Treat your dog for life – not just for Christmas

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Everyone likes a little treat every now and then - and especially now that Christmas is coming. Although it's tempting to give your dog scraps from the table, many popular Yuletide treats can actually be dangerous for dogs. In addition, whilst just one leftover slice of turkey may not seem like much to us humans, for a dog, depending on their size, this could potentially form a substantial proportion of their day’s calorie intake and affect the balance of the rest of their nutritional plan.

Treat or not to treat?

Some dogs are very good at begging for food.  But often all they need is your love and attention, not a portion of your festive dish.  They may be just as happy with a walk or some play.  Feeding your dog scraps from the table may encourage this begging behaviour and can be very off-putting when you have visitors.  Feeding human foods can also have an adverse effect on your dog's health, so don't be afraid to ask well-meaning guests not to feed from the table or to give your dog the wrong kind of treats.

Watch out for chocolate!

Allowing your dog to eat some human treats can cause them harm for a multitude of reasons, including excessive calories, potential toxicities and digestive system upsets.  One example of a common foodstuff that can cause toxic effects in dogs is chocolate. Vets receive many calls about chocolate poisoning every year. Chocolate poisoning in dogs can cause symptoms of varying severity according to how much and what type of chocolate they have eaten, including vomiting, diarrhoea, hyperactivity, a fast heart rate, tremors and even seizures and death,  It can also be challenging to determine exactly how much of a certain chocolate needs to be eaten by a dog for them to experience problems, as it very much depends on the specific type and composition of the chocolate.  One of the toxic components in chocolate is called theobromine.  Caffeine is another harmful substance for dogs that is found in chocolate.

There are also many other human foods and treats that are dangerous for dogs.  For example, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and other plants of the Allium family contain compounds that can cause a life-threatening form of anaemia. It's not just the raw form of these ingredients that you should avoid feeding your dog, gravy or sauces that cover a meal may also contain these ingredients too. Other foods to watch out for that are harmful to dogs include grapes and their dried fruits (raisins, sultanas, currants etc), which your mince pies, christmas puddings, christmas cakes and many other festive treats may contain, which could cause acute kidney failure.  Another one to be mindful of is xylitol, an ingredient found in some sweets and desserts, which can cause acute liver failure.

If you are concerned that your dog has eaten something which may be harmful to them, contacting your vet for advice without delay is recommended.

The right nutrition in the right amount

Although we are often guilty ourselves of over-indulging on rich foods throughout the festive period, our pets should not follow. Overfeeding your dog or treating them with unhealthy snacks over Christmas will lead them to pile on extra pounds.  This is a concern because obesity has been associated with some serious health conditions including osteoarthritis, certain cancers or issues relating to breathing.

With more people than usual around the house, Christmas can actually be quite stressful for dogs. To minimise disruption, stick to their routine and continue feeding precisely-balanced nutrition like Hill's Science Plan. Using some of their Hill's Science Plan kibbles from their daily ration as rewards is just as much of a treat, and much better for them. You can also combine the wet and dry Hill’s Science Plan versions or even use different flavours if you so wish. However, do consult the feeding guide for guidance on recommended daily feeding amounts and make any changes gradually. The Hill's Science Plan range has delicious tasting varieties that are scientifically-developed for the specific needs of healthy pets. And if your dog doesn't love the taste, then we'll give you your money back!

So think before you treat. You might allow yourself a mince pie this festive season, but don't pass one down to your dog.  As we have seen, the raisins and sultanas could cause them serious harm and the extra calories won’t help them either!