8 Holiday Ingredients to Keep Out of the Food Bowl

Holidays bring with them plenty of treats for both the eyes and the stomachs.  Plenty of us leave the family dinner table with indigestion from unfamiliar and extra-rich ingredients, but for your furry family members it can be a once a year opportunity to gorge on new items.  From your cat invading the countertops for a food raid to houseguests sneaking the family dog some scraps from the table, this time of year is also the time for you to keep an extra eye out for dangerous ingredients. 

Read the following list for some suspicious characters that usually only visit our kitchens in the festive seasons:

Xylitol:  Familiar to you through sugar-free chewing gum, mouthwash, and vitamins, xylitol is a sweetener used to replace sugar for lower calorie and sugar-free baking goods, either commercially or by a health-conscious chef.  Xylitol causes a pets’ blood sugar to drop suddenly and can cause liver failure.  Watch for vomiting, weakness, and poor coordination.

Alcohol: Whether through a guest sharing as a joke or Felix getting friendly with the eggnog bowl, ethanol (the ingredient in alcoholic beverages that makes us merry) is usually widely available in festivities.  Ethanol has the same effect in pets as it does on people, but much smaller quantities can prove fatal to our furry friends.  Be on the lookout for signs of weakness, unconsciousness, lack of coordination and vomiting.

Onions and Garlic:  This item may surprise you, but if eaten in enough quantities onion and garlic in any form can damage the red blood cells in your pets.This leads to anemia, and can show up days after eating.  Keep your pets away from stews and soups that might have these ingredients (surprisingly some baby foods as well).  Symptoms include weakness, lack of coordination, drooling, dark urine, pale gums, and vomiting.

Grapes and Raisins: These sweet and ubiquitous fruits are present in many baked goods, and a very small amount can prove fatal.  Precisely why is still unknown in the veterinary world, but if your family pet starts vomiting, drinking more water than usual and is more tired than typical, examine whether they found their way to this not-so-innocent fruit.  Please be aware that all parts of this fruit are considered unsafe, so peeling won’t make them an acceptable treat.

Dairy Products: Not life-threatening to animals unless they have an allergy, a pet who gets into dairy products might keep you up with symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and constant scratching due to skin irritation.  This is not true for all animals as some can digest dairy throughout their lives, though maybe the best time to experiment with Fluffy’s diet is not when you are expecting houseguests.

Macadamia Nuts and Walnuts: Similar to grapes, an unknown ingredient in these nuts cause a life-threatening reaction in dogs which includes vomiting, weakness, and partial paralysis in the back legs.  Just to be safe, maybe leave the nut mix in general out of the food bowl in case of unknown contamination.

Chocolate: While chocolate is toxic to both cats and dogs, we all know a relative who says they had a family dog who ate chocolate, with the active ingredient theobromine, and lived to be twenty years old.  Just to be sure, leave any type of chocolate out of reach for any four-legged friend as no amount is considered safe.  If your pet starts vomiting, has diarrhea, fast breathing, or seizures, they might have found your toddlers stash.  For a safe alternative, try carob based sweets, which have no theobromine or caffeine but mimics chocolate.

Fat Trimmings, Bones, and Smoked Meats: Often considered the most natural treats to share after a large meal, each of these ingredients should be given with caution.  Cooked bones have a tendency to splinter when chewed, which can damage the intestinal tract.  Raw bones are slightly safer, but can still be broken into smaller pieces and swallowed, which may block the intestines (often requiring surgery).  Smoked meats and fat trimmings carry no choking hazard, but can wreck your dogs’ pancreas through the extra-high fat content.  A serious case of pancreatitis can prove fatal, but most certainly will cause a high medical bill on your pets’ behalf.  Look out for vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, stomach pain or bloody stool.

Should you notice any of the symptoms listed above in your family pet, and perhaps a trail of crumbs leading to their bed, immediately call your local veterinary office to see if further treatment is necessary.  If their office is closed, keep an emergency vet number handy for your area as they can advise you as well. 

The holidays are a time of added stress for many of us despite our best preparations, but the more knowledge you have of circumstances to avoid, the better off you are if the unexpected occurs. 

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