It can be hard to resist a furry little face begging for a few bites of people food.
But resist those sad puppy dog eyes, because many of your favorite holiday goodies can be dangerous (even in small doses) to your pets.
“Giving pets table food — foods their digestive systems are not used to — can cause severe gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis,” says Diane Levitan, VMD, founder of Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care.
But, people food can result in much bigger issues than just upset tummies.
Chocolate is a no-go because it contains a theobromine, a compound that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and seizures in pets.
“The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is for a cat or dog, because of the higher concentration of theobromine,” says Dr. Jason Nicholas, Chief Medical Officer of Preventive Vet, a pet safety resource for veterinarians.
However, if your dog does get into the chocolate, you probably don’t need to panic.
The LD50 (the amount of a compound needed to kill 50% of a population) for dogs is 300mg/kg of body weight. You can check toxicity levels by dog weight here.
Approximate theobromine amounts:
- One ounce of milk chocolate contains 60mg
- One ounce of dark chocolate contains 200mg
- One square of baking chocolate contains 376mg
- One cup of Dutch cocoa powder contains 2395mg
These days, this sugar substitute derived from birchwood or corn is popping up in many sugar-free foods including gum, mints, and some vitamins, and it is highly toxic to dogs.
“This is an increasingly common hazard, and one which we are working hard to increase awareness of,” Dr. Nicholas says.
Even a small amount — as little as three pieces of gum in a small dog — can cause dangerously low blood sugar, seizures, and sudden liver failure.
If your dog does get into food that contains xylitol, take your pup to the vet immediately and tell them what they might have eaten.
3. Baking Ingredients
Baking some healthy treats this holiday season? Make sure your pets aren’t sampling them.
The leavening agents in baking soda, baking powder, and especially uncooked yeast dough can all cause tummy troubles.
“The warm, moist environment of their stomach activates the yeast, leading to fermentation that releases alcohol and carbon dioxide gas,” Dr. Nicholas cautions.
This can lead to alcohol poisoning and bloating.
The spice rack holds another risk. Nutmeg can cause central nervous system problems and seizures, so keep pets away from anything pumpkin-spiced or gingerbread-flavored.
4. Garlic and Onions
Foods in the allium family — onions, leeks, garlic, and chives — can wreak havoc on your pet’s red blood cells.
“Stuffings and any other dishes that are likely to contain onions, garlic, or chives are a big concern,” Dr. Nicholas says. “These foods can cause red blood cell destruction in both cats and dogs.”
Cats are even more susceptible than dogs. According to a peer-reviewed article in Veterinary Medicine, “Consumption of as little as 5 g /kg of onions in cats or 15 to 30 g /kg in dogs has resulted in clinically important hematologic changes” and, in severe cases, resulted in the need for a blood transfusion.
5. Grapes, Raisins, and Macadamia Nuts
You know not to feed dogs those chocolate chippers, but what about an oatmeal raisin cookie or one with macadamia nuts? Nope and nope.
Dr. Nicholas warns that grapes and raisins can cause rapid kidney failure in pets, and macadamia nuts can cause hind-limb paralysis.
If a cookie isn’t specifically made for pets, don’t risk it.
Caffeine might help you power through the holiday madness, but it can cause vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and death in pets.
If your pup sneaks a drop out of your coffee cup, it probably won’t cause severe symptoms, but don’t leave a whole latte unattended, and store coffee grinds and tea bags somewhere your pet can’t get into them.
Don’t leave your cup of cheer where you pet can reach it.
Because your pet weighs less than you, just a small amount of alcohol (even beer!) can cause symptoms of alcohol poisoning including vomiting, diarrhea, and may even put your pet in coma.
Some common ingredients can do additional harm. Hops can cause vomiting, body temperature fluctuations, difficulty breathing, and possible kidney damage.
And wine poses the same risks as grapes, for obvious reasons.
8. Scraps and Bones
Dogs and bones go together like…well, dogs and bones.
But the bones from your holiday turkey or ham pose a choking hazard and there’s risk of them splintering in your pet’s stomach, which is as scary as it sounds.
And leftover scraps of fatty meat can cause inflammation of the stomach, intestines, or pancreas, which could result in anything from an unpleasant cleanup to an ER visit.
Dr. Nicholas says this is the biggest culprit he sees on holidays, so resist the urge to spoil your pet with scraps.
“It’s helpful to put a jar or two of your pet’s ‘allowed’ treats out in the living room, so if guests can’t resist the urge to give the pets a treat, they’ve got a safe one close at hand.”
9. Festive Flora
Most pet owners worry about poinsettias, but they rarely cause anything more than an upset tummy or mild case of pinkeye.
So what plants should you worry about? First and foremost, lilies, especially if you have cats.
“One of the most deadly problems is if a cat ingests any part of a lily plant,” Dr. Levitan says. “Lily toxicosis will cause renal failure and potentially death if untreated in cats.”
Holly can also be harmful, since the berries are toxic and the spiny leaves can cause irritation.
Amaryllis and cyclamen can both trigger tummy troubles and possible cardiovascular issues.
Mistletoe is also toxic, though only in large doses — a tiny sprig probably won’t pose a major threat.
“Pets stick their head into a bag to get what’s inside, and then get stuck as they start to suck the air out.
This happens to far more pets each year than most people would imagine” says Dr. Nicholas.
Whether you’re unpacking groceries or prepping snacks for your guests, make sure to put away bags as soon as possible.
One Last Tip
Holiday parties give your pets the perfect opportunity to steal some blacklisted treats, whether it’s a piece of gum out of a guest’s purse or a chicken bone that fell on the floor.
To keep your pets safe, serve food on a high table and clean up spills quickly.
If possible, send your pets to a sitter, or keep them in a “safe room” so they won’t have access to the party grub — and you won’t end up spending your night at the vet with your favorite furball.