. Be prepared to intervene the moment the dog becomes uncomfortable or if any of the children’s behaviour is inappropriate.
If you are visiting and taking your dog with you – don’t forget to pack his bag too! Check in advance that your dog is welcome, exercise beforehand to help him settle down when you get there, take a bit of his bedding, water bowl, own food, toy etc.
Have fun over the festive period. With a little bit of forethought everyone can enjoy this time of year, including our furry friends.