By Victoria Heuer
The 4th of July is one of the best days of the year. It means cook-outs, picnics, and all around revelry as we celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence while bonding over shared values, delicious foods, and raucous fun. And if the holiday falls close the weekend, the parties can go on for days.
We are all for including our pets in the family celebrations — we wouldn't have it any other way, really — but there are safeguards that must be taken to ensure their safety. After all, we don’t want this to also be the anniversary of a family tragedy.
Some of the most typical disasters to occur during the holidays are related to foods. Plan your summer holiday party while keeping in mind that pets are wily little things that will scarf down as much food as they can before they are caught. Read on for some of the most hazardous foods to keep out of reach.
Throwing leftover bones to the dog may seem natural. Dogs love bones, right? However, bones can be very dangerous for pets. They might choke on them or suffer a grave injury if the bone should become lodged in the esophagus, windpipe, or digestive tract. A splintered bone can even puncture the digestive tract, leading to internal bleeding and/or blood poisoning. Have a pet-proof covered container ready for throwing bones into and make sure that everyone knows not to give bones to the pets.
Cooked bones are the most likely to splinter, so they are always a no-go, and there is some debate over whether it is safe to give raw bones to dogs — we have opposing views from medical professionals here on petMD, in fact. You can do the research and decide for yourself, but consider these potential outcomes before you hand that raw bone over to your dog:
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) recently warned pet owners not to feed their pets chicken wings due to the risk of intestinal obstruction, or worse. Whether wing bones or other bones from chicken pieces, the bones are highly likely to splinter, and because of their small size they are easily swallowed with little or no chewing.
Hot dogs can actually be a great treat for pets, but only if they are cut up into bite size pieces and carefully fed one at a time to the pet. Dogs especially can get very excited and swallow a hot dog whole, without chewing. Also to keep in mind, hot dogs are a high fat, high calorie food. Ration them wisely to your pets and make it clear to guests not to share their "dogs" with the dogs.
Corn on the cob is not directly poisonous, all by iteslf, but based on its shape and size it can easily form a painful and dangerous blockage within your dog’s intestines, requiring an expensive intestinal surgery to remove it.
Another food that is not "toxic," per se, fatty meats like hamburgers and steaks can result in severe pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can result in vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even organ failure.
One of the more popular summer dips, guacamole, is also one of the most dangerous for pets. The three main ingredients are all dangerous in their own right: avocado, garlic and onion. Onions and garlic can cause gastrointestinal issues, elevated heart rate, and red blood cell damage. Avocado toxicity, while not considered as toxic to dogs and cats as it is to birds, can sometimes lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of stool production.
Chips can be a danger, too. Large amounts of salty foods can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures, and even death.
Most fruits are safe for pets. In fact, some frozen pieces of watermelon would be a welcome treat to a dog on a hot day. But there is one fruit that is common to nearly all fruit salads: grapes. Although the reason for grapes’ (and raisins) toxic effects on dogs is little understood, these fruits are well known for causing kidney failure. In pets who already have certain health problems, signs of grape poisoning may be more dramatic.
As previously mentioned, onions can be highly toxic for cats and dogs. We mention them again because it is common to find a bowl of chopped onions on the condiment table, on the ground as they fall out of hamburger and hotdog buns, and in most cold pasta and vegetable salads. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed. Onions can cause gastrointestinal issues, elevated heart rate, and red blood cell damage. Even small amounts of onions are fatal to cats.
Ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, brownies… no BBQ party is complete without dessert. And what is the most popular flavor? Chocolate, of course. Unfortunately, chocolate is also highly toxic to dogs, doubly so if it is sugar-free chocolate; that is, made with Xylitol. Both regular and sugar-free chocolates have fatal ingredients, so even small amounts should not be allowed.
Theobromine, the compound in chocolate that has the toxic effect, is most concentrated in dark chocolate and baking chocolate, the kind found in brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate poisoning can cause heart arrhythmias, muscle tremors, and seizures. Xylitol, used with sugar free foods as a sugar replacement, can have immediate and irreversible consequences. Make sure that all of your guests know not to share their sweets, not matter how big those pleading puppy eyes get.
Finally, while not technically a food, we are very aware that dogs will chew on and swallow almost anything, so we would be remiss in our duties if we did not mention fireworks as an ingestion hazard. Fireworks contain hazardous chemicals like chlorates, potent oxidizing agents which are harmful to red blood cells and kidneys; soluble barium salts, which can cause a life-threatening drop in potassium; sulfur, which can convert to sulfate in the intestinal tract and act like an acid; and coloring agents, which can contain dangerous heavy metals.
Keep the fireworks in pet-proof containers or high up on shelves until use, and then clean them up thoroughly after they have been set off to avoid curious nibbles.
Now go and celebrate the holiday — safely!