Protecting your dog from Christmas

Protecting our four-legged furry friends during the festive season.
Protecting our four-legged furry friends during the festive season. Photo: Getty

Christmas is a wonderful, magical time of the year, but many of the things that make it so wonderful and magical also make it deadly for our four-legged friends. Here are five things you should keep an eye on to protect your pooch over the festive season.

Chocolate

Chocolate is a big no-no for dogs. Even the smallest advent-calendar-sized morsel can do harm. It's important to be vigilant and keep chocolate well away from the family dog.

Dr James Crowley, a veterinarian from Sydney's Northern Beaches, has had experience treating very sick dogs who present with ingested chocolate. "We make them vomit if it was eaten recently and monitor clinical signs for toxicity like vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle tremors, fast heart rate (called tachycardia) and seizures," he says. "I remember treating a young dachshund who ate dark chocolate (which is more potent than milk chocolate). We induced vomiting then controlled her muscle tremors and reduced her heart rate with medications. She was also on intravenous fluids for 48 hours to help eliminate the chocolate."

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant. Humans can ingest theobromine safely because our body breaks it down quickly, but that isn't the case in dogs. Toxicity of theobromine depends on the dose ingested, but even a small amount is enough to bring on significant life-threatening symptoms.

If you suspect that your dog has ingested chocolate, it's important to seek medical help immediately.

Cooked bones

If, like a lot of families, you sit down and have some form of roasted meat for your Christmas dinner, you may be tempted to give the bone to your dog as a little Christmas treat. Don't – cooked bones are very bad news for dogs.

The cooking process makes bones brittle, which makes them easier to splinter or shatter. Feeding your dog cooked bones can lead to complications such as damage to her mouth and teeth, shards becoming lodged in her oesophagus, windpipe or stomach, constipation and even peritonitis caused by bone fragments perforating her stomach or intestines. All of these will cause your dog, and your purse, significant pain.       

Before you give your dog any bone, it's important to have a chat with your vet. They will be able to advise whether bones like raw lamb ribs or chicken wings are okay for your dog.

The swimming pool or beach

We Aussies love spending time near water over summer, and it makes sense to include your dog in some water play. But it's important to note that not all dogs are naturals when it comes to water, and you should never assume that your dog has a natural ability to swim.

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Heavy dogs with short legs – like pugs, dachshunds and bulldogs – will find swimming a challenge and may very well sink like a stone in deeper water. A shallow paddle pool is safer for them. If your dog takes in significant amounts of water, it's important for them to be checked by a vet, even if they look fine. Some conditions like hypothermia and pneumonia, or complications due to fluid build-up in the lungs, can occur after a near-drowning.

Never leave floating toys in the pool, because they attract curious dogs. If you will be spending a lot of time near water and your dog is not a confident swimmer, you should consider investing in a dog life jacket for extra protection. Finally, you should never leave your dog alone and unsupervised around water.

The Christmas tree

You might not think the old Christmas tree could cause harm to your dog, but you'd be wrong. There are some hazards associated with the Christmas tree.

First, a lot of dogs love bauble decorations because they look like balls. Unlike chomping down on a tennis ball, though, these decorations can seriously damage your dog's mouth and your pet may even require surgery, especially if glass or plastic is ingested.

Second, don't decorate your tree with candy canes or chocolate at doggy level. Pop the tempting items higher on the tree to ensure they are out of reach.

Lastly, tinsel and Christmas lights are favourites with dogs, especially puppies, who love to paw and chew at sparkly items. Keep the tinsel and decorations a little higher on the tree and protect Christmas-light wiring by putting it out of reach.

Heat stress

The festive season in Australia is warm to hot depending on your location. We humans actively seek out ways to cool down, but it's not as easy for our dogs. Unfortunately, they can develop deadly heat stress very quickly.

Some of the signs of heat stress in dogs include:

  • increased heart rate
  • excessive panting
  • increased salivation
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • vomiting, which may include blood.

If you think your dog may be suffering from heat stress, you must act quickly. Get your dog out of the heat and head to the nearest vet clinic. While you're in the car, cool your dog by placing wet towels under her forelimbs, groin and at the back of her neck, and turn on the air conditioner to get air circulating. While it's important to cool your dog, doing so too quickly using ice or very cold water can restrict the cooling process.

If it's a hot day, ensure that your dog has plenty to drink, a nice shady place to relax and even a paddle pool to play in. Freeze ice cream containers filled with water and treats to give your dog something fun, and cool, to play with.

Most importantly, never leave your dog in the car. Dogs can overheat even with the windows down and the car parked in a shady spot. If you see a dog suffering in a hot car, contact your local RSPCA immediately.

How do you make sure everyone has a great time over Christmas? It all comes down to using a little common sense and keeping a watchful eye over all members of the family, especially the furry four-legged kind.

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