Updated November 20, 2020 – The holidays are upon us, and with celebrations comes plenty of seasonal cooking, filling the holidays with delicious meals, desserts and food gifts. As we enjoy the bounty of the season it’s tempting to share a tasty morsel of special food with our pets. But it’s important to remember that food treats can become food disasters for our companion animals, and wind you up with an unexpected holiday trip to your veterinarian.
As your guests arrive and the holidays move into full swing, keep your pet safe by paying extra attention to their food environment.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate and cocoa, is dangerous for our pets. Chocolate contains ingredients that are toxic to our pets, including theobromine and caffeine. Chocolate ingestion is the number one food reason pet owners call poison control hotlines, and many pet hotlines report a big spike in phone calls about chocolate ingestion during the holidays. Dogs have a sweet tooth just like many of us and are drawn to sugary, high-fat treats (and boxes of chocolate thoughtfully brought into your home by a guest). Watch out especially for chocolate-covered espresso beans!
Most people don’t realize that macadamia nuts are problems for pets. The toxic ingredient in macadamia nuts has not yet been identified, but pet owners need to be careful about exposure. Macadamia nuts are high in fat as well, contributing to their potential harmful effects. Other nuts are not considered toxic.
Onions, garlic, scallions and leeks are toxic to pets, too. Cats are particularly sensitive, as are some breeds of dogs (Akita, Shiba Inu, and breeds with inherited red blood cell problems). The toxic effects are cumulative, so clinical signs don’t show up for hours or days after ingestion.
Although alcohol (ethanol) is an obvious potential poison, many people don’t realize that raw bread dough also can result in ethanol poisoning. As the yeast grow, they produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. Eating rising dough can lead to both alcohol poisoning and stomach distention.
Grapes and raisins
Most people are aware that grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, and some evidence suggests this fruit also may be toxic to cats. Even a small amount of material can be toxic, so owners need to be vigilant about exposure to any type of raisin or grape, either raw or cooked.
Although not specifically toxic, high-fat foods, such as gravy, turkey skin and butter, can cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Pancreatitis is a serious, and occasionally fatal, disease. Keep your pet away from any foods that have a high fatty content.
When guests are in the house and rich foods easily available, numerous innocent treats can quickly add up to a health emergency. If your pet has overindulged or decides on their own to dive into something other than their normal food, contact your veterinarian for advice. Pet emergency clinics also are good resources and are equipped to deal with potential problems.
Xylitol and other items in your purse
When your guests arrive, remember to store purses and other items that may contain tasty but harmful substances safely away from your pet. Did you know a single piece of sugarless gum or candy containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol can be toxic and cause liver damage and life-threatening drops in blood sugar in dogs? Medications also may seem like fun chew toys to a curious animal as vials rattle and roll when they swat or nudge them. If ingested, many human drugs can cause serious problems in dogs. Even hand sanitizer that contains mostly alcohol can have toxic effects on our pets. Store these items well beyond reach from curious pets.
The holiday season is a time to give thanks for the love and companionship provided by our furry companions. By taking a few precautions, we can keep our pets healthy and happy for many more holiday seasons to come!
Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, from everyone at Morris Animal Foundation!