Vet's grim warning after alarming surge in toxic encounters over Christmas

Pet owners have been put on notice after disturbing statistics were revealed.

While most Australians spent the long weekend celebrating Christmas, with gift giving and festive feasts, veterinarians across New South Wales were inundated with pets who’d swallowed toxic substances, with case numbers doubling on last year.

In an exclusive analysis shared with Yahoo News Australia, the Small Animal Specialist Hospital (SASH) has revealed staggering patient numbers from three clinics in Sydney and one on the Central Coast over a four day period from Saturday to Tuesday. The majority of admissions were situations where the owner was aware that their four-legged family member had eaten something they weren’t meant to.

For non-food items (including rat bait, toys, batteries and medications), there were 40 cases, up from 23 in 2022, while incidents involving chocolate had risen from 23 to 40. There was also a 100 per cent increase in pets who’d eaten toxic plants like lilies, which rose from three to six, and onions, from one to two. In addition, circumstances around consumption of fatty human food and food prep items, like food packaging and barbecue skewers, had jumped 46 per cent, from 15 to 22 cats and dogs.

A dog lying next to piles of chocolate wrappers (left) and a close up of the dog (right).
Vets at the Small Animal Specialist Hospital treated 40 dogs who'd eaten chocolate (wrappers and all) over the Christmas weekend. Source: Supplied

“Those are the things that have been taking up a lot of our time, having these pets in hospital over one weekend with gastroenteritis, tummy upsets and diarrhoea because they've eaten this variety of objects which of course causes all these symptoms,” Dr Sunishka De Silva, Emergency Clinical Lead at SASH Alexandria, told Yahoo News Australia.

While the vets worked hard to ensure that no pet lost their life — and Dr De Silva praised vigilant owners for bringing in their cats and dogs early — it could have been a very close call for some.

“Dogs can absolutely die from eating chocolate, particularly those dogs that have underlying health issues,” she said. “It really depends on the type of chocolate. So dark chocolate and cooking chocolate can be the most severe, but the result can be as mild as vomiting, diarrhea and tummy upsets, or as serious as cardiac arrhythmias, so heart issues, and tremors and seizures.”

All can be fatal, the vet stressed, especially if your dog already has a heart problem.

Why the doubling in cases?

While the tough and isolating Covid years may now seem well and truly behind us, we’re really only just returning to normal when it comes to Christmas celebrations. “Post Covid, people are gathering together a bit more and having family events,” Dr De Silva said, “and for a lot of people, people bring their pets to events as well, so pets are included as part of a family event.”

A dog with a fishing hook in his nose (left) and the dog without the hook (right).
Another dog was recently treated after getting his nose into somewhere it didn't belong. Source: Supplied

Whether this means owners are distracted and unaware of where their beloved cat or dog is sticking their nose, or that they are at a relative’s or friend’s home and have no idea what hazards may be lying around, pets are increasingly getting up to no good.

“We have a lot of clients who leave chocolate underneath the Christmas tree wrapped up, without being aware that there's chocolate in presents, and then, unfortunately, their dogs can sniff it out and have been ingesting chocolate that way,” Dr De Silva explained.

Warning to pet owners

The vet is now intent on warning others “to be mindful at holiday periods” and remain vigilant about what goes under the Christmas tree next year “We all want people to have fun with their family and to include their pets in that as well, but just be mindful of what's under the Christmas tree,” she said.

“If you do have family and friends that give you presents, you could ask them, ‘is there any food in this’, so that you can make sure you put it away because we don't want our dogs and cats having access to things like Christmas puddings, fruit cakes and chocolate.”

Pet owners should also be wary of food preparation all year round. “When you’re cooking, make sure your pet is safe and secure and don’t leave items lying around that you know your pet might have access to,” Dr De Silva said. “And then just basic stuff like communicating to your guests and your family not to give pets the table scraps because the last thing you want to do is come into emergency.”

“We love to see them but also we don't want to see your sick pets. We want to see them healthy and happy.”

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