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Festive food advice for your pets!

With Christmas just around the corner we are all likely to be over-indulging a little when it comes to food and drink, and many of us will feel the urge to treat our pets too.

However it's worth knowing that a number of festive foods can be extremely dangerous for our four-legged friends, and even those that aren't can be highly calorific!

In the 2016 PDSA PAW report it found that over 5.7 million pets are given treats as part of their daily diet, including crisps, cake, leftovers of human food, cheese, chips and take aways. Over 4 million pets are fed scraps and leftovers as part of their main meal.

This can lead to arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and a reduced quality of life. As their guardians it is our responsibility not to incorrectly feed our pets, and giving them human food is one of the easiest mistakes to make. Giving one biscuit to a 10kg dog is the calorific equivalent of a beefburger or chocolate bar for a person! And an ounce of cheese for a cat is the equivalent of 3 burgers or 4 chocolate bars! Xmas dog

If you still want to give your pet some human titbits this Christmas, reduce the size of the treat; they will still enjoy the taste with a fraction of the calories! Small pieces of lean meat shouldn't cause a problem, but fatty table scraps could cause an upset stomach and should be avoided.

Foods to be wary off

Chocolate contains the toxic compound theobromine, which is found in cocoa, the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is, particularly for smaller pets. Even in small quantities it can result in vomiting and diarrhoea, and as it is a diuretic it can cause severe dehydration. More serious intoxication results in heart and brain problems requiring urgent veterinary attention.

Raisins, Currants, Sultanas and Grapes (found in Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and mince pies) can cause kidney failure. Individual dogs react differently, so even a few grapes or a handful of raisins can be toxic. Initially they may develop vomiting and diarrhoea but then kidney failure can develop from 24-72 hours after ingestion. Because of the unpredictability of knowing if your dog will be affected, I would recommend always seeking veterinary attention. There have been reports of cats being affected also.

Onions, Garlic, Leeks (also found in some stuffing) will initially cause vomiting and diarrhoea but after 1-5 days can result in anaemia. This can happen when eaten raw or cooked.

Nuts particularly of the peanut and macadamia varieties are known to cause weakness, spasms, convulsions and gastrointestinal problems. As little as six macadamia nuts can be fatal. It is best to avoid all nuts, including those appetising chocolate coated ones!

Turkey bones and Christmas decorations are choking hazards, or can be swallowed and cause a blockage or damage to the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in emergency surgery. I would not advise feeding bones from any animal to your pet. Cooked bones are often too brittle and cause sharp splinters, and raw bones can be too hard resulting in fractured and broken teeth.

Plants such as holly, ivy, mistletoe and poinsettias can cause vomiting and weakness. Lilies are toxic to cats, and ivy can cause paralysis and death in rabbits.

Other things to consider

Pets under your feet sniffing for scraps can also be a trip hazard, and don't mix with knives, boiling water etc - make sure to keep doors shut and keep them safely out of the way. If all this makes Christmas seem like a culinary minefield, and despite your best intentions you suspect your pet may have ingested something it is best to contact your vet as soon as possible so that they can assess the risk and advise you how urgently you need to act.

It's not just food that can cause problems for our pets over Christmas - it's also worth considering that a lot of visitors coming and going can cause stress for our cats and dogs. Try to keep to your pet's routine as much as possible, and ensure they have a quiet place to go to where they will not be disturbed - this is especially important for cats as stress can have an adverse impact on their health.

Often our pets just want our attention, so try spending time playing with them, or enjoy a good long walk, it will be great exercise for them and will strengthen the bond between you. Follow the advice above and I'm sure both you and your pets will have a happy and healthy Christmas period!