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Our Top Christmas Emergencies & How To Avoid Them

Let’s face it, it’s easy to get distracted at this time of year. Life gets busier and is full of lots of fun and frivolity. It’s also a time when our beloved fur babies tend to get into a lot of mischief, some of which lands them at our emergency vet hospital.


Christmas Day and Boxing Day tend to be big ones for our emergency team. Here’s a guide to the top issues, and how to avoid them.



Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract which can be caused by pets eating rich or fatty foods. We often see pets in the clinic that have been chewing on a ham bone, or getting into the fatty leftovers such as sausages, chicken skin and bacon.

Symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhoea, and your pet may also be in pain and quite lethargic. Pets usually receive a range of medications to help alleviate their symptoms, avoid secondary infection and to re-hydrate them. Their electrolyte balance may also need adjusting. In severe cases your pet may need a prolonged stay in hospital.


While it’s tempting to include your pet in the festive feasts, the best advice is to keep them to their strict, normal diet and make sure they don’t accidentally get access to human food. If you would like to spoil them on Christmas Day, there are plenty of pet friendly treats available to purchase.

Foreign body

The introduction of a whole lot of new fun – Christmas trees, decorations, presents, bon bons to name a few – is often just too tempting for our pets. They love to explore with their mouths and can often end up accidentally swallowing dangerous objects. Extra socialising also means pets have greater access to corn cobs, bbq skewers and bones, which can all get stuck on the way down.


A pet with a foreign body will often have vomiting or diarrhea and can seem lethargic and out of sorts. They may have a sore stomach and be off their food. This can be a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. Radiographs or ultrasounds of your pet’s abdomen will be taken to determine whether they will likely pass their foreign body, or will need surgery.


For information on how to keep your pet safe this Christmas Day, see our post on Christmas safety tips for pets.

Toxin ingestion

Many of the foods we love to eat at Christmas are also toxic to pets. This includes nuts, sultanas/raisins, avocado, garlic/onions, foods containing xylitol, chocolate, alcohol and caffeine. These foods are often included in our socialising, and also in presents found in easy access under the Christmas tree.


There are a broad range of responses to toxin ingestion, some take time to cause an effect, others are quick and the severity of symptoms can depend on the amount ingested. In general, some of the symptoms can include vomiting/diarrhea, lethargy, excess drooling, seizures and collapse. Treatment will also differ depending on the toxin and amount ingested, however, if we are able to see a pet quickly we can often help them to bring up the ingested food, limiting the damage caused.


We recommend not having any presents under the tree which include known toxins and keeping your pet away during present opening and clean up. All human food should be kept up high and it’s helpful to let your guests know not to feed your pet or put food on the ground.


Australian summers get hot, and we see a number of pets over this time with heatstroke. It can be hard to keep an eye on our pets while managing a Christmas function, and with guests around this can sometimes mean pets are left out in the sun or without water. Dressing up in cute Christmas costumes can also pose problems, as it stops your pet from regulating their temperature properly.


Symptoms of heatstroke include excessive panting, bright red gums and tongue which turn to blue, salivation, vomiting, anxious pacing, lack of coordination, stumbling, seizures or strange behaviour, collapse and coma.


The best advice is to think about your pet before Christmas Day and make a plan for how they can stay cool and calm. Finding an area they can be away from guests is a good idea for many reasons, and can ensure your pet has plenty of water and appropriate food, and can rest when needed. If you do see any signs of heatstroke, you will need emergency medical advice as this condition can worsen quickly and sometimes be fatal.


You can read more of our specialist veterinary news and stories here.

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Animal Referral & Emergency network is the largest specialty and referral network in Australia, consisting of over 20 sites. With over 1,200 dedicated team members, including over 600 nurses and over 390 veterinarians (including specialists and registrars), we provide exceptional care for your pets. Count on us for expert medical attention and comprehensive veterinary services.