Fido’s Holiday Food No-Nos

Original article published in Circa Magazine October – December 2012

The holiday season is an exciting time of year. We’re so preoccupied with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas or Hanukkah preparations that we may not pay close attention to what our furry family members are up to. However, the bits of crumbs on the floor or the bowl of candy sitting on the coffee table could harm your pet. It never hurts to have a reminder of food dangers during the holiday season when food is more readily available and easy for our canine companions to find.

Following is a brief list of some of the more popular foods that can be a problem if found by Fido during the holidays.

– Alcohol. Depending on how much alcohol your animal ingests, alcohol consumption can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, depression, difficulty breathing, coma, and possible death.

– Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine that is toxic to pets. If enough is ingested, your animal can suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures, and possible death. (And as an FYI, cocoa mulch also contains theobromine; the ASPCA advises dog owners to avoid using this fertilizer around unsupervised dogs, and dogs with indiscriminate eating habits since it can be toxic if ingested.)

– Candy and gum are foods dogs should not eat, especially those containing Xylitol. This “natural” low calorie sugar substitute is made from Birch tree bark, and can also be found in sugar-free baked goods, mints, toothpaste, children’s vitamins, and diet foods. Many people are not aware of the dangers of Xylitol to pets, because veterinarians have only recently discovered its toxicity in dogs. It takes very little to increase insulin in the dog’s system, which leads to a drop in his blood sugar and liver failure.

– Caffeine is generally highly toxic to pets, having negative effects on both the cardiac and nervous systems. Side effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures, and possible death.

– Fat trimmings and cooked bones should not be given to your dog. Fat can cause pancreatitis, while cooked bones can splinter or become stuck in her throat. Splintered bones can cause lacerations in your dog’s digestive tract.

– Fruit pits and seeds, if swallowed whole, can obstruct a dog’s small intestines and cause painful inflammation. Peach, plum, and cherry pits contain cyanide which is poisonous to both humans and canines.

– Nutmeg is a spice often included in homemade recipes for dog food and treats, but is considered a food that Fido should never eat. Nutmeg is known to cause seizures and tremors in dogs, and can cause those who eat large amounts to hallucinate.

– Nuts contain an unknown toxin that can have negative effects on the nervous, digestive, and muscular systems of your pet. Symptoms can include muscle tremors, weakness, an upset stomach, vomiting, depression, inactivity, and stiffness. Particularly avoid macadamia nuts.

– Onions, along with garlic and chives, are all part of the same species of plant – the Allium species. Allium species plants contain sulfur compounds that can cause stomach irritation and possibly result in damage to red blood cells causing anemia. This is referred to as Allium poisoning.

– Lily plants are poisonous to cats when ingested. Just a nibble of the leaf, petal, or stem can cause irreversible kidney failure despite extensive medical treatment.

– Raisins and grapes are favorites during the holidays in cookies, salads, or by the handful, yet they can be deadly for dogs. Scientists have no idea why, but they can cause kidney failure quickly in dogs. Both contain an unknown toxin and just a few can cause your dog to vomit and become hyperactive, which are early signs. Within 24 hours, they will become lethargic and depressed.

– Salt and other spices are ingredients dogs don’t need. Too much salt can produce sodium ion poisoning and can be fatal. Salty snacks should be avoided along with most spices.

– And yes, dogs can most definitely eat turkey, as a general rule. What is not good for them are turkey skin, bones, and fat. Just make sure that no onions have come in contact with the turkey since they are toxic to dogs.

Please ensure that all guests, young and old, understand that it’s alright to pet your pup, but it’s not okay to feed him or allow him to steal a special “treat.” It only takes one bite of the wrong food to end a festive holiday celebration early with an emergency trip to the vet.

Add the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s number, 888-426-4435, to your emergency phone list alongside your veterinarian’s. If you think your dog ate something he or she shouldn’t have, call your vet or the ASPCA immediately. You can also see a comprehensive list of foods dogs should never eat at