Most families have holiday traditions, regardless of what holiday you are celebrating. And those traditions usually involve lots of food and holiday cheer. As much as we would like to include our furry family members in all of our favourite holiday vices, some of them can have severe negative heath consequences.
We’ve compiled a short list of the common holiday foods and treats that can cause irreparable harm to your cherished pet. Most of the following apply to dogs, but cats can also experience distress from these toxins.
It’s no secret that dogs and chocolate do not mix.
What would the holidays be without abundant quantities of chocolate? There rarely seems to be any counter, table or cabinet that doesn’t have an assortment of these delectable pleasures. That makes them all the more enticing and irresistible to your family dog.
Chocolate includes two chemical compounds – theobromine and caffeine – both are toxic to dogs. Both substances are used medicinally for humans as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator and a muscle relaxant. However, dogs cannot metabolize theobromine (or caffeine) as well as people, thus making them more sensitive to the chemicals’ effects.
How much chocolate is toxic to dogs?
The weight of your dog and the amount ingested are the two main factors to determine the level of toxicity. Chocolate toxicity is so common in dogs that the Merck Veterinary Manual offers a chocolate toxicity calculator that you can use to determine if your dog has consumed a toxic amount of chocolate.
What are the signs of chocolate poisoning?
Clinical indicators depend on the quantity and type of chocolate consumed. For many dogs, the most common signs of poisoning are excessive urination, vomiting, increased thirst, diarrhea, panting and accelerated heart rate. In severe cases, symptoms can include seizures and heart failure.
What do I do if my dog eats chocolate?
If in doubt, call our clinic immediately and we’ll make every effort to see your dog during opening hours. Treatment by our veterinarians is encouraged if a poisonous amount of chocolate is eaten. The sooner treatment begins, the better your dog’s diagnosis.
Danger lurks in sugar-free candies, gum and baked goods – anything that uses this toxic, sugar-free substitute.
Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even tiny amounts can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or death. A lower-calorie, sugar substitute with a low glycemic index, this compound is making its way into almost anything that requires a sugar replacement – the proliferation of Xylitol has been popping up on our veterinarians’ radar for many years because of its harmfulness to dogs.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar substitute often related with sugar-free gum and mints. But it’s also found in many other places, including peanut butter, toothpaste, medications and vitamins, many other sugar-free products – such as Jell-O, yogurt and pudding – and even some household products such as baby wipes and lip balm.
How does Xylitol affect dogs?
The actual process that can cause liver failure in dogs is not entirely understood. However, what IS known is that a dog’s pancreas confuses Xylitol with real sugar and releases insulin to store it. The insulin then removes actual sugar from the bloodstream and can cause the dog to become anemic, resulting in tremors and possibly seizures. The effects usually start within 30 minutes of consumption.
How much Xylitol is poisonous to a dog?
There will always be differing amounts of Xylitol across various products, so the amount of product that is needed to be ingested before toxicity sets in varies widely. Common sense would dictate that, in general, lower doses of Xylitol cause mild hypoglycemia, while higher doses can result in complete liver failure. If untreated, hypoglycemia is life-threatening.
What are the signs of Xylitol poisoning?
Initial signs of Xylitol poisoning are typically due to low blood sugar and can develop within 30 minutes of consumption. Signs of low blood sugar may include:
- Lack of coordination / difficulty walking or standing
- Weakness or lethargy
- Muscle tremors
In severe cases, the dog may develop seizures, slip into a coma or experience liver failure. Dogs that develop liver failure from Xylitol poisoning may or may not show signs of hypoglycemia at first. If a dog came into our clinic and bloodwork showed that they’re hypoglycemic, Xylitol would be one of the first things our veterinarians would ask the pet parent about.
The ‘devils trifecta’ for dogs to be avoided at all costs: THC-infused, chocolate edibles containing Xylitol.
3. Grapes and Raisins
How can seemingly harmless raisins, grapes (and currants) be toxic?
It is not currantly(!) understood why these fruits are poisonous. Researchers have speculated that the harmfulness is due to a mycotoxin – a toxic fungal product – or a salicylate (aspirin-like) drug that may be naturally occurring in the grape. More recently, studies have shown that tartaric acid may be the trigger. Regardless, no specific toxic element has been clearly identified.
All of these compounds mentioned above can result in decreased blood flow to the kidneys. According to the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, dogs that have eaten grapes or raisins are at risk of total renal failure within 48 to 72 hours of eating this fruit.
When should I be worried?
Studies determining the quantity of grapes and raisins needed to cause GI issues have shown there is a sizeable range and each dog can respond differently. Observation is key – if you observe any of the toxicosis signs mentioned below and/or see a previously full grape dish now empty, call our clinic immediately during our regular hours and we’ll make time to attend to the poisoning.
Because we don’t know why these fruits are potentially lethal, any exposure – even a single grape – should be a cause for concern.
Signs of Grape or Raisin Toxicosis (GRT):
- Appetite loss
- Lethargy / weakness
- Vomiting / diarrhea
- Abdominal pain – tender to the touch
- Dehydration – signs include panting, dry nose and mouth, pale gums
- Increased thirst / urine production
- Kidney failure
How is grape poisoning treated?
The primary of treatment at the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic starts with decontamination. Our veterinarians will induce vomiting in an attempt to expel the grapes or raisins. Activated charcoal may be given to help bind any leftover grapes or raisins in the stomach to help absorb the toxin. Additional treatment may be needed (including drugs and intravenous fluids) to help support – and protect – the kidneys to minimize damage.
4. Turkey and Ham Bones
Undoubtedly, appropriately sized, raw animal bones are an excellent source of minerals and other nutrients for dogs. Chewing stimulates saliva enzymes and helps prevent plaque buildup on teeth and gum disease. And a dog chewing on a bone is less inclined to excessively scratch or lick his paws. All good reasons to give your dog a bone.
Many veterinarians believe it just isn’t worth the risk of serious injury to give your dog an animal bone, especially cooked. There are better, less harmful options available as seen in any major pet store aisle.
Should dogs be given turkey or ham bones?
Hard no. Poultry bones – particularly cooked – are brittle. Combined with their small size, they are very unsafe for dogs. Cooked ham bones are an even bigger issue because they’re even more disposed to splintering. Our veterinarians caution against feeding dogs bones of any kind as they can result in the following issues:
- Bleeding mouth and tongue injuries
- Bone fragments can puncture the lining of stomachs and intestines
- Blockage of the throat or intestinal tract
- Rectal bleeding from sharp bone fragments
- Obstructions that require emergency surgery
If you want to give your dog a bone for Christmas, try a large, tough nylon or rubber toy bone or another size-appropriate chew toy.
5. Raw Bread Dough
Nothing smells quite as pleasant as fresh, homemade bread wafting through the kitchen during the holiday season.
If you’ve ever made bread from scratch or in a bread-maker, you know that dough has to rise – preferably in a warm, moist, draft-free environment.
Fully baked bread is safe for pets as a special treat, so long as it’s not raisin bread. However, unbaked bread dough can be dangerous when eaten by dogs – and also cats. When ingested, the unbaked bread dough expands in the warm, moist environment of your pets’ stomach, resulting in a bloated or distended abdomen.
Additionally, when the yeast uses sugars in the unbaked dough – a process called fermentation – it produces carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The carbon dioxide gas is what makes bread rise. Alcohol from the fermenting yeast is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and results in alcohol poisoning. Inadvertent consumption of alcohol can cause unsafe drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Severely intoxicated animals can potentially experience seizures and respiratory failure.
If your dog or cat is fed bread dough or you suspect they have stolen bread dough, call our veterinary clinic immediately and look out for following symptoms of alcohol poisoning:
- Depressed central nervous system
- Unsteady, drunken gait
The holidays are a wonderful time to snuggle up with our pets, but many popular holiday treats can pose serious danger to furry friends. While celebrating this year, be sure to keep these foods well out of reach of curious pets!