Stay in the Clear While Spreading Holiday Cheer
It's that time of the year again. Holiday feasts are around the corner.
Once you've had your fill of turkey or the honey-glazed ham that just teases you with its glistening exterior and all your extended family has returned home, what are you to do with the leftovers?
It may be tempting to make a plate for your dog or cat and let them eat and eat to their heart's content. You may even think you are giving them the treat of a lifetime. But there are many "human food" items that are unhealthy or downright dangerous for pets.
Here are some essential diet no-no’s for the holiday season:
1. Avoid items that you know will upset your pet's stomach. Not every pet's gastrointestinal system is capable of taking on all foods and digesting them properly. If you know your pet has had digestive sensitivities in the past, you should avoid introducing anything new into his diet. Your holiday can be easily ruined by a carpet covered with the inevitable “reaction.”
2. Don't overwhelm your pet with a bunch of new things all at once. If your pet isn't already used to eating a variety of foods, overloading him with a new assortment may prove disastrous. If you want to try something new, make sure it is on the “OK” list, low in fat, not too spicy, and start with a very small portion.
3. Nothing with onions or other alliums (i.e., garlic, leeks, scallions). Although some pets can tolerate small portions of this plant group, larger quantities can cause a potentially dangerous anemia (low red blood cell count) that may lead to organ damage, organ failure, or even death. It’s simply safer to avoid onions, garlic, etc. altogether. Also, be careful with turkey stuffing. Many stuffing recipes include onions.
4. No chocolate. You may know that chocolate can cause abnormally high heart rhythms in dogs, among other problems, but you may not be aware that the kind of chocolate we bake with over the holidays is especially toxic. While an M&M or two may not hurt, a dog that snatches a chunk of baking chocolate from the counter may end up in the ER. Keep all chocolate out of reach of dogs, but be especially careful with the darker varieties.
5. No grapes or raisins. These fruits have been found to cause kidney failure in dogs. Some individuals can eat relatively large amounts without adverse effects, while in others a very small exposure can lead to death. Since there is no way to know in advance how sensitive your dog might be, it safest to avoid grapes and raisins altogether.
6. No xylitol. The sugar substitute xylitol can cause a dog’s blood sugar levels to plummet and lead to liver failure. Anything with xylitol in it is toxic and potentially deadly to dogs. Do not keep it in your house (or if you must, keep it securely away from your animal). Sugar-free gums, candy, baked goods, mouthwashes, toothpastes, gums, mints, nutritional supplements, and more may all contain this product, so be careful year-round.
7. No macadamia nuts. As delicious as they are, we recommend you not offer them to your pet(s). An unknown toxic compound in macadamia nuts can make dogs vomit, become lethargic and weak, and even result in temporary hind end paralysis That means that caramelized macadamia nut tart is off limits.
8. No alcohol. This is obvious. Though not toxic to us in the amounts most humans tend to imbibe around the holidays, pets are more susceptible to its effects due to their relatively small size. Alcohol ingestion can cause gastrointestinal distress, low blood pressure, an elevated heart rate, weakness, collapse, and death in pets.
The "OK" list:
We'd like to first add that giving your pet scraps should only be done after getting your veterinarian's OK, and only in small quantities. If your pet is accustomed to your home cooking, you can be a bit more generous. After all, you know what your pet has done well with in the past. But remember, many of the food items we make during the holidays are different than what we make the rest of the year, so be careful.
1. Turkey. Any excess fat and skin should be removed from the leftover turkey. In addition, make sure the turkey does not have any bones, as they tend to splinter.
2. Mashed Potatoes. Not harmful in and of itself, but be careful if you have added any extra ingredients to the mix (e.g., cheese, sour cream, onions, or gravy).
3. Cranberry Sauce. This holiday favorite is safe for most pets, but it can also be too high in sugar, so make sure you give only small amounts.
4. Macaroni and Cheese. Though it might not taste as good, it’s better to feed your dog just the plain macaroni. The high fat levels in cheese can cause problems like pancreatitis. Your pet will love the plain pasta all the same.
5. Green Beans. Again, not harmful alone, but be careful when mixing it with other ingredients (such as in a green bean casserole). Plain green beans are a wonderfully nutritious holiday leftover for your pet.
Image: D. Sharon Pruitt / via Flickr