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Holiday Foods Pets Should Avoid
Dogs and cats eat things they shouldn't all year long, but the holidays, with their heavy emphasis on large meals and traditional foods, are a particularly dangerous time. Some pet owners will want to celebrate with their pets by sharing their bounty with them. This can range from scraps of turkey, Christmas cookies, or bits of whatever else happens to be lying around, all the way up to complete meals - turkey with all the trimmings and even dessert - so that the family dog can participate fully in the family's holiday feast. Unfortunately, the warm feeling of sharing the owners get from this more often than not is followed by less warm feelings of worry and insomnia when the dog comes down with nasty gastrointestinal problems afterwards. To avoid these consequences, here are some foods you should avoid giving your pets:
These include the holiday ham or turkey, gravy, dressing, and the like. A high-fat meal is a jolt to the digestive system, and can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In severe cases indulging in rich, fatty foods can cause more serious conditions such as pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas), which often requires hospitalization with IV fluids to treat. In certain cases pancreatitis can even be fatal.
Chocolate contains two substances toxic to pets, theobromine and caffeine. While most instances of chocolate ingestion result in only an upset stomach and maybe some diarrhea, other chocolate toxicity cases can be much, much worse. Depending on how much is eaten, symptoms can include severe vomiting and diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, rapid heart rate, seizures and, occasionally, death.
Different kinds of chocolate contain different amounts of the toxins, but in general the darker (or more bitter) the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. Unsweetened baking chocolate, for instance, has almost three times as much theobromine as semi-sweet chocolate, and nearly seven times more than milk chocolate. White chocolate has little to no toxicity but a lot of fat, so it too should be kept out of the reach of pets.
Macadamia nuts, often popular to have sitting out as munchies for holiday guests, can cause problems if eaten by dogs. The reason why macadamia nuts are toxic has yet to be determined, but we do know that dogs who eat them can develop vomiting and diarrhea, weakness, tremors, elevated body temperature, and trouble walking. Fortunately, most dogs who receive appropriate treatment will recover in a day or two.
Rising Bread Dough
If a dog finds a bowl of rising holiday bread dough and eats it, it can quickly develop into a life-threatening emergency. The pet's own body heat causes the dough to continue rising in the stomach, expanding several times its original size, which can lead to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, bloating, stomach rupture and death. In addition, rising bread dough produces ethanol (a form of alcohol) which has its own toxic effects on the body, including vomiting, depression, and incoordination. Surgery may be necessary to remove the bread dough before the stomach is irreparably damaged.
Sugar-free Candy and Gum
Sugar-free candies and gum, popular with dieters around the holidays, contain xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar substitute. Dogs are very sensitive to xylitol, and eating even a small amount can cause the pet's blood sugar levels to plummet rapidly, resulting in life-threatening hypoglycemia. High doses of the toxin have also been known to cause liver failure and problems with blood clotting. Medical attention must be sought immediately to correct the hypoglycemia.
Grapes and Raisins
Although the reasons are unclear, some types of grapes and raisins have been known to cause kidney failure in dogs, especially if eaten in large amounts. Since what constitutes "large amounts" is also unknown, it is best to avoid feeding grapes and raisins to dogs altogether.
Onions are members of the genus Allium, which also includes garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. Onions contain a toxin called n-propyl disulfide, which causes damage to red blood cells, resulting in anemia. Pieces of onion, onion powder, cooked onion, and even commercial baby food containing onion powder are all considered dangerous to both dogs and cats. Symptoms of onion toxicity can include weakness, pallor (pale gums), jaundice, and vomiting. Severe cases may require blood transfusion for treatment as well as hospitalization for IV fluids and supportive care.
It is also important to be very careful when disposing of old food. Moldy foods can contain mycotoxins, which can cause muscle tremors, incoordination, and seizures lasting for several days.
Don't forget to make sure your pets can't get into the garbage after the holiday banquet is over! Plastic bags, cling wrap, and styrofoam that have been in contact with foods, especially meat products, are tempting to dogs who will eat these things because they still taste like the food they contained. These non-digestible items can become stuck in the stomach or the intestines and require major surgery to remove.