To help prevent this, here’s something to share with your practice team and clients—a quick list of seven holiday foods not to feed pets:
Grapes, Raisins and Currants
Found in fruitcakes, traditional holiday puddings and breads, grapes, raisins and currants can cause kidney failure in dogs. Since researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact agent that makes these fruits so toxic, any ingestion should be cause for concern, regardless of the grape variety.
Poisoning in dogs has occurred from:
- Seedless and seeded grapes
- Commercial and homegrown fruits
- Red and green grapes/raisins
- Organic and non-organic fruits
- Grape pressings from wineries
Foods containing grapes, raisins and currants (including everyday foods like raisin bran cereal, trail mix and granola mix) are all potential sources of poison for dogs.
Common to holiday cookie recipes, macadamia nuts are considered poisonous for dogs. Though researchers are still trying to identify the specific toxin that affects dogs, both raw and roasted macadamia nuts are considered dangerous.
Signs of macadamia nut poisoning include:
- Joint stiffness or hind limb weakness
- Increased body temperature or fever
According to numerous animal poison control agencies, macadamia nut poisoning in dogs can also cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
Foods Sweetened with Xylitol
As a sugar substitute widely found in diet baked goods, gum, candies and other foods, xylitol is safe for human consumption. Yet for dogs, xylitol can be lethal. Xylitol is rapidly absorbed into a pet’s bloodstream and can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), liver failure, seizures and even death in dogs.
Signs of xylitol poisoning include:
- Difficulty walking or standing
- Loss of energy
All forms of chocolate are toxic to dogs (and cats) because of theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine. At doses over 40 mg/kg, cardiac symptoms can be seen, including racing heart rate, high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat, and doses around 200 mg/kg can be fatal.
The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. While milk chocolate only contains about 44-58 mg of theobromine per ounce, baking chocolate and dark chocolate can contain 130-450 mg of theobromine per ounce.
Signs of chocolate poisoning include:
- Agitation and hyperactivity
- Drooling, vomiting and diarrhea
- Increased thirst, panting or restlessness
- Excessive urination
- Racing heart rate
As the intoxicating agent found in beer, wine and liquor, ethanol (a.k.a. alcohol) affects dogs in much the same way that it affects humans. Ethanol depresses a dog’s central nervous system to commonly cause drowsiness, lack of coordination and unconsciousness. Signs of advanced ethanol poisoning include:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Depression or vocalization
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
- Involuntary urination or defecation
- Acidosis, hypothermia, hypoglycemia or hypotension
- Seizures or coma
- Heart attack
Unbaked Bread Dough
When ingested by dogs, unbaked bread dough results in the production of ethanol from the fermentation of sugars by certain species of yeast. As such, the consumption of unbaked bread dough presents most of the same symptoms and risks listed previously under Alcohol, including vomiting, incontinence, respiratory distress, seizures and heart attack.
Other signs of poisoning from unbaked bread dough include:
- Distended, painful abdomen (from gases produced by fermentation)
- Gastric obstruction with the potential for gastric dilation (twisted stomach)
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic contain a substance called thiosulphate, which causes a form of anemia in dogs and cats due to an abnormal breakdown of red blood cells, though signs and symptoms may not appear right away. Onions don’t have to be raw to be potentially lethal to pets. Toxicity can occur from fried, dehydrated or powdered onions in food. Garlic contains significantly higher concentrations of thiosulphate than onions, meaning just a little can be dangerous.
Signs of poisoning from garlic or onions include:
- Weakness and lethargy
- Vomiting, nausea or diarrhea
- Reddish discoloration of urine
- Excessive drooling or a wobbly gait (ataxia)
- Elevated heart rate or increased panting
- Pale gums
- Abdominal discomfort
The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” remains true today when it comes to protecting your pet from toxic foods during the holidays.
Don’t leave foods unattended on coffee tables and other places where foods are easily consumed by curious pets. Put leftovers away and take out the trash so pets aren’t tempted to raid the scraps.
If you see your pet eating anything toxic or exhibiting any unusual signs, immediately call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline, available in North America by calling 800-213-6680.