170% increase in dog thefts: keep your pets safe this Christmas

Did you know that Christmas poses an increased danger to our pets? We teamed up with leading UK emergency vet network, Vets Now, to bring you some surprising seasonal safety tips.

A happy Labrador dog and a cat cuddle together under the Christmas tree

How to prevent pet theft

Christmas is a time of celebration for many, but a time of opportunity for others. With so many of us staying home last Christmas, it’s important to remind ourselves of the additional risk of burglary at this time of year, as we head out to see family and friends.

Although recent changes to the law may see pet theft crimes more harshly penalised, prevention remains better than cure. The risk of pet theft remains high, while prosecutions have fallen by a shocking 70% over the past 20 years. According to Blue Cross UK, there has been a whopping 170% increase in pet theft since 2019!

With all the excitement that the festive season brings, there are some things you can do that can help prevent theft, or support you should the worst happen:

  • If you are visiting friends and family and unable to take your pets with you, make it appear that someone is home, from lending your neighbour’s visitors your driveway, to leaving lights on and closing your curtains.
  • It is now a legal requirement to ensure your pooch is microchipped and collared. Never more essential when you have friends and family coming in and out of the front door, and not all eyes on your furry friend. Should they escape, they are more likely to be returned.
  • 50% of dog thefts are from gardens, and winter makes no difference. Ensure all gates and fences are secure before the season begins.

Find out how to keep your home safe over Christmas, here.

Avoid accidentally buying a stolen pet

Many purchase a new family pet around this time of year, and many can find themselves at risk of being duped. Sadly, the fastest and easiest way for pet thieves to make money is to sell the stolen pet, usually online.

  • Scammers are more likely to post on free sites, so be extra vigilant on sites such as Gumtree.
  • If you are seeking a new furry family member, please do ensure you find out more about the breeder, and don’t be afraid to ask local animal shelters or the council if they have heard of them.
  • Obtaining all the relevant certification is essential, or if it is an older pet, ask about its past, request vet records, including the microchip, and call the vet to ask the important questions.
  • View the pet in his or her home so that you can see living conditions and, vitally, have an address to report should any problems arise. If a seller refused to engage in telephone calls and requests text only, refuses to allow you to view the pet in their own home and volunteers to bring the pet to you directly to view, that is a big red flag.

Lara Wilson, lead emergency veterinary surgeon at the Vets Now pet emergency hospital in Glasgow confirms: “Our best advice is buy your puppy from a reputable breeder who will let you see the parents, check initial vaccinations have been given by a veterinary surgeon and the puppy has had initial worm treatments.

“If you are in any doubt about what you are being told about a puppy, don’t buy it.  A good breeder will also provide advice and support after the pup gets home.” 

Beware the banquet

The Vets Now team normally sees around a 70% rise in cases around Christmas and New Year as worried pet owners battle with the unexpected dangers of the season – with everything from accidental ingestion of raisins, chocolate, and tinsel to fairy light and candle burns. The team also normally see a 200% rise in people visiting their chocolate toxicity calculator during the festive period compared to the rest of the year.

According to Vets Now UK, 9 out of 10 poisonings happen while the pet is in their own home, and a shocking 5.5 million British pet owners unknowingly feed their pets these harmful foods at Christmas:

  • Chocolate – contains a stimulant called theobromine that is poisonous to dogs, and severely poisonous to cats. Never put chocolate treats or gifts under the tree!
  • Christmas pudding – grapes, raisins, currants, and sultanas are toxic to cats and dogs, and that includes the mince pies left on the coffee table. Keep all puddings, pies, and panettone’s out of reach, and carefully dispose of leftovers.
  • Blue cheese – did you know that most blue cheeses contain a substance call roquefortine C, which dogs are sensitive to? Yes, you’ll simply have to eat it all yourself.
  • Alcohol – have you wondered why there are several brands of ‘doggie beer’ available? That’s because alcohol is so much more toxic to dogs than it is humans and can cause diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, tremors, coma or even death. For cats, just one tablespoon of alcohol could lead to death, so keep an eye on those jovial spillages and mop up quickly.
  • Cooked bones – beware falling into the leftover trap! Once cooked, all bones become brittle and splinter easily, which could pierce your pet’s digestive tract or cause an obstruction. Like your puddings, pies, and chocolate wrappers, dispose of bones in the outside bin.

Does any of the above surprise you?

Batteries not included

Unfortunately for us, it’s not just the food that our pets are attracted to eating, from tinsel to batteries, there is a bounty of unique Christmas hazards you may not have even considered:

  • According to Vets Now, “dogs eat tinsel like we eat spaghetti, while cats love tinsel but tinsel doesn’t love cats”. Both cause serious blockages, or worse, work its way through the gut and into the intestine which can be extremely serious. The bottom line: keep your pet away from the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations, and close the door when you aren’t able to supervise them.
  • Did you know that ingesting a battery can cause a dog chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning? And consuming magnets can cause significant damage if ingested. These are the types of risk that are far more prominent around this time of year as gifts are unwrapped and toys strewn across the floor.
  • On a similar note, it is also worth keeping an eye on those little packets of silica gel that fall out of packaging. Although they are non-toxic, they can cause blockages in the gut. The same applies for wrapping or crepe paper.
  • Candles may set a beautiful festive scene, and make a great gift, however they do burn paws and curious noses, and can fall over when brushed against. Keep cats away from them, and always ensure you blow them out before leaving a room.
  • Poinsettias – prevent your cat from nibbling at your poinsettia! Cats are highly intolerant of this Christmas staple, and if they ingest the leaves it can cause a cat to drool, vomit or experience diarrhoea. The white sap can also cause skin irritation and conjunctivitis.
  • Lego, plastic, wood and any other toy or decorative item could be a choking hazard so please do be vigilant.

The last thing you want to be doing on Christmas Day is an impromptu trip to the emergency vet, however, if you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t, or injured themselves, please contact your vet or out or hours service immediately for advice.

Vet Now’s Lara Wilson advises, “Make sure you keep up with all your vet checks and vaccinations appointments and if you are worried about your pet, we are here for you and you should seek advice from your daytime vet immediately. If it’s out of hours, you can contact Vets Now at our clinics and hospitals throughout the UK and we also are offering video consultations so you can talk through your concerns with one of our experienced vets in the comfort of your own home.”

And vitally, make sure you know which vet is open during the festive season so that you know who and how to access their services in an emergency. Contact your own vet directly or click ‘find emergency vet near me’ to review Vet Now’s national emergency network.