Toxicity varies with the cocoa content, but high-quality dark chocolate is more likely to be lying around at Christmas. Try and find the packaging if you can and assess how much might have been eaten to help your vet make the right treatment decision.
Grapes and dried fruit are also common problems, especially with mince pies, Christmas Cake, Stollen, and bowls of nibbles being out on tables for guests. Some nuts can be safely eaten by dogs, but the macadamia nut (a festive favourite) is more toxic. Dregs of alcoholic drinks are appealing to dogs and could cause symptoms from nausea to severe alcohol poisoning.
As well as these very toxic foods, there is also a risk of more general overindulgence at this time of year. A small amount of lean turkey and boiled vegetables makes a nice Christmas dinner for your dog, but too much of the skin or roast potatoes could cause pancreatitis, and stuffing or gravy containing onions or garlic should be avoided as these can be toxic too. Be very careful if the turkey carcass is left out on the worktop … cooked poultry bones can cause intestinal damage.
Talking of intestinal damage, vets also see extra cases of ‘foreign bodies’ at Christmas time, with presents, toys, and ornaments lying around, and perhaps guests staying who aren’t careful with their socks and gloves! If you are concerned that your dog has swallowed something inedible call your vet for advice.
Most of these risks can be managed by planning ahead: keep decorations out of dogs’ reach, don’t put gifts that might contain food under the tree, and give guests clear instructions about where to store their things. If you are planning a party, your dog might be happier in a safe pen, crate, or room where he won’t be disturbed and can enjoy chomping on a dog-safe chew toy with the added benefit that your guests won’t have to worry about putting their plate of nibbles down somewhere safe!
It’s not just things indoors that can be a poisoning concern in the winter though. One of the most dangerous things your dog could ingest is engine antifreeze which causes acute kidney failure. This highest risk comes from puddles on driveways, garages, or farmyards. If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze you must contact your vet immediately as treatment is only effective in the first few hours. Dogs may also become ill from licking rock salt from their paws after a pavement walk, so a rinse in clean water is recommended.