Lethal Christmas dinner

  • Nearly half (49 per cent) of dog and cat owners will unknowingly risk the lives of their pets by giving them toxic foods this Christmas
  • Stuffing, mince pies and chocolate all have ingredients that can be lethal for dogs and cats
  • One in six (17 per cent) pet owners let their pets eat leftover bones from joints of meat risking suffocation, stomach injury and broken teeth
  • One in eight (12 per cent) men admit to giving their pets alcohol during the festive season

New research1 from Direct Line Pet Insurance reveals 12.2 million Brits will unknowingly risk the lives of their pets this Christmas by giving them toxic foods that can have lethal consequences.  Out of those who will let their pet eat Christmas food, more than a quarter (28 per cent) will let their dog or cat eat food which may contain onions, such as stuffing, on Christmas Day, which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and damage to red blood cells.

One in ten (9 per cent) will let their pets indulge in chocolate, which is worrying as it contains a substance called theobromine, which like caffeine, the stimulant in it is poisonous to dogs and can affect the gastrointestinal system, kidneys, heart and central nervous system. Symptoms can occur from two hours after ingesting chocolate and can include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased heart rate and seizures.

One in eight men (12 per cent) admits they will give their dog or cat alcohol this Christmas, compared to just one per cent of female owners.  Alcohol can cause pets to experience metabolic acidosis, when the blood becomes too acidic, which can cause an animal to experience a cardiac arrest.  Even low volumes of alcohol can harm the liver and kidneys and pose a risk by reducing the animal’s coordination. 

One in six (17 per cent) allow their pets to have leftover bones from joints of meat despite veterinary warnings of the dangers cooked bones2 can have on cats and dogs, including small bones lodging in the windpipe, getting stuck in the stomach or breaking teeth.

Despite our pets having different digestive systems to humans, out of those who will let their pet eat Christmas food, one in six (17 per cent) owners are still planning on feeding them foods containing dried fruit, such as raisins, which can cause stomach upsets and kidney damage.

Table one: Top ten food items owners will let their pet eat this Christmas 


Percentages (%)



Food containing onions




Christmas leftovers


Yorkshire puddings




Leftover bones from joints of meat


Roast potatoes


Dried fruit




Source: Direct Line Pet Insurance 2017

Madeline Pike, Veterinary Nurse at Direct Line, commented: “It is understandable that owners want to treat their pets to something special over the holidays, but dog and cat owners must be careful when feeding their pets human foods. It is important that pet owners read up on what their pets can safely consume, as things like cooked bones, chocolate, dried fruit, onions and alcohol can all be fatal, meaning that a seemingly harmless Christmas treat could have severe consequences.

“We appreciate it is difficult to say no to begging puppy eyes, but it is important to carefully consider the nutritional impact of different ingredients. We encourage owners to treat their pets in moderation and consider pet substitutes to human foods (for example, tins of Christmas dinners for cats). By doing so, the risk of over-feeding is significantly reduced and it eliminates the chance of food poisoning.”

Sarah Page-Jones, Chief Veterinary Officer at PawSquad, an online and mobile veterinary service, commented: “We want everyone to have an enjoyable Christmas and so suggest pet owners take a few precautions to keep their pets healthy over the festive period. We encourage owners to stick to their pet’s usual diet and feeding regime, since even Christmas foods that aren’t toxic for pets are still usually rich and can cause gastroenteritis or even pancreatitis. It is also important to keep toxic plants like poinsettia, mistletoe and holly out of reach, together with Christmas decorations that can shatter, be chewed or swallowed by inquisitive pets.”

Direct Line recommends pet owners consider taking the following precautions over Christmas:

  • Keep any potentially toxic foods out of reach of your pets and remember not to place wrapped chocolates under the Christmas tree
  • Be sure to check all ingredients on any food given to your pets to ensure they don’t contain potentially harmful foods such as onion, chocolate and raisins
  • Limit foods and drinks to pet appropriate versions specially designed for them
  • Seek veterinary advice immediately should you suspect you pet has consumed potentially toxic food
  • Have a comprehensive pet insurance policy, just in case the worst happens this Christmas

Direct Line Pet Insurance’s partnership with PawSquad offers its customers access to live chat and video calls with qualified, experienced vets to discuss their pet’s needs 24/7 together with a home visit service in selected areas.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

1 Research conducted by Opinium among 2,002 UK adults between 13 and 16 October 2017


For further information please contact:

Claire Foster

Deputy head of news 

Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 831 672

Email: [email protected]


Antonia Green

Citigate Dewe Rogerson

[email protected]

0207 282 2967


Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com/pet-cover