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Nov 24, 2021

Holidays and Your Pet

We are all looking forward to the holidays, especially this year. It will be a time to gather with family and friends including perhaps a new four-legged family member. The holidays are also a time to share a special meal with those close to us, but it should not include our pets. Dogs and cats have sensitive stomachs, and any change of diet can result in vomiting or diarrhea. 

Some foods should never be fed to your pet and should always be kept out of reach when pets are around. Guests should be instructed not to feed scraps of prohibited foods to your pets under the dinner table. Food items such as chocolate, coffee, avocado, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, garlic and onions are poisonous to dogs. 

The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocados contain persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. In birds, avocado toxicity can cause weakness, depression, feather pulling and agitation. With larger exposures, birds experience even more severe symptoms such as respiratory distress and edema. 

Chocolate, coffee and caffeine all contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Note that darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest level of methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the highest.

Macadamia nuts can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs. Signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and can last approximately 24 to 48 hours. Although the toxic substance within grapes and raisins is unknown, these fruits can cause kidney failure. Onions, garlic and chives can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage and anemia. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount of these substances are eaten.

Turkey and chicken are great foods for pets, but bones and excess fat should be removed before offering them. Bones can become lodged in or perforate the intestines, requiring emergency surgery. Raw meat and raw eggs can contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli that can be harmful to pets and humans. Raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin that decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin), which can lead to skin and coat problems. Feeding your pet raw bones may seem like a natural and healthy option that might occur if your pet lived in the wild. However, this can be dangerous for a domestic pet, who might choke on bones, or sustain a grave injury should the bone splinter and become lodged in or puncture your pet’s digestive tract.

What do I do if I suspect my pet has eaten a toxic substance? Your primary veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital should be contacted immediately. Inducing emesis (vomiting) is sometimes indicated for toxin ingestion. Inducing vomiting is usually most successful within four hours of toxin ingestion and is best done by a veterinarian in a hospital setting. You should not induce vomiting without contacting a veterinarian, as potentially serious consequences can result. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control hot line, 1-888-426-4435, can provide guidance on steps to be taken if your pet ingests potentially dangerous substances. The SPCA charges for this service. 

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.