The seemingly harmless Christmas habit that can be dangerous for your dog

While the holiday season is celebrated universally by Australians, a combination of elements which increase in prominence throughout the festive period can pose a serious threat to pets.

Summer not only brings searing heat, but a dramatic rise in allergies both in humans and dogs, sparking calls for owners to act quick if they notice out-of-character behaviour from their animals.

“Sometimes owners will notice their dog scratching but won’t pick up on it, and that can end up causing secondary infections and dermatitis,” Vets on Call founder Morgan Coleman said.

Dogs tend to also suffer from grass seeds this time of year, which can lodge in irritating spots like their paws and ears, but won’t always be obvious to the naked eye, according to Mr Coleman.

Vets are reminding Australians not to make a costly mistake this Christmas. Source: Getty
Vets are reminding Australians not to make a costly mistake this Christmas. Source: Getty

“They can be really bad. For one dog we had to perform surgery on, its paw was like a club foot. They can be so small but so insidious at the same time,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“It could just present as them shaking their head, scratching their ear or licking their foot a bit, but if these are left unattended they could be really bad.”

Don’t feed bones to your dog

A harrowing reminder has emerged surrounding the dangers of the seemingly harmless habit of feeding bones – including those discarded from chicken and turkey – to your dog after a heartbreaking image taken last year recently resurfaced.

A two-year-old pitbull was left fighting for life at the The Society for Animals in Distress, a vet in South Africa, due to almost a kilogram of bones in its stomach and intestine.

“Bones can cause intestinal obstructions, choke, puncture holes through the intestines, fracture teeth and a multitude of other problems – it's just not worth it,” the vet wrote to Facebook at the time.

The dog received emergency surgery and was understood to have recovered following the traumatic event, but it has again served as an important reminder for dog owners to refrain from offering bones after the photo was shared last week by US media outlet Basin Radio Network.

Pitbull dog lying unconscious next to pile of bones removed from its stomach.
This pitbull had almost a kilo of bones removed from its stomach in a traumatic surgery that's served as a warning to dog owners. Source: Facebook

One of the Vets on Call vets, Dr Margareth Chang, told Yahoo News Australia she always told people to not feed their dogs cooked or raw bones.

“The bone can fracture, and if it doesn’t poke through the oesophagus it can cause obstructions in the stomach and intestines,” Dr Chang said.

Salmonella in raw bones was also a risk factor, as well as the danger of dog’s teeth being broken, Dr Chang said.

She added it was false to believe feeding bones are appropriate because they are part of a wild dog’s diet, arguing domesticated dogs don’t have the same digestive capabilities.

A safer treat for dogs throughout the festive period was a very occasional raw hide or pig’s ear – both however are still very high in fat and should only be offered on a rare basis.

Don’t indulge pets with Christmas meats

The broad and indulgent variety of food available in homes was another matter vets across the country dealt with more throughout the festive period.

“People tend to indulge their pets in the same way they might indulge themselves, and that can be really bad for pets,” Mr Coleman said.

Food like chocolate, grapes and sultanas are just some items that should be strictly off limits for pets, as well as anything with garlic, onion or chives in it, like for example roast meat.

Dog staring at chicken while wearing Christmas hat.
Dogs should be kept away from human Christmas food. Source: Getty Images

“They’re really, really quite toxic to dogs especially,” he said.

Meat of any kind, even if it hasn’t been roasted with other ingredients, can still be extremely harmful to pets due to its high fat content.

Consumption of high-fat meats can make for some “unpleasant” additional cleaning up, as it could cause a nasty bout of vomiting and diarrhoea, Mr Coleman said.

Owners of dogs who do suffer from this should monitor their pet closely and contact a vet if their symptoms worsen as dehydration, especially in smaller dogs, is another major risk.

Dr Chang also urged pet owners to keep their animals away from alcohol and to not be tempted to plate them up left over items like ham and stuffing.

“Once-off consumption of high-fat foods can trigger things like pancreatitis, which could mean time spent in emergency,” Dr Chang told Yahoo News Australia.

Dr Chang said as a general rule pets should be kept on their regular diet, and only if absolutely necessary be fed a small amount of breast meat from either chicken or turkey.

She also warned cat owners to be mindful of the access their felines had to popular decorative items like string, ornaments and confetti.

“Cats like to chew things that crinkle, things that shine, and even string. If they swallow that, it can be really bad and you need to get them to emergency to be opened up,” she said.

Keep pets cool and hydrated

The summer temperatures are enough to send the most cool-headed of Australians in desperate search of somewhere to escape the heat.

Owners need to remember however, that their pets are just as, if not more, susceptible to heat exhaustion, dehydration and other heat-related health problems.

They should ensure their pets have an abundant supply of water and have access to areas that are air-conditioned, especially on particularly hot days, and shade if they’re outside.

“You can get cooling mats too. Dogs lie on it and it helps pull heat away from the dog’s body,” Mr Coleman said.

Dog shown with head buried in Christmas present bag.
Owners need to pay close attention to their pets, especially throughout the Christmas period. Source: Getty Images

Shorter-faced breeds should be paid particular attention to given their additional difficulty in cooling themselves down, and should always have access to air-conditioning.

Walking and exercise for all dogs should be kept to early morning or later in the evening when the temperature outside is cooler to avoid them getting heat stress, Mr Coleman said.

Dr Chang said pet owners should always take water and a bowl for their pet when they were leaving the house, and under no circumstances leave them in the car, not even for a few minutes.

Vets on Call currently has 150 vets doing house calls to all Melbourne suburbs, and is set to expand to Sydney and Brisbane by the end of next year.

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