Dreaming of fudgy holiday cookies? Is grandmother’s traditional onion-and-garlic roast something the family prepares every Christmas Eve? Or what about that bowl of sugar-free candy perched on the coffee table for great Aunt Selma?
While the holidays are a time for celebrating with mega-baking and cooking marathons, many of the foods we love to purchase, prepare, and eat can cause harm to our pets. In fact, while some can result in diarrhea or other stomach-related issues like vomiting, joint pain, blood disorders, or tremors, others can even cause coma and death. So while our first inclination may be to share the culinary wealth with our cherished four-legged family members, remember that just because we crave something doesn’t mean feeding it to Brutus or Cleo is the safe thing to do.
Chocolate, Onions & Garlic: Though many of us know that chocolate is considered toxic for dogs and can cause seizures, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or death, you may not know that in addition to containing caffeine, which animals should not consume, the chemical that makes (even white) chocolate harmful–theobromine–is also found in onions. Feeding your dog or cat a few bites from the table may be fine with some foods, but if that holiday roast was made with onions or onion powder, better to rethink the offering. Onions are said to damage red blood cells in canines and also felines, with the long term effect that these cells can rupture and lose their ability to transport oxygen resulting in anemia. In this regard, some experts also caution that garlic contains the same properties and can be harmful in the same ways, though pet owners have been known to dispute this and use it to control fleas (it generally doesn’t).
Fat Trimmings: And while we’re on the subject of grandmother’s roast, be ever so cautious about excessive scraps that may be fatty, or feeding fat trimmings in general. Certain amounts of fat can cause painful pancreatitis in dogs and cats, which can be fatal. Be sure to remove fatty skin for them from turkey, chicken, etc.
Macadamia Nuts, Grapes, Raisins: If you love nuts, many of us treat ourselves during the holidays and/or receive gifts that contain macadamia nuts. Unfortunately, these have been known to cause vomiting, weakness, joint pain, and tremors in dogs. And if you are tempted to mix them with grapes or raisins for a healthy human snack, beware that grapes and raisins can cause rapid kidney failure in dogs with symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea, hind quarter paralysis, and lethargy.
Avocado: Healthy and delicious for us, perhaps made into a festive bowl of guacamole or sliced into chili, the leaves, fruit, seeds, and bark of avocados contain persin, a fungicidal toxin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in domestic animals.
Artificial Sweeteners: Do you think it’s “adorable” that little four-legged Buffy has gotten a piece of Aunt Selma’s sugar-free candy or gum? Be cautioned that xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in many of these products, can be fatal for her. Once ingested, xylitol precipitates a surge of insulin in a dog’s or cat’s body, which then tips the other way resulting in hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, and/or lack of coordination. Untreated, liver failure can occur within a few days; consequently xylitol poisoning can be fatal. Overall, it is not recommended to feed your pet products made with any kind artificial sweetener, xylitol or other, including cookies, puddings, gelatin, etc. Note: Some brands of toothpaste also contain xylitol.
Pain, Headache, and Cold Remedies: On those days when the stress of the holiday onslaught causes us to reach for some ibuprofen or acetaminophen, also found in cold medicine, make sure the bottle is not left out where it may fall over. Once ingested, these chemicals can cause death in animals.
Alcohol: Under no circumstances should your pet ever be given alcohol, which has the same effect on his or her liver and brain as it has on yours. But because our pets weigh so much less than we do, it takes far less alcohol to cause harm. WebMD reports that two teaspoons of whiskey (watch those almost-empty glasses within licking distance) can induce a coma in a 5-lb. cat, and an additional teaspoonful can kill her. In dogs, alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system depression, respiratory problems, coma, and death.
In the event of ingestion of any of the above, be sure to know the phone number and location of a 24-hour veterinary emergency clinic for after hours or holiday issues when your regular vet office is closed. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center–(1-888-426-4435)–is a 7-day a week, 24-hour-a-day service for any questions or emergency recommendations, though they do charge a $65 fee and during busy times you may not immediately get through.
Remember, though the holidays are an exciting time for us, with pets part of the celebration, busy agendas can sometimes take our attention away from them. At the same time, we may feel compelled to overindulge them as we do ourselves. Just be sure to take those extra steps to ensure their well-being so that all creatures, great and small, can have a safe and joyful season.