Many of the holiday foods we commonly enjoy, unbeknownst to us, are toxic to pets. Food affects each animal differently, and while the amount consumed and pet’s size are factors, enough human foods are fatal to not be worth the risk of letting them have ANY human food. Foods that aren’t dangerous in small quantities, say a bite of ham, could be fatal if the pet consumes that entire ham. During the chaos of holiday gatherings ensure that pets don’t have access, even briefly, to your food – including leftovers in the garbage.
Keep your Halloween candy stash safe from pets; all sugar is bad for pets. Chocolate is commonly known as dangerous to pets; it’s a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic. Cocoa powder and cooking chocolate are the most toxic; milk and white chocolate the least. Chocolate overdose symptoms include: hyperactivity, passing large volumes of urine, great thirst, vomiting and diarrhea. The most dangerous effect is on the heart rate. Death is quite possible, especially with exercise. After a pet has eaten chocolate, people may think their pet is OK but symptoms may not appear for a few hours, with death following within 24 hours.
Sugar-free candy and gum are very toxic if they contain Xylitol. It can cause insulin release in most species, which can lead to hypoglycemia and liver failure within several days. Initial signs of toxicities include vomiting, lethargy, loss of coordination and can progress to seizures.
Don’t let pets access your baking while it is rising. When yeast dough is ingested, it rises in pets’ stomachs and causes abdominal pain, bloat, vomiting, and disorientation. Don’t leave alcoholic beverages, or even food containing alcohol, out. Alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death in pets. Too much salt can cause sodium ion poisoning in pets. Symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, high temperatures, seizures and even death.
Onions, chives and garlic affect cats severely but also harm dogs and livestock. Onions are the most damaging substance in this category and large amounts of garlic would need to be eaten to cause illness. Onion toxicity will cause the animal’s red blood cells to burst while circulating. Symptoms begin with vomiting, diarrhea, disinterest in food and progress to breathlessness, weakness and blood in the urine. The poisoning occurs a few days after the pet has eaten the onion. All forms of onion are problematic including dehydrated, powder, raw and cooked onions and foods with onion such as pizza, Asian food or commercial baby food. Onion poisoning can occur with a single ingestion of large quantities or cumulatively from repeated snacks containing small amounts of onions.
While bones are the stereotypical dog treat, they can cause obstruction or laceration of the digestive system. Small bones from fish and poultry are the most dangerous but all bones have been known to cause internal damage. Pets do not have enough of the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk, so should not have dairy products, whose high fat content can also be a problem. Undercooked or raw eggs and meat can also give your animal Salmonella or E. coli bacteria.
Macadamia nuts are toxic in small amounts and can cause locomotory difficulties if a pet eats as few as six nuts. Other potential dangers include: nutmeg; citrus oil extracts; persimmons; avocados; potato peelings and the leaves and stems of potatoes, tomatoes and rhubarb; broccoli; the seeds of pears, plums, peaches, apricots, and apples; raisins and grapes; moldy/spoiled food; hops, beer, coffee, tea; and all tobacco products.
Human medications are problematic for pets and Ibuprofen and Tylenol are the biggest culprits. Low doses can cause liver and kidney problems, and be fatal.
If your animal ingests any of these foods, or shows the symptoms of food toxicity, call your veterinarian – quick treatment can mean the difference between life and death. There are a number of pet poison hotlines but most charge for their advice, so you may as well call your veterinarian who can both advise you and treat your animal if necessary. Hydrogen peroxide is a common purgative if your veterinarian recommends inducing vomiting immediately.
Always assume human food and medication isn’t safe for pets and never give an animal a treat without asking their owner first. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season and encourage you to indulge in all your favorite foods but be stingy – don’t share them with your pets.
Archived advice columns can be found on the Behavioral Advice page of www.staffordanimalshelter.org