It is natural for pet owners to want their animals to share in the Christmas spirit by giving them gifts, and this often takes the form of food - but some treats can be toxic, according to Adam West, senior veterinary surgeon with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"It is not just humans who overindulge at this time of year. Food treats are great for animals, but consideration must be given to the species of the animal and to some potential dangers."

When it comes to festive food such as turkey, West says that a little bit of this meat may be enjoyed by a cat or dog, but should never be given to a rabbit, which is an entirely herbivorous animal. "I say a little turkey meat because large amounts of any food that an animal's guts are not used to can cause diarrhoea or vomiting," West says. It can be even more serious than that, with large quantities of rich, fatty food being consumed by dogs having the potential to cause problems with the pancreas, and this inflammation can be fatal. Rich fatty food includes turkey skin, bacon, sausages, hot dogs and anything that is deep-fried.

Bones of any sort are best avoided, especially cooked poultry bones. The risks are just too high - they can break teeth and get stuck in gullets, stomachs and intestines, the vet says. "A small amount of cooked boneless fish should not cause any trouble, but seafood, like prawns, are best avoided due to their richness." However, no raw fish, as regular consumption, especially by cats, can result in thiamine deficiency.

Stuffing poses problems because of the garlic and onions that are often included, both of which are potentially toxic to animals - they can damage red blood cells - and should be avoided entirely.

"Christmas cake or pudding should also be avoided due to the high sugar content and, more importantly, the raisins that they contain are poisonous, for dogs in particular, and [can result in] renal damage. The same is true for grapes."

Chocolate toxicity is well-known in dogs. West adds: "Although milk chocolate is low in the actual poisonous compounds and it is dark, high-cocoa, chocolates that pose a greater risk, it is best to avoid chocolate altogether."

While it may be tempting to offer the pet a Christmas tipple of alcohol, this is not a good idea at all, the vet says, as their metabolism is simply not used to this and ingestion can lead to disorientation, coma and even death.

Some other foods that you may be eating over the festive season that are also known to be toxic to dogs and/or cats include apple, apricot, cherries, peaches, plums and pears. Seeds of these fruits can cause cyanide poisoning when ingested in large amounts, plus ingestion of bigger seeds can cause actual gut obstruction.

Avocado contains a toxic element called persin, which can damage the heart, lungs and other tissues. Its high fat content can trigger stomach upsets, vomiting or even pancreatitis.

As for dairy products, some adult dogs and cats do not have a sufficient amount of the enzyme lactase to digest it, leading to stomach upsets.

Macadamia nuts cause stomach upsets, lethargy and vomiting and occasionally swelling of the limbs. In fact, nuts in general are not recommended due to the high phosphorus content, which may result in bladder stone formation.

Tomatoes are toxic to cats. West says: "Ingesting as little as a cherry tomato can cause severe stomach upsets." Mushrooms should also be avoided. Sugarless candy is also not a good idea.

An easy and safe Christmas meal treat for a dog would be a little turkey meat and a few roast vegetables, and maybe a little cooked fish or turkey meat for a cat. For herbivorous animals such as hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs, West recommends avoiding Christmas food entirely.

Another Christmas hazard to consider is that animals, especially dogs, don't only eat food. "Christmas usually presents animals with lots of opportunities to ingest foreign bodies - objects such as toys from stockings or crackers, party strings, discarded pieces of wrapping paper, small decorations and so on."

If an owner does want to give a gift to their pet, West suggests something that the animal will get pleasure out of, such as a soft bed for the family dog, or a toy or a scratching post for a cat. You can even give a beloved pet the gift of your time by grooming them or playing with them more than normal, or taking the dog for longer walks. 

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