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While we deck the halls and stock up on win­ter good­ies, all we want for the fluffier mem­bers of our fam­ily is to share the Christ­mas cheer with them. But be­ware – shar­ing is NOT al­ways car­ing! Our An­i­mal Guru (and ve­teri­nar­ian) Artem Chep­rasov high­lights some of the hid­den dan­gers lurk­ing be­neath the Christ­mas tree to help you avoid a fes­tive fi­asco.

I love the hol­i­days – the dec­o­ra­tions, the happy peo­ple, and all that amaz­ing food. But while grow­ing up, I never re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated how many of the fes­tive de­lights at home and around the ta­ble could have spelled dis­as­ter for my beloved pets. As a ve­teri­nar­ian, I now know that my an­i­mal friends had a lucky es­cape. So, to keep you and your furry fam­ily mem­bers cheer­ful this sea­son, make sure to steer them away from the fol­low­ing Christ­mas treats.

Fi­nally! The an­swer to why cats are so grumpy

Usu­ally, when we give some­one choco­late we want to wish them well, show them ad­mi­ra­tion or ex­press our love. If you love your pet, though, you won’t be putting any choco­lates in their Christ­mas stock­ings this year. Com­pounds called methylx­an­thines are found in choco­late and have the po­ten­tial to kill your cat, and, more com­monly, your dog. Each an­i­mal is unique: some pets will re­act far worse than oth­ers when all else is held equal, but you need to keep a par­tic­u­larly care­ful watch on Fido. Dogs adore treats for the same rea­son you do: their sweet taste. But with the sweet taste comes a very high price (far higher than the most ex­pen­sive Swiss con­fec­tionary you can buy). Your pet will ex­pe­ri­ence any com­bi­na­tion of: vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhoea, ex­ces­sive thirst, ag­i­ta­tion and rest­less­ness. Ul­ti­mately, choco­late con­sump­tion can lead to tremors, stum­bling, seizures and death. Only im­me­di­ate med­i­cal help can save your pet’s life from this sticky sit­u­a­tion.

Tasty fact: The rea­son that vets see more dogs suf­fer­ing from choco­late tox­i­co­sis as op­posed to cats has to do with their sense of taste. They are far less likely to eat choco­late than dogs be­cause they have no sweet taste buds. No won­der they’re al­ways so cranky!

The not so sweet su­gar

Now that you know not to feed a choco­late cup­cake to your fa­vorite pooch, don’t let Santa’s cheery grin catch you off guard: there may still be some dan­ger­ous things in your favourite sweets. And th­ese candy threats aren’t as ob­vi­ous as the colour and flavour of choco­late: they’re much more sin­is­ter. If those de­li­cious-look­ing cup­cakes that great aunt Betty is bring­ing to the Christ­mas gath­er­ing have xyl­i­tol in them, make sure that none of them ‘ac­ci­dently’ plum­met to the ground for your dog to get a hold of (no mat­ter how bad they taste). Xyl­i­tol is an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar low calo­rie su­gar sub­sti­tute; it is used to sweeten up ev­ery­thing from gum to baked goods. It is a ‘nat­u­ral sweet­ener’ that con­tains one third fewer calo­ries than ta­ble su­gar. So un­less you’re told oth­er­wise, your palate will be obliv­i­ous to your great aunt’s sug­ary sleight of hand. But if you don’t want her se­cret recipe burn­ing a hole in your pock­et­book then make sure you ask about its pres­ence – and be even more cer­tain that your dog avoids it: Xyl­i­tol can cause ev­ery­thing from vom­it­ing and lethargy,

to dis­ori­en­ta­tion and seizures, to liver fail­ure. And the only way out of that cup­cake catas­tro­phe is an emer­gency trip to the ve­teri­nar­ian.

Not so sweet fact: While xyl­i­tol gives us some en­ergy when we eat it, in­ges­tion of xyl­i­tol by dogs ac­tu­ally leads to hy­po­glycemia, or ab­nor­mally low blood su­gar lev­els. That’s be­cause hu­mans process xyl­i­tol just fine whereas dogs ex­pe­ri­ence a mas­sive surge in in­sulin se­cre­tion from their pan­creas – a surge that causes their blood su­gar to plum­met to life-threat­en­ing lev­els.

Ah, nuts!

Whether ma­cadamia nuts are in your choco­late cov­ered sweets or are left out as a snack for your guests, keep them out of paw’s reach from your dog. Some­thing in th­ese nuts, or in con­tam­i­nants used dur­ing their pro­cess­ing, causes a dog’s back legs to be­come paral­ysed. No­body knows ex­actly what the toxin is, but within around 12 hours of eat­ing, your dog won’t be able to walk. For the next 12–48 hours, he will be in a great deal of dis­tress and may suf­fer vom­it­ing, stum­bling, de­pres­sion, high body tem­per­a­ture, and trem­bling. Thank­fully, dis­as­trous med­i­cal con­se­quences from eat­ing ma­cadamia nuts don’t seem to be very com­mon, and dogs nor­mally get bet­ter within 48 hours (even with­out treat­ment). How­ever, if trem­bling and a po­ten­tially high body tem­per­a­ture aren’t prop­erly con­trolled, it can lead to more se­ri­ous prob­lems. So, if mutt chomps on some ma­cadamia nuts, think about head­ing to the vet for a quick check-up.

Nutty fact: The way in which the mys­tery ma­cadamia nut toxin causes back leg paral­y­sis is strange. But what’s even weirder is that some dogs with the paral­y­sis are able to walk – but aren’t able to get up from ly­ing down. If they are picked up and put on their four paws then they will walk nor­mally, but when they lie down they won’t be able to get up again (un­til you pick them up off the floor). This bizarre lift­ing­walk­ing cy­cle will con­tinue un­til the dog’s body is rid of the nut toxin.

Al­co­hol: “The cause of, and so­lu­tion to, all of life’s prob­lems” When Homer Simp­son said th­ese words, he got it right – es­pe­cially for pets. In some cases al­co­hol can kill your pet; in other cases it may save their life. We all know that no hol­i­day is com­plete with­out some al­co­hol and a drunk fa­therin-law hit­ting on you/your part­ner. It’s OK to laugh at your ine­bri­ated kin-folk but it’s ab­so­lutely no laugh­ing mat­ter when it comes to giv­ing your pet an al­co­holic drink. An­i­mals, by na­ture, are far more sen­si­tive to al­co­hol than hu­mans. A drunken dog or cat may look very funny but I can as­sure you they are suf­fer­ing se­vere con­se­quences. Con­sump­tion of al­co­hol can lead to vom­it­ing, low blood pres­sure, stum­bling, coma, and death. If your pet is given al­co­hol by a not-so-sober mem­ber of your fam­ily this Christ­mas, please make sure to rush your pet to the vet clinic ASAP.

Do-not-try-at-home fact: Al­though al­co­hol is very dan­ger­ous to your pets, in some cases a cer­tain type of al­co­hol is ac­tu­ally given to pets who’ve been poi­soned by drink­ing anti-freeze in or­der to save their life. Oh, the con­tra­dic­tory world of medicine! Have fes­tive fun with your furry friend This hol­i­day sea­son, just stick with the tried and trusted and your pet will re­main just as ex­cited as ever be­fore. Play fetch (if it’s not too cold where you live), get them a new toy to play with, or give them some dog bis­cuits (if they’re a dog). That way, both of you will be happy, and so will your vet.

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