Updated: Dec 10, 2020
There are many common foods that can be toxic to our pets. These foods are toxic no matter what time of year it is, but during the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, these foods are being cooked and consumed at greater volumes giving our pets more opportunities to also consume them. The holidays can also be chaotic with more people coming in and out of our homes than usual. It’s very easy to get distracted, giving our pets more opportunities to steal food or beg friends and relatives for foods they may not be aware are harmful to our pets. The following is not a comprehensive list of foods to avoid giving to our critters, but they are among the more common ones that can cause serious issues. If you ever suspect that your pet has ingested any of these foods or other foods you’re not certain about, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435as soon as possible.
Holidays are a time for celebration, and celebrations often involve alcohol. We all know the detrimental effects that excess alcohol has on people. Alcohol poisoning is very real and can be deadly. Alcohol affects animals just as it does people. However, because our pets have a much lower body weight and zero tolerance to alcohol, it doesn’t take much at all to harm them. Alcohol consumption in pets can lead to staggering, decreased reflexes, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and hypothermia. Severe intoxication can lead to coma, respiratory failure, heart failure, and death. Eggnog is a very popular drink that’s typically reserved for the Christmas holidays. This drink not only contains alcohol, it also contains, raw eggs, fat, sugar, and milk. None of these ingredients are good for your pet.
Onions, Garlic, Chives, and Leeks
Onion, garlic, chives, and leeks are all herbs that belong in the Allium family of plants. These herbs are some of the most common used in cooking and are also some of the most toxic to both cats and dogs, even in their dry forms. Consumption of any part of these plants can cause irritation in the mouth which leads to drooling. Other gastrointestinal symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The effects that these plants have on the gastrointestinal system typically are not fatal. However, the effects that they have on the red blood cells can be severe and lethal. When these plants are metabolized by the body, they produce oxidants. When a high enough quantity of plant is ingested, the body will not be able to metabolize the oxidant sufficiently or quickly enough. The oxidant then accumulates in the blood and causes severe damage to red blood cells. This causes hemolytic anemia. When the red blood cells are destroyed, they are unable to carry oxygen to vital organs. Vital organs become damaged and multiple organ failure can occur due to lack of oxygen.
In addition to the gastrointestinal symptoms, your pet may exhibit lethargy, weakness, staggering, pale gums, increased respiration or panting, red tinged urine, increased heart rate, collapse, and death from ingestion of these plants. The severity of symptoms often depends on the amount eaten and the weight of your pet. Cats and small dogs are particularly at risk due to their body size, but if a larger dog eats a hefty amount, he too can suffer from toxicosis.
Problems often arise when an animal ingests a large enough amount in one sitting, but repeated ingestion of small amounts can also lead to toxicity. It is also important to know that symptoms of hemolytic anemia may not manifest to their fullest until a few days after ingestion. If you believe your pet has ingested any amounts of these plants, but is not showing symptoms or only showing gastrointestinal symptoms, it is best to still consult your veterinarian for possible evaluation and treatment.
Chocolate and Caffeine
Chocolate is a favorite all year around, but particularly during the holidays. Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine. The chemical effects of theobromine are similar to caffeine, but animals can not metabolize these substances as efficiently as people, so their effects can be very pronounced and more serious. Animals are also more effected by these toxins due to their smaller size.
The amount of theobromine found in chocolate varies with the type of chocolate. Baker’s chocolate and gourmet chocolates tend to have higher concentrations of toxin than milk chocolates, and white chocolates barely have any. However, the fats and sugars found in white chocolate can still lead to gastrointestinal issues and pancreatitis. Typically, for a 50 lb dog, 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate can be toxic vs 9 ounces of milk chocolate.
Low doses (20mg/kg) of caffeine and theobromine can cause irritability, anxiousness, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water intake, increased urination, and panting. Larger doses (40mg/kg) of these toxins can cause high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and heart arrhythmias. Even larger doses (60mg/kg) can cause heart failure and neurological signs such as tremors, twitching, and seizures. Fatal doses occur around 200mg/kg. The symptoms of chocolate toxicity may take several hours to manifest and can last for several days due to the long half life of theobromine.
Grapes and Raisins
Grapes of every kind can be highly toxic to both cats and dogs. Raisins are simply dehydrated grapes, so they too, are just as toxic. Raisins are a very common ingredient in fruit cakes which are very popular during the holidays. The exact toxic ingredient in grapes that makes them so dangerous is not known. However, it is known that whatever the toxic substance is, it can cause severe kidney failure and death.
The ingestion of grapes does not effect every animal the same. The reason for this is also unknown. In some pets, as little as one grape can be the cause of severe kidney failure and can be fatal. The symptoms of grape toxicity are those caused by kidney failure and include increased water intake, increased urination, dehydration, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite. Symptoms generally occur within 12-24 hours after consumption.
Candies and Other Sweets
Holidays are the time when many of us over indulge in sweets and have more of them in our homes. Many sweets contain different types of artificial sweeteners. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is found in sugarless gums and candies. It is very toxic to animals and can result in severe low blood sugar and liver failure if ingested. Symptoms typically occur within 30 minutes of ingestion and include lethargy, vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, tremors, seizures, and coma. If not treated, Xylitol toxicity can be fatal.
Nuts are abundant during the holidays as they are used in all sorts of holiday foods such as pies, fudge, and snack mixes. Most nuts and nut butters are generally safe for pets, but macadamia nuts and black walnuts (not commonly eaten by people) are highly toxic to pets. Symptoms of toxicosis include vomiting, tremors, increased heart rate, muscle weakness, high temperature, and seizures.
Although most nuts are not harmful to animals, the hulls and shells of some nuts such as pistachios and cashews can be a choking hazard. Also, all nuts and nut butters contain high levels of fat which can cause pancreatitis. Symptoms of pancreatitis include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Nuts are also often coated with spices such as cocoa, salt, garlic, and pepper. Some of these spices can be toxic to animals. Some nut butters may also contain an artificial sweetener called Xylitol. Xylitol can be extremely toxic to pets and may cause liver failure. Always check the ingredients of foods containing artificial sweeteners.
Bones can be a choking hazard, particularly cooked bones. Cooked bones tend to be more brittle and easily break and splinter. Splintered bones can cause damage to the mouth, tongue, throat, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Splintered bones can also cause intestinal blockage and intestinal perforation which can result in serious illness and death. Never feed your dog cooked bones.
Raw bones generally do not cause as many problems as cooked bones, but they can still be a choking hazard and can damage your dog’s teeth. If your dog has also had issues with pancreatitis, it is not wise to give your dog raw bones with lots of marrow, because marrow is high in fat. If you wish to feed your dog raw bones, it is best to consult with your veterinarian on the best type and size for your pet.