Pets at Christmas: a festive guide to keeping cats and dogs happy and healthy

The Christmas markets are now in full swing across Europe and the shops are full of all the traditional treats of the season. Many pet owners, put a special cat and/or dog is probably at the top of their Christmas list – but as well as considering how to spoil your furry companion with a gift, it’s also important to think about how to keep your cat or dog happy, healthy and safe at this time of year too.

Deck the halls with safety in mind

Across Europe, it is traditional to decorate your home at Christmas time, with some families preferring natural decorations such as a fir tree, holly, mistletoe and winter foliage, while others opt for tinsel and synthetic decorations.

Whichever option you choose, remember that it will alter your pet’s environment and they may find this distressing. Many humans love the smell of pine needs, citrus and cinnamon that Christmas brings, but our pets’ sense of smell is very sensitive and they may not be quite so keen on the Christmas environment smelling so different from the home they know. It’s a good idea to bring decorations in gradually over a few days so that your pet can get used to the changes, or to keep the festive additions to a minimum in one room, so that your pet has a familiar environment to escape to if they wish.

For synthetic decorations, it’s important to know your own pet and their usual behaviours. If there is a risk that your dog may chew or swallow tinsel or baubles, you may need to think carefully about which decorations you have within reach of your pet.

Candles are another hazard; they need to be limited to locations where your pets cannot accidentally burn themselves or knock the candle over. Sweet smelling candles with festive scents such as gingerbread and mulled wine might be very appealing to curious pets, so it’s a good idea to be vigilant, observe your pet’s behaviour and take action if your candle is likely to be a pet hazard.

If this is your pet’s first Christmas, take extra care, particularly when it comes to your Christmas tree. Your cat or dog may try to attack your tree, climb it, eat it, or hide behind it – again, being responsive to your pet’s reaction is the key to balancing your traditions with their needs.

Food for festive thought

The special foods we enjoy at Christmas are a big part of the celebrations, and often that includes a little over-indulgence in our favourite treats. While the consequences of too much of a good thing might mean a few extra sessions at the gym for us, it can have much more serious consequences for our pets. Try to avoid giving them too many left overs, particularly if you’ve been eating rich foods with lots of saturated fats, salt and sauces. And remember to be cautious about giving your dog any bones from your festive meals – poultry bones are particularly dangerous as a choking hazard but any bone can splinter or chip, which could be harmful to your dog. If you want to share your Christmas feast with your pet, it is best to set aside a small amount that they can enjoy in their usual bowl avoiding too much fat or foods such as garlic and roast potatoes that can upset their stomachs.

It’s important to be vigilant about other festive treats that may be harmful to pets too – particularly dogs for whom chocolate and grapes (or any dried fruit made from grapes) are particularly harmful. This includes making sure there are no gift-wrapped boxes of chocolates left under the tree or advent calendars within reach of your dog. Make sure that any chocolates hanging on the Christmas tree are also positioned high enough that your dog cannot jump up to reach them. Lots of Christmas celebration foods contain raisins and sultanas – from mince pies and Christmas cake in the UK and Ireland, through to German stollen and Italian panettone – so be mindful of any festive foods left unsupervised on kitchen worktops or coffee tables; dogs are opportunists and just a small amount can be very harmful.

Finally, think carefully about the amount of pet treats you offer your cat or dog at Christmas. As members of the family, we like to indulge them with their favourite foods, but too much of a good thing is bad for them, especially when extra calories are combined with disrupted routines and less exercise. Consider other gifts for your pet – a new toy or blanket perhaps.

Making time for pets at Christmas

For many of us, Christmas is a busy time when we catch up with friends and family, enjoy events and welcome visitors. For our pets, it’s a break in routine that can mean strangers coming and going, changes in routine and less focus on them. The busy festive period can make your pets feel stressed, so you may want to consider selecting pet foods specifically formulated to calm pets or purchase one of the many calming products or supplements available for cats and dogs.

The most precious gift you can give your pet this Christmas is time to show them affection and reassure them that they are still a treasured part of their family. Familiar routines, regular food at normal mealtimes and time with you are all part of helping them relax, whatever the festive season brings.