’Tis the season for eating and many are tempted to include pets in the celebrations, but beware: Some traditional holiday food could lead to sickness and even death for dogs and cats.
“There is a very long list of things that are possibly toxic to dogs and every single one of them has a different organ toxicity and level of toxin volume per weight of the animal,” said Linda Sackman, health staff manager at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA.
A dog’s age and health also may make a difference in its response to certain foods, she added.
Some of the most obvious holiday no-nos for dogs include alcoholic beverages and bones. Bones may splinter and cause obstructions in the digestive system. Pet owners also should be cautious about giving dogs fatty scraps, Sackman said, because overfeeding them can cause pancreatitis.
Uncooked potatoes and potato skins can be poisonous, but dogs attracted to the enticing smells of garbage might eat potato peels. Keep the trash secure.
Resist giving pets holiday cookies off the table. While it’s common knowledge that chocolate is toxic to dogs, cats, birds and other animals, Sackman said nuts — which can be found in those holiday cookies — can be toxic as well.
While dogs can tolerate peanuts and almonds, walnuts can cause intestinal blockage, and macadamia nuts can cause tremors, weakness and paralysis.
“Err on the side of caution: If some nuts are toxic, let’s not give them any,” said Carol Ann Heinis, behavior supervisor at the Pasadena Humane Society shelter.
Grapes and raisins can cause renal failure. Pitted fruits such as plums and apricots are dangerous because dogs usually will not spit out the pits, which can cause obstructions. Many pits also contain cyanide.
Avocados are not recommended for any pet, as they are toxic to most animals.
Yeast dough may look yummy to a dog, but bakers should be careful when baking around their pets, cautioned Sackman. Dough expands in the stomach and can cause blockage. It also can sit in the stomach and ferment into alcohol.
Heinis warns about xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can be fatal to dogs. Found in chewing gum, bread, cookies and other products, xylitol can increase a dog’s insulin blood level, causing his sugar level to drop, which leads to a hypoglycemic state.
“My dogs and I have a routine that they don’t get to eat anything unless it’s put down on the floor and I let them have it,” Sackman said.
Sackman added that cats have problems with the same foods, but onions are particularly dangerous to them.
Onions in high concentration can cause cats to go into hemolytic anemia, a breakdown of the red blood cells. One source is baby food, which can contain onion powder; that can be as bad as the cat getting into the stuffing for the turkey dinner.
Coffee isn’t good for any pets. Drinking coffee can give the furry four-legged friends tremors and heart arrhythmia. Cats also need to be kept away from holiday tinsel, lilies and lily water, poinsettias and berries from holiday plants.
“With cats, it’s a lot more about curiosity and toying with inappropriate items that will get them into trouble,” Sackman said.
Reptiles, birds and other exotic pets are usually not free-roaming and so are less susceptible to getting into things they shouldn’t. As a general rule, anything that would not be a part of their regular diet shouldn’t be fed to them as a festive diet either.
Even harmless foods can give pets problems. Overfeeding cats with tuna, for example, can give them mercury poisoning, Sackman said.
“You have to evaluate how much you’re really feeding, and with guests in the house, it’s the general overfeeding,” Sackman said. If 20 people are in the house, and all of them give the same scraps to the family dog, “the total of it can be devastating,” Sackman said.
One little piece of white meat from the turkey is fine, Sackman said. The idea is to offer just a taste. The same goes for giblets, which should be cooked and mixed in with a small bite of the pet’s regular food. Think of it as flavoring the food; too much turkey can upset a dog’s or cat’s tummy.
“When I want to treat my animals, I give them plain meat,” Sackman said. “It doesn’t have to be special, but it should be boneless. No salt, no nothing, just simmer it in water and mix it with rolled oats or rice.
“If you really want to be fancy, you can add cooked squash. Thyme is an acceptable spice.”
No matter how careful people may be with their pets, Sackman emphasized that owners should be prepared for an emergency. That means pet owners should know where the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinarian’s office is located, as well as its phone number and hours.
Also, keep the phone number for ASPCA Animal Poison Control handy: 888-426-4435. A consultation with an emergency technician is $65.
The best holiday gift anyone can give a pet is time.
“It’s always more valuable to have a 30-minute one-on-one time spent together giving them your full attention,” Sackman said. “I’m sure they’re going to be more appreciative of a longer walk than a meal that may ultimately make them sick.
“With the holiday festivities in mind, let’s focus on what’s important, and that’s being together and giving each other special time instead of material things.”