Dr Clare Peterson covers six common emergencies that we see come through our doors through the festive season.

How to prevent a very hairy Christmas:

Christmas is by far my favourite time of year. Whether you celebrate this holiday or another one, the magic that surrounds this time of year is infectious. Strangely enough, it is also our busiest time of year at the Animal Emergency Service and unfortunately, most of the things we see coming through the doors are preventible. So, though we love to meet all your furry friends, we would rather they were happy, healthy and at home so I thought I would share some of the most common emergencies we see to hopefully prevent your family from having the stressful drive down to see us during the holiday season.

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    Exhibit A

    Ornamental abdomens

Working with animals always keeps you on your toes. You never know what to expect when you press the button to shoot that X-ray of the vomiting Labrador who eats everything without a second thought. This is a problem throughout the year with all different breeds, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what they will ingest. For some reason, at Christmas it seems to be an even more common presentation. With the amount of new items that get brought out to make our homes festive, we really need to keep this in mind.

Christmas tree ornaments, batteries, bows/ribbon on presents, string/cooking twine and tinsel are probably the most commonly ingested items but as you can see from this X-ray:


Even the things you would never expect an animal to eat can be a hazard. This silly pup ate a Xmas tree of chocolates that was held together by pins.

In total 28 pins were removed from this little guy’s stomach. He recovered well but his poor family had a very stressful Christmas.

The best way to keep your furry friends safe is to create a barrier between them and the decorations. There are bitter sprays and other products out there to try and deter animals from chewing on things they shouldn’t but the only way to be absolutely sure they don’t eat it is to not give them the opportunity. Keep your decorations and wrapping materials in sturdy sealed containers when not in use and place a puppy gate or some other sort of barrier between your pets and the Christmas Tree (bonus: this will also deter overly curious children from prematurely opening their presents). If you are worried that your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t have, the best thing to do is get them to your vet ASAP. They can be made to vomit under supervision or have an X-ray taken to investigate and only then the safest steps can be taken to remove the offending object/s.

NEVER attempt to make your pet vomit at home! Despite there being ‘how to’ options on google there are too many risks associated with causing pneumonia, salt intoxication or oesophageal damage. Vomiting should always be induced under veterinary supervision.

  • The Reverse Chocolate WaterfallDog with chocolate in the mouth. isolated on white background

It is well known now that chocolate is toxic to dogs/cats but it is still something we see all too often. Christmas and chocolate go hand in hand so it’s inevitable that at some point there will be some kind of cocoa product in the house. Chocolate contains the toxins caffeine and theobromine which cause vomiting and diarrhea on the mild end of the toxicity range and seizures or heart arrhythmias on the severe end.

So, which types are the worse and how much does my animal have to eat to be toxic? The toxic dose for each dog will very depending on their size and the type of chocolate eaten. Cooking chocolate and dark chocolates are by far the most toxic with as little as 5-10g causing a potentially severe reaction in a small dog. Even baked goods made with cocoa powders or cocoa nibs can be very hazardous. White chocolate contains little to no theobromine or caffeine so the chance of a toxic effect is much lower but the high sugar content can still be an issue causing gastrointestinal upset.

If your animal ingests one of these products the best thing to do is pick up the phone and call the nearest vet. We can calculate the toxicity level based on their weight, the type of chocolate and how much your pet has ingested and recommend the next best steps.

  • Family feud

Christmas is a time for families to get together and celebrate. Many times it is the first time in a long time that family members have seen each other, contributing to that magical feeling of the holidays. Consequently, it is also a time where pets are brought together that have not yet met, or would not normally spend so much time together in a small space. Dominance and territory are part of our pets language. As pet owners, we need to be aware of this and respect their boundaries. In the emergency room we see countless dogs coming in with dog fight wounds after being brought together at the family barbecue or left alone in the yard while the families go off to celebrate. It is important to be aware of our pets social cues and to make sure that we properly introduce pets before placing them together in what can be a very stressful situation.


One of the biggest contributing factors to these fights is food. Food is a very high-value commodity in the animal world and as many animals come from single pet homes, they may not be used to being fed around others. If you are taking your pets over to a friend or family members place, try not to feed them in the same room as the other animals, ask other guests not to feed your pets and make sure that all bones, food bowls, and other high-value items are out of reach for the time that the dogs are together.

If your dog does get into a fight with another animal the most important thing to remember is to protect yourself!! Dogs fighting do no differentiate between their owners and the dog they are fighting and if you try and get in the middle they may turn on you by mistake. The last thing you want is to have to bring your pet to us and also take yourself or a family member to the people ER!

Stay tuned for “How to Prevent a Very Hairy Christmas: PART 2

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