Chemicals, products and drugs used to deal with the cold weather may be harmful to pets. Ingestion of antifreeze, for example, can be fatal. In addition, Christmas may be particularly hazardous with large quantities of readily available food.

Ethylene glycol is a common ingredient in antifreeze. If ingested it can cause kidney failure and cats are at particular risk. The initial signs of toxicity can be subtle and easily missed and may not be apparent until hours after ingestion. There is an antidote for ethylene glycol poisoning but to be effective it must be started as soon as possible.

Chocolate contains a chemical which dogs do not tolerate very well. White chocolate generally does not represent a risk but milk chocolate and even a relatively small amount of dark chocolate can cause agitation, excitability, tremors, convulsions and problems with the heart.

There are many different types of products for the symptomatic relief of coughs, cold and flu symptoms. These include tablets, capsules, syrups and hot drinks. These products can contain a variety of different drug ingredients including decongestants, vitamins, painkillers (such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, aspirin), caffeine and antihistamines. If your pet has eaten one of these
products it is important to know which one and the ingredients involved. Even products with the same brand name may contain different ingredients. Take the packaging and any remaining medicine with you to your vet if you need to go.

Grapes and their dried products (currants, sultanas and raisins) are toxic to dogs. Ingestion of even a small quantity can cause severe kidney failure. This will also include food items that contain dried fruits such as Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies.

Rock salt is the common name of halite, a rock containing salt (sodium chloride). It is used in winter to salt roads and paths, to lower the freezing temperature of water and melt ice thus making
conditions less hazardous for road users and pedestrians. Excessive ingestion of salt can lead to a high sodium concentration in the blood. Pets that have walked on salted pavements may lick their feet and ingest a small quantity of rock salt. This could cause thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy. Eating lumps of rock salt could lead to severe poisoning with convulsions and coma.

Holly, ivy and mistletoe may all be in the house over Christmas. These are not edible and as with any inedible plant material taken in quantity they might cause mild gastric upset.

• Call Animal PoisonLine on 01202 509000 even if your pet is showing no signs to find out whether a trip to the vet is required.
• Remove your pet from the source of poison.
• Do not try to make your pet vomit – NEVER give salt water.
• Collect the poison and take a sample/container with you if you are advised to take your pet to the vet practice.