Our pets give us so much joy and unconditional love, it’s only natural that we want to reward them with extra-special treats when the holidays roll around each year. However, those delicious foods that we all enjoy at Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa can give our furry family members a very upset tummy, and some can even cause life-threatening sickness ranging from kidney or liver failure to pancreatitis or salt poisoning. Keep your pets out of the kitchen during meal preparation, and make sure that everyone in your family – as well as any holiday guests – knows not to “treat” your pets with any of the following foods:
1. High-fat foods such as turkey meat & skin, ham, gravy, butter, bacon & cheese
2. Onions & Garlic
3. Turkey bones, corn cobs, and other discards
4. Grapes or raisins
6. Macadamia nuts
7. Any foods containing the artificial sweetener, xylitol
8. Salty snacks, or turkey brine (VERY salty)
9. Rising bread dough or raw yeast
10. Any foods or drinks containing alcohol – including fruit cake – or caffeine
The “toxic” quantity of these foods can depend on many factors, including the type of food ingested, weight of your pet, and sometimes even your pet’s breed!
High-fat foods are one of the biggest concerns, especially with dogs: pancreatitis, which is a painful inflammation of the pancreas (the organ responsible for digestive enzymes and insulin production,) can land your pooch in the hospital for several days. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Treatment is focused on controlling nausea and vomiting, maintaining hydration, and correcting imbalances in the blood chemistry. Miniature Schnauzers are especially prone to developing pancreatitis, so if you have one of these dogs, take any extra precautions necessary to keep fatty foods away from him. Cats can also develop pancreatitis, but it is much less often due to dietary overindulgence or indiscretion than it is to other factors, including physical trauma or infectious disorders. However, eating fatty foods, or any foods that are not a usual part of the cat’s diet, may still cause GI upset. Use caution if you want to give your pet “just a taste” of any of these foods!
Onions and garlic are poisonous to both dogs and cats. Garlic is considered to be about 5 times as potent as onion. Cats and Japanese breeds of dogs (including Akitas and Shiba Inus) seem to be more sensitive to these foods . Onion or garlic poisoning can result in anemia or gastroenteritis, causing symptoms that may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and pale gums. Onset of symptoms can be delayed for several days.
Grapes, raisins, and currants are toxic primarily to dogs, and can result in severe, acute kidney failure. Eating even a very small amount can cause illness, and toxicity appears to be unrelated to the size of the animal. Symptoms of poisoning include anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea, and aggressive treatment is usually recommended, including decontamination and supportive care. If you suspect your dog has eaten any of these fruits, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline asap for guidance.
Chocolate and nuts are foods typically snatched up by dogs (rather than cats) and can both cause serious illness. The results of chocolate ingestion depend a great deal on the type of chocolate eaten – milk, dark, white, or Baker’s – the quantity eaten, and the size of the dog. The chemicals in chocolate that are dangerous are similar to caffeine and are more heavily concentrated in the darker varieties. (White chocolate, while low in these chemicals, does have a higher fat content, which may result in pancreatitis.) For example, a 50 pound dog could eat almost a pound of milk chocolate before it became very ill, but just two to three ounces of Baker’s chocolate could be very poisonous to that same dog! Macadamia nut toxicity is also “dose-dependent,” although the toxic mechanism is unknown; poisoning can cause nerve function problems, trouble walking, lethargy, increased body temperature, and vomiting.
Xylitol, an artificial sweetener being used in more and more food and non-food products, is poisonous to dogs; symptoms can be mild to severe, depending on the dose ingested. The xylitol content of any product can vary widely depending on brand and flavor. In dogs, smaller ingestions can cause an acute, life-threatening low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) within 10-15 minutes. Larger ingestions can result in acute liver necrosis and liver failure. Signs of xylitol poisoning in dogs include weakness, lethargy, collapse, vomiting, tremoring, seizures, jaundice, black-tarry stool, and even coma or death. Check the labels of ANY products in your house that may contain a sweetener (you might be surprised!) and keep items containing xylitol out of your pup’s reach.
Turkey brining has become a popular trend in recent years, and the salt-saturated solution can be very appealing to both dogs and cats. Slurping up all that salt can result in serious electrolyte imbalances and even brain swelling. Table salt is also a no-no. Signs of salt toxicosis include, not surprisingly, excessive thirst and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, and walking as though drunk. Immediate treatment and supportive care is necessary in order to avoid serious organ damage. Bird owners, salt is toxic to your feathered family members as well as to dogs and cats!
Yeast doughs, while not poisonous to your cat or dog, can cause painful gas and potentially dangerous abdominal bloating. In large breed, deep-chested dogs who may already be susceptible to “bloat,” yeast can be especially dangerous. Signs of bloat include vomiting, non-productive retching, a distended stomach, an elevated heart rate, weakness, collapse, and death. A secondary problem with yeast dough is the production of alcohol during fermentation; when your pet eats dough, this alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the animal’s bloodstream and results in alcohol poisoning. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Intoxicated dogs and cats can experience seizures and respiratory failure. Again, if you suspect your pet has ingested yeast dough, or any other alcohol product, an immediate call to your veterinarian is in order!
Finally, even if your kitchen trash doesn’t include any potential poisons for your pet, there may still be hazards lurking there: turkey or chicken bones, corn cobs, the strings that “truss up” the turkey, foil from the roasting pan, and other items can all be waiting to get gobbled up and cause intestinal obstructions or other gastrointestinal problems for your dog or cat. Nobody wants a pet to celebrate the holidays by having emergency surgery, so be sure to secure all the kitchen garbage asap and get it out of the house!
Remember, if your pet does raid the Thanksgiving table or get into the trash, or if a holiday guest falls for those big brown eyes and sneaks your dog a nom-nom no-no, don’t wait for serious symptoms to appear: contact the Pet Poison Helpline for advice, and don’t hesitate to call your pet’s primary veterinarian or local animal emergency veterinary hospital. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays to everyone!