I love that moment when you sit down at breakfast and start to think about where the Christmas tree should go and which of the many different decorations you might use this year. If we trust the retailers to signal the start of Christmas, it would clearly be the day after all the Halloween stuff gets put away, but, for many families, the run-up to Christmas starts sometime in the middle two weeks of December and, from that moment, the anticipation begins to build and build and build!
This year, we have a new arrival in the family in the shape of a six-month-old Springer puppy (having lost our beloved fourteen-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador), and to say that things are different would be a huge understatement! This morning, as we sat down for breakfast, our conversation turned to that heady subject of Christmas decorations just as the puppy stole the second of our paper napkins for the process of ritual shredding and it occurred to us that we should be really careful about leaving any decorations within puppy reach – which for a Springer is around the height of four feet!
Of course, not everyone has a new and hyper-energetic puppy, but there are some serious considerations that we all need to think about as Christmas approaches if we are to keep all of our pet cats and dogs safe over the holiday period.
The first, and perhaps the most obvious one, is to keep all electric cables from Christmas tree lights out of reach or well hidden from view – a cable guard is a great idea – so that cables are neither accessible or available to be chewed by cats, dogs and house rabbits too!
Christmas gifts come in all shapes and sizes and may even include electrical gadgets that need a mains supply or items which are rechargeable. If you’re visiting Auntie Elsie and she points out a convenient 13amp socket to charge your new smartphone, bear in mind that the charging cable will have a magnetic appeal to most house pets too.
Christmas is a time of absolute indulgence for most people and having a chocolate-laden Advent calendar or some edible decorations on the tree holds real appeal. Bear in mind that chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats as it contains theobromine. A low hanging chocolate Santa will be irresistible but can be lethally toxic to our pets if eaten. Don’t forget that those after dinner chocolates or that rich fruit cake that you bought for Auntie Elsie and placed under the tree, will also be sniffed out and raided with potentially tragic results.
The need to choose with care applies to all tree decorations; we have a responsibility to all our young children and pets to ensure that we only buy non-toxic decorations – as the combination of glitter and bright colours makes them especially attractive.
Most of us love the traditional Christmas dinner with plenty of rich foods and it is a rare household that doesn’t think it’s a good idea to share our celebration with the family pet by adding some turkey or rich gravy to their evening meal. We all understand why we shouldn’t do it, but most of us will probably give in to the temptation – just this once. However, we know that changing our pets’ diets is something that should be properly thought out and carried out over a period of three or four days of gradual change if we are to avoid an upset tummy, so adding a dollop of sausage meat and turkey gravy to the pet’s normal dinner is unlikely to sustain a healthy gastric performance and will inevitably result in unwanted smells or far worse! Those smells tell us that all is not well in the food processing department and, as our pets are unable to tell us that for themselves, killing our pets with kindness should be resisted – even at Christmas.
If temptation overtakes you, be especially careful not to allow your pets turkey or chicken bones as they can splinter and cause grave internal injuries.
Calling the vet out over Christmas will be a particularly expensive decision but, if your pet has eaten chocolate or chicken bones or a big lump of fruit cake, veterinary treatment may be vital and leaving the dog for a day or two to see how he gets on, or (worse still) to save the additional cost, is simply not an option.
We love the look of many Christmas plants such as poinsettias, amaryllis, mistletoe, orchids, holly and ferns but these are all poisonous to cats and dogs. The same goes for pine sap and we need to be careful to prevent our pets from gnawing at real Christmas trees. Fallen needles from both real and artificial trees can be a problem if ingested by pets and they should be vacuumed up each day.
It’s not only the exotic changes to our houses and diets that puts pets at risk at Christmas. When visitors come to the house, ensure that doors and gates are properly closed – even when children may be continually in and out of the house. Remember, a scared pet will see escape as a primary option and an open window presents as good an opportunity for escape as an open door.
Children will need supervision and shouldn’t be left alone with pets who may not know them or (if they are unused to children) may be scared of them. Make your pets a safe place – maybe a spare bedroom or utility room – where they can escape for a bit of peace and quiet. Make sure you put familiar toys, water and the pet’s normal bedding in there too.
For most of us, a long walk after lunch is a great way to overcome the lethargy of a Christmas afternoon and taking our dogs with us will help tire them out and restore a bit of normality to their routine. After all that excitement, a return to a predictable routine with regular feeding and exercise will soon restore some normality which will be greatly appreciated by the whole family and our precious pets.
Now, if I could just find where that puppy is hiding …