The holiday season is in full swing and merriment is all around. There are parties, family members dropping in, friends stopping by, and so many other reasons to celebrate. You know what happens when people get together, don’t you? Food happens, of course. Oh, so much food.
Your pets love this because it means endless snacking opportunities for them. Even if you’re not handing goodies under the dinner table to your dog or cat, your Uncle Jack or Cousin Mirabelle might be doing it. That’s why this time of year, it is critical to keep a sharp eye on what your furry friends are eating and drinking.
A wide variety of holiday treats are downright toxic and could harm or kill your pets. Here are some of the worst offenders:
1. Grapes, Raisins and Currants
Surprised? Grapes, raisins and currants are a conundrum, because some cats and dogs will eat them and experience no ill effect, while others develop kidney failure and sometimes die. No one has determined why all pets don’t have the same reaction. However, the ones who react badly become very ill.
Grape or raisin toxicosis will typically cause vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, dehydration and decreased urination. Even pets that survive an initial bout of toxicosis can have persistent kidney disease afterward. Truly, it’s not worth the risk. Keep grapes and raisins away from your dog or cat — even as an ingredient in cookies, cereals, chicken salads and so on.
2. Onions, Garlic and Chives
We’re lumping these items together on this list because, as tasty ingredients, they end up in so many festive dishes. Think about it. Onions, garlic and chives end up in stuffing, gravies, pizza, pasta dishes, side dishes, soups, chips, dips and even baby food.
Don’t forget that we’re also talking about the powdered forms you use in your cooking. Onion powder, garlic powder, dried chives, dehydrated onions — it’s all dangerous. In fact, these forms can be even worse because they are so much more concentrated. Onions, by the way, include anything in the “onion family” such as shallots and scallions.
Cats and dogs suffer equally here. A compound in these foods called “thiosulphate” damages pets’ red blood cells. Dogs and cats can develop anemia several days after eating any of these foods, though onions seem to be the biggest threat overall. Problems can even develop over time, after eating small doses regularly. Japanese breeds of dogs, such as the Akita and Shiba Inu, are particularly vulnerable. Watch for orange- or red-tinged urine and lethargic behavior.
3. Wine, Beer and Basically All Alcoholic Beverages
Your cousin Zippy might think it’s a royal hoot to give your dog enough beer on New Year’s Eve to make him tipsy like everyone else at the party. Don’t let him do it. What the alcohol is doing to your dog is no laughing matter. For example, the hops in beer are poisonous to your dog. Similarly, avoid letting your dog clean up that spilled wine on the kitchen floor. The grapes and alcohol content are toxic for him.
Cats likewise shouldn’t imbibe. Keep them away from lapping at drinks they might find attractive because of their dairy content — spiked egg nog, White Russians, that sort of thing. Two measly teaspoons of whiskey can put a 5-pound cat into a coma. A third teaspoon can kill her.
Drinking any alcoholic beverages can result in extreme fever leading to multiple organ system failure. The worst case scenario here is coma and death. Truly not so funny, is it? Watch for restlessness, excessive panting, tremors and seizures.
Yes, you know this already, but chocolate must be part of this list. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are methylxanthines. Methylxanthines are toxic to dogs and cats. The darker the chocolate, the more harmful it is.
You don’t want a real life “death by chocolate.” Keep it well away from pets. If you suspect your dog or cat has eaten chocolate and is showing symptoms like panting, vomiting, or diarrhea, get to the vet immediately. Heart and nervous system damage may otherwise result.
No guacamole for your fur kids. Avocados contain persin, which doesn’t sit well in doggie and kitty stomachs. It can cause heart congestion, diarrhea and vomiting. It won’t kill your dog or cat, but it will make them very uncomfortable if they eat too much. Note that for other pets like rabbits, birds and horses, avocado is much more problematic and should be avoided. It can cause everything from respiratory distress to death.
6. Walnuts, Almonds and Macadamia Nuts
Of all the nuts, avoid feeding macadamia nuts to your dog. They can cause neurological problems ranging from disorientation, muscular weakness and vomiting to tremors, lameness or even a total inability to walk. Other troublesome nuts include walnuts, which can cause bowel obstructions and digestive distress, and almonds, which are hard for dogs to digest.
Even nuts that are safe for dogs turn into serious problems if they’re moldy or too fatty. The mold may contain toxins, while high levels of fat may cause pancreatitis.
Depending on the type consumed, mushrooms can be fatal to dogs. We put them in a lot of holiday foods, from pizza to stuffing, so remain watchful. Some mushrooms contain deadly toxins, while others may result only in an upset stomach.
Don’t gamble if you believe your dog has eaten mushrooms, whether from cooked food or raw from an outdoor source. Watch for jaundice, lethargy, vomiting, abdominal pain, disorientation, and drooling. Get your dog to a vet, and try to bring one of the mushrooms she ate with you to help determine what type of treatment is needed.
Xylitol is a sweetener used in sugar-free gum, baked goods and other foods. While it might help you stay slim, it can be deadly to your pets. In cats and dogs, Xylitol causes insulin levels to spike rapidly and blood sugar levels to plummet. The result can be liver failure. Watch for seizures, disorientation, loss of coordination and lethargic behavior.
9. Bread Dough
Never let your dog or cat have raw bread dough. The yeast will cause the dough to rise inside their little furry tummies. Yeast multiplication can also cause alcohol intoxication. Either way, this is a recipe for gastrointestinal distress at best. At worst, well… let’s just say you really don’t want to be the cause of a distended or ruptured stomach, do you? It happens.
10. Fatty Meat Trimmings and Turkey Skin
Fat and trimmings from meat can cause intestinal upset and digestive problems. Cooked turkey skin can have a host of things that are toxic to your pet. If you cooked that turkey using problematic oils, spices, and marinades, your dog might have difficulty digesting the skin. Eating it puts him at risk for pancreatitis. Watch for abdominal pain, vomiting and lethargy.
11. Raw Fish
Perhaps one of your party guests will bring over some sushi or some salmon to put in your smoker for a special treat. Raw fish presents a real hazard to dogs. Some fish, notably salmon and trout, carry a parasite called Nanophyetus salmincola that can infect and kill a dog if not quickly diagnosed and treated.
If the parasite is ingested, symptoms to watch for include a high fever, vomiting, depression, diarrhea, weight loss and discharge from the eyes and nose.
Cats should stay away from raw fish, too. It contains an enzyme that destroys thiamine, an essential part of a cat’s diet. Raw fish? Just say no.
Caffeine is one of the compounds in chocolate that makes it toxic to pets. Even on its own, caffeine can poison a dog or cat. There’s no reason to let your best pal drink soda, energy drinks, coffee or tea. Don’t let them do so and caffeine poisoning won’t be a problem. Remember to keep pets away from the garbage can as well, or they might eat coffee grounds, tea bags, or other dangerous trash.
If your cat or dog exhibits any odd symptoms after a party at which food and drink flowed freely, don’t ignore the warning signs. Rapid medical attention may be warranted. Just hoping Fido or Ms Whiskers will “get better” in a day or so might be sealing their fate.
The best advice of all is to keep your pet well away from human food. It’s not good for them and often is incredibly harmful. You won’t have to worry about it if you never feed it to them. Relax, enjoy your holiday season and snuggle happily with your faithful furry friends.
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