How to keep your dog happy and healthy over Christmas
Imagine you are an alien and had never experienced Christmas before; it would be a very weird place. People start to hurry around and act as if the world is about to end. Routines are different, excitement levels ramp up, and odd things start happening around our houses.
Your dog is that alien. If it is true that in dog years every one of their years is equivalent to seven of our years then the whole situation becomes even stranger. How weird must it be, if you only experience this once every seven years!
Dogs must indeed wonder why our houses suddenly sprout trees. Not only trees but these trees have stuff hanging off them.
For a puppy that has never experienced Christmas it must be really disconcerting as well as very exciting, and as puppies are eternally curious than most, anything odd or strange will need to be investigated!
If it is your puppies first Christmas, especially if you have young children too, then don’t expect your tree to remain untouched. Puppies love to explore anything new and novel and indeed a Christmas tree is both these things.
A proper tree will need water to help it thrive over the festive period too, so make sure a puppy can’t easily reach this area as drinking water from the base of the tree can cause a lot of problems.
For a rescue dog especially one that has spent only a few months in a home, then things also become odd at this time of year but instead of looking at the decorations with curiosity and wonder, they might actually be too much of a change. The key here is to scale down for the first year. It may seem odd to advise this, but when it comes to our dogs we really do need to try and be a little empathetic – try to step into his shoes, or paws, and think about what you would feel and think at this time of year.
The obvious advice.
Let’s get this out of the way first. Year after year social media carries advice and pointers about poisonous and toxic foods that you need to be aware of. Our houses are often full of rich and different foods over Christmas. Not all of these are poisonous or detrimental to dogs but please be aware that while we can stuff ourselves to the point of not being able to move, this is not good for our dogs.
Unusually rich food is not a good thing to add in any quantity into a dog’s diet, if it is it will cause huge upsets and visits to the vet just when you least need it. Some foods are extremely toxic and will result in death while others will just cause unpleasant smells to erupt from your dog’s nether regions, and while this is unpleasant and possibly a little humorous to us, it is a lot less pleasant for your dog.
“The Christmas list” of foods to avoid and which should never be given to your dog
Onions, garlic and mushrooms – if foods that your dog eats occasionally contains onions/ garlic/mushrooms this is not a problem, but if your dog has access to a lot of these ingredients then it is best to be aware that these may prove to contribute to ill health. Many people feed small amounts of garlic to help keep fleas at bay with no ill effect.
Fatty/rich foods – best to steer clear of however much your dog seems to love it. Rich foods should certainly not be given as part of a staple diet. If you feel you would like to ‘treat’ your dog over Christmas make sure you only add small amounts into his meal. Dogs are all about their noses, so a little rich food goes a long way!
Cooked bones – best to steer clear of although occasionally dogs do pick them up from time to time on the streets around takeaways. If this happens keep a careful watch on your dog and seek your vet’s advice.
Sugar – in all forms, although often dog treats do often contain sugar it is not good for dogs.
Dairy – can be detrimental to some dogs. As above please keep dairy to a minimum.
Peach, cherry, nectarine stones – contain small amounts of cyanide. Although they would have to eat an awful lot, it is best to just throw stones away when any fruit is eaten.
Avocado – in fact it has been proven that avocado is not toxic and it is still on many lists. One of my dogs used to relish avocado with no ill effects, but it is best to avoid giving your dog anything you feel could be detrimental.
Caffeine – is just not good for dogs in any form.
Dough – please be very careful when cooking; do not leave any dough sitting around if your dog is in the vicinity. If your dog ingests any, take him to the vet straight away.
Alcohol – although dogs are very unlikely to even do more than sniff alcohol, be aware that only a small amount can be extremely dangerous for your dog.
Raisins in any form – this includes Christmas pudding, mince pies and Christmas cake.
Walnuts and Macadamia nuts
Xylitol – this is present in many human foods including some peanut butters and also toothpaste. Christmas is definitely one of the times it will be easily available to your dog.
Chocolate – what makes chocolate so toxic to dogs is theobromine; this is contained in cocoa. White chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa but darker chocolate does. The more cocoa a chocolate bar has the more toxic it is to your dog. If in doubt take a look at the following website which has a really good guide to how toxic chocolate in all its forms can be.
If you are in doubt about anything your dog has eaten keep this number for the Animal Poison Line handy – 01202 50 9000
It is advisable that if you are in doubt to take your dog straight to the vet if you are at all concerned, but in the meantime you can contact the above number as this may give you the extra time to save your dog!
It is nearly Christmas and my thoughts often start to dwell on dogs at this time; Christmas can be exceedingly difficult for dogs as there can be so much going on.
We all get caught up in preparations for events such as friends and relatives visiting, busy with parties and social occasions and we set about buying food and presents, putting up decorations as well as other general hubbub and excitement.
Think of this from your dog’s point of view. He doesn’t know it is Christmas and this time of year is such a radical change from the normal and it must seem very alien. Change of routine is always unsettling and stressful for dogs.
The differences include the fact that we are around the house more during holiday times and there is far more food around, especially sweet foods and particularly chocolate. People also think they are being kind by buying presents for dogs, and at Christmas more than any other time, it is really important to take care of your dog’s diet and wellbeing.
Here are a few pre-Christmas thoughts as we all start to prepare for this frantic and fairly stressful time of year, and a reminder to keep things as normal as possible for your dog.
Remember it is your dogs’ home as much as it is yours
Visitors are not always as accommodating as you might be, so please do not allow guests to tell you how your dog should behave and don’t let them suggest that they should sit on your dog’s favourite place on the sofa. It is not fair if your dog is demoted by guests and visitors.
Let your dog have a place of sanctuary
Don’t expect your dog to ‘be social’ and stay in the same room continually with guests. If he is uncomfortable or feels like he needs a bit of space then he must have a quiet place where he is allowed to go and relax. This should be a place where he is undisturbed until he is ready to re-join you. If children are present please put a visible boundary a few feet away from his bed area (such as a line of duct tape) and tell them that they must not step over this boundary to reach the dog.
Keep to a normal diet
Things can be added into his normal food like bits of turkey, freshly cooked vegetables and maybe some roast potatoes but don’t overdo this. Rich food is no better for our dogs than it is for us.
Treats and presents should be vetted by you
If people give you stockings and presents for you dog that include highly coloured raw hide chews moulded into candy canes and boots, please quietly put them in the bin at the first possible moment! These kinds of treats are loaded with chemicals and toxins and are normally made in China which does not have the best track record of producing healthy food for dogs.
Other Christmas novelty foods including ‘doggy mince pies’ and other forms of selection boxes packed with dog junk food should all go in your bin. With this in mind I went to a big pet store today to do a bit of research and I can honestly say there was nothing ‘Christmas themed’ in the aisles that I would have considered buying for my dogs. In fact there were two entire shelves full of different types of rawhide. (Don’t forget that Xylitol which is found in peanut butter and many other food products is highly toxic to dogs – please check that foods including peanut butter don’t contain this dangerous ingredient and also check the E numbers, xylitol is E967)
Walks should still be for your dog
I have often come across hordes of people out for a Boxing Day walk. If your house is full, many people who want to meet up and organise communal festive type walks, just decline the invite. These can be really stressful for your dog, especially if your dog is not normally walked with more than a few dogs. Make sure you keep to your daily walks where your dog can sniff, explore, pick up his ‘pee mails’ and just spend some time with you.
If you are accompanied on your walks don’t let children hijack any of them by trying to play games especially ones where your dog is asked to play fetch and dash around. Neither should ‘show and tell’ type obedience tricks be part of your dog’s schedule to entertain guests, children should be taught to respect dogs ….they are not playthings.
Don’t leave him alone for hours while you are visiting friends/family
Conversely it is not good for your dog to be left for extended periods of time because you are out visiting relatives and friends. Please make arrangements so that he can stretch his legs and have a pee. Isolation is just as bad for our dogs as having to cope with a house stuffed full of people.
Christmas trees are not all good
They are too enticing for young dogs and filling them with chocolate decorations is a positive ‘No No’. The chocolate used for these decorations is unlikely to contain much cocoa but it is better to be safe than sorry, so please leave these off your tree.
Be careful with the following as well – exposed plugs, the water that sits at the base of a ‘real’ tree, and be careful of the needles, all of the above can be hazardous to dogs.
Good gifts for dogs
So going back to treats what do make good presents?
Natural chews – take a look at www.jrpetproducts.co.uk. Amongst the selection are ostrich bones which don’t splinter, and they have a good selection of things dogs love.
Another website that is worth looking at is www.doggytreats.co.uk
Snuffle mats and balls are always worth buying or what about some lovely food?
www.butternutbox.com/HorseandHound this link will give you 75% off your first box.
You can find out more about Pennie and her amazing work here…